Leclerc forced to abandon Lap 1 Verstappen fight due to key race issue

The Ferrari driver was looking after his tyres from as soon as nine corners into the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP

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Charles Leclerc admitted he abandoned trying to race Max Verstappen at the 2023 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he immediately focused on preserving his tyres from Lap 1 to focus on his fight with George Russell.

Leclerc further pointed out that the Pirelli tyres can be damaged as early as the first lap which can compromise an entire stint, which is not an amazing look for the company that has already come under pressure for the quality of tyres they produce for F1.

The Yas Marina Circuit is not a high degradation track, according to Mario Isola of Pirelli, with a one-stop strategy being a very viable method. It makes it particularly interesting that Leclerc felt the need to manage from basically lights out, although he might have simply been keeping his options open for the race.

“I knew that it was important for me to take care of those tyres,” Leclerc said to media. “And even in the first lap it’s everything is so sensitive here that even if you push too much in the first lap it can have a huge consequence for rest of your run [stint].

Leclerc lacked the tools to fight Verstappen

Ferrari came into the race with the firm focus of beating Mercedes in the constructors’ standings and despite getting a run at the world champion for the first lap, Leclerc eventually accepted the best he could do was second place and prioritised looking after his rubber.

He was proven correct, as that’s where he finished whilst Verstappen went on to win the race at a canter by taking the chequered flag some 17.9 seconds ahead of the Monegasque. That sort of pace works out at an advantage of approximately 0.310 per lap for the Red Bull, which was in a different league.

“It was it was nice,” Leclerc said on racing Verstappen. “On the other hand, obviously I had in my mind the constructors championship, so I couldn’t take too many risks.

“But as I said, I saw an opportunity. I saw that Max [Verstappen] was looking in the mirror as well, I was expecting him to look in the mirror, so I made him think that I was going right and I went to the left, and then I tried also into Turn 9.

He added: “So at one point I just decided to settle for the second place. Anyway, if we would have got that first place, I don’t think we’d have kept that for long.”

Max Verstappen leads Charles Leclerc into Turn 1 at the start of 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Leclerc felt comfortable

A story of the season has been the inconsistency of Ferrari, with both drivers complaining about the behaviour of the car in regard to balance and in regard to tyre management.

The Monegasque, who has a reputation for his qualifying skills with 23 career pole positions, was even eliminated in Q1 at the Spanish GP as he struggled with his vehicle.

But from Round 16 of the championship at Suzuka, the 26-year-old said he felt that his SF-23 was starting to come back to him and his needs from an F1 car.

“I believe that since Japan, when we brought an upgrade to the car, it went in the right direction,” Leclerc said. “Especially for my driving style.

“I always like to have a strong front and I felt much more at ease and could be much more consistent. That’s a positive, but then of course I’m very disappointed with third place in the constructors’, as that was my only target for two or three races.”

Brandon Sutton
Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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