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Charles Leclerc celebrates on the podium

F1 Season Review: Is it time Charles Leclerc bid Ferrari farewell?

A fifth place finish in the Drivers' Championship left a little more to be desired...

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Bad luck, Red Bull dominance, and Ferrari being… well, Ferrari rendered 2023 an uphill battle for Charles Leclerc.

The SF-23 on track at Abu Dhabi
Leclerc completed his fifth year with the Italian racing team. (Image: Scuderia Ferrari on X)

A fifth-place finish in the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship for Charles Leclerc was likely the best result the Monegasque realistically could have hoped for this year. But for Leclerc, who was vice-champion just last year, the 2023 season left much to be desired. 

From the lows of São Paulo to the highs of Las Vegas, how does Leclerc’s season rank?

Trials and Tribulations

Leclerc’s abilities were often no match for his seemingly terrible luck. Misfortune repeatedly reared its ugly head, manifesting in the form of reliability issues, a disqualification, and a DNS. 

The opening race of the season set expectations for 2023 low, as a technical failure forced Leclerc into a retirement on lap 41 — just when Leclerc was on course for a podium finish. The consequences of this DNF were carried forward into the following race, as Leclerc incurred a ten-place grid penalty after having to install a new electronics control unit.

As if Leclerc wasn’t already having a miserable enough start to the season, the driver encountered yet another DNF after contact with Lance Stroll on the opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix left him stranded in the gravel trap. It was an incident for which no driver was really to blame. Yet further terrible luck for Leclerc…

Leclerc DNFs at Sao Paulo Grand Prix
Leclerc was often left to rue his bad luck. (Image: F1)

Leclerc hit a stronger patch of results after his early season struggles, but in this period sometimes fell short in comparison to teammate Carlos Sainz. This was especially the case at the Singapore Grand Prix, where Sainz became the first – and only – driver to beat Red Bull to the top step of the podium this season. 

After a period of stability, further misfortune struck Leclerc in the closing stages of the season. The Ferrari driver was disqualified from the United States Grand Prix when his Ferrari, alongside Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, failed a plank wear inspection carried out after the race. The disqualification cost Leclerc a sixth place finish.

Two races on, and Leclerc was this time hit with a DNS, seeing the Monegasque driver complete the DNF-DSQ-DNS hattrick. Not a feat Leclerc will want to achieve again any time soon…

Silver linings

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Charles Leclerc who proved, once again, that he is indisputably one of the finest qualifiers on the grid. Even with Red Bull and Verstappen’s sheer dominance, and despite Ferrari’s own performance issues, Leclerc was able to take five pole positions this season. 

Leclerc’s first pole of the season came at Baku, which was followed by pole in Belgium, Austin, Mexico and Las Vegas. 

Alongside these pole positions, Leclerc appeared on the podium on six occasions. What’s more, of all the races he completed, Leclerc only finished outside of the points once — and even that was a near thing, with Leclerc coming P11 at the Spanish Grand Prix. 

Whilst Sainz might have claimed Ferrari’s only victory this season, it was Leclerc who finished ahead of the Spaniard in the championship standings. Leclerc outqualified Sainz 15-7, with three more pole positions than his teammate. The Monegasque also enjoyed three more podiums than Sainz, with their race result head-to-head going 12-10 in Leclerc’s favour. 

Leclerc put in some terrific performances this year. His audacious overtake on Red Bull’s Sergio Perez at the Las Vegas Grand Prix serves as a particular standout, and won Leclerc the fan-voted Overtake of the Month. Vegas was the closest Leclerc came to victory in 2023, the Ferrari driver ultimately crossing the finish line in second.

The final race of the season at Abu Dhabi was another highlight for Leclerc, a demonstration of his tactical know-how

About that pole-win ratio…

Labelled a curse by some, Leclerc has built himself a reputation of struggling to convert his many pole positions into wins.  Whilst he’s been pole sitter on 23 occasions, the Ferrari driver has been a race winner only five times: a record not envied by many. 

Leclerc in his Monaco race suit
Leclerc finished P6 at the Monaco Grand Prix… still chasing that elusive home win. (Image: Scuderia Ferrari on X)

Leclerc is often given flack for his pole-to-win conversion rate. But Leclerc’s high number of pole positions – however unfulfilled that may be – is a testament to his ability to maximise the performance of his car. The SF-23, for much of the season, was not in a position to win races. Even so, Leclerc was still able to put it on pole, pipping Verstappen and Red Bull to the post, even despite the disparity in pace.

Is Ferrari holding Leclerc back?

…Maybe, but where else could Leclerc go? 

Certainly, the SF-23 didn’t allow Leclerc to showcase his full abilities. He often rued Ferrari’s lack of competitiveness, while it was an error from the Italian team that led to Leclerc’s disqualification at the United States GP.

After Ferrari’s numerous failures last year – both technical and strategic – there have been calls from fans for Leclerc to ditch the red team. But the Monegasque, for all intents and purposes, seems very content at Ferrari. 

It’s been rumoured by Italian media that Leclerc has a long contract extension in the bag. Ferrari is yet to formally announce an extension for either of its drivers, but it seems likely Leclerc is set to remain with the Scuderia indefinitely. 

What’s next for Leclerc?

Looking ahead to 2024, Charles Leclerc seems positive. 

“Since Zandvoort, we’ve made big steps forward in the understanding of our car, in the concepts that we have and the directions we’ve been taking,” Leclerc said back in November.

In Leclerc’s view, the upgrades brought by Ferrari towards the end of the season helped the team better understand what direction to take its 2024 challenger. “This gives me the confidence that we can close the gap in the future. How close or when is much more difficult to answer.”

Leclerc’s contract with Ferrari comes to an end in 2024. Until then, Leclerc will hope he can pick up from where he left off, and continue his strong late-season form well into 2024. 

Season Rating: 8/10

Featured Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari on X

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