Charles Leclerc says he endured his “most difficult weekend of the season” to date after retiring from the Dutch Grand Prix.
Having crashed out of qualifying yesterday, Leclerc was bidding to make progress from ninth on the grid in the opening stages of Sunday’s race at Zandvoort.
However, his attempts to overtake Oscar Piastri on the first lap resulted in slight contact between the two, damaging Leclerc’s front wing, which swiftly buckled underneath his car and eventually led to him also sustaining sizeable floor damage.
“Obviously I already had the first lap when we had the damage,” Leclerc reflected. “I could feel much more than the guys were telling me on the radio.
“Initially it was 5 to 10 points, what I’ve been told, but obviously then we realised it was more than 60, and more than 60 is a different category. After that, the first lap, it was all uphill.”
When asked if the incident with the McLaren was purely a racing incident, Leclerc assessed: “Yeah, honestly, we were in wet conditions with slicks. It was such a slight touch, but for some reason, it had huge consequences for my car so a shame.”
As the anticipated rain shower hit the track as early as the first lap, several drivers decided to abandon their starting slick tyres for the Intermediate compound.
While the inspired call promoted Sergio Perez into the lead of the race, Ferrari was unprepared for the arrival of Leclerc, who admitted the call to pit was his decision.
“Yeah, I did call for it in the last corner so very late, but obviously looking at the situation in [the] last corner I was sure that even if we had lost five or six seconds at the pit stop we would recover them during one lap easily,” he explained.
“I expected to lose some time, I think we could have optimised it as a team just for the guys to be ready a bit earlier in those type of situations. But apart from that, I think it was the right choice.”
Although the early stop onto the Intermediates propelled Leclerc up the order, the damage meant the Monegasque driver continued to slip backwards for the remainder of the afternoon.
Questioned on why Ferrari waited until the latter stages to retire his wounded car, Leclerc conceded that the Italian outfit was awaiting the arrival of more rain to potentially recover some points.
“We were just waiting for some rain, to be honest,” he revealed.
“With some rain obviously 60 points less is very tricky to drive a car, but it also adds a lot of chaos, and you can do something different than others and maybe one or two points, every point matters, so we didn’t want to give up too early.
“Then we understood that the rain wouldn’t come even though now it came, but it would have been too late.”
However, Leclerc has not criticised the team’s decision to leave him out for so long, believing there was “not much we could have done different” as a collective unit.
Expanding on the conditions, he discussed: “It was very tricky, because you’re always changing from wet to dry, dry to wet, so it makes things very difficult, but on the other hand, it’s the same for everybody, I think we managed today quite well the stops and the different strategies, but with 60 points less there is not much we could have done different.”
Aside from failing to reach the chequered flag in the race, Leclerc was made to rue the Dutch GP weekend being the toughest of his season, lamenting the struggles he experienced with the driveability of Ferrari’s SF-23 car throughout all three days.
“In terms of result obviously with a DNF like this it’s not good, but it’s been an extremely difficult weekend,” he added.
“In terms of balance it is probably the most difficult weekend of the season, and driveability of the car, so we need to look into it, because the last two, three races were getting better on that side of things and for some reason it worsened this weekend.”
Looking ahead to next weekend and Ferrari’s home race, Leclerc is hoping that Monza can provide a positive surprise amid the Scuderia’s continued troubles to string together a consistent run of form.
“On the paper it doesn’t look like [being different than this weekend], but at the same time Spa was very positive and it didn’t look like a track at all for us, so I remain optimistic for Monza and hopefully we will have another good surprise,” he noted.
“Monza is always special for us and to feel the support I’m looking forward to it because it’s been a difficult season until now,” Leclerc continued.
“But on the other hand, I’m also really looking forward to have a car that will help Carlos [Sainz] and I to be fighting for really the top… driveability has been the biggest problem this weekend and we need to look into it and hopefully we will have a better balance in Monza.”