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Floor Damage the Reason for Leclerc Retirement at Dutch GP: “It Was All Uphill”

Charles Leclerc had a frustrating weekend at the Dutch GP, but his boss has still praised his initiative....

It wasn’t a good weekend for Ferrari at the Dutch GP, but few had a more frustrating weekend than Charles Leclerc. During the middle of the race, he continued to fall down the order with his lack of pace a question mark for viewers. Was something wrong with the car? Is Charles just struggling with the notoriously finnicky SF-23? Ferrari have explained that Charles suffered from significant floor damage requiring the team to retire the car.

Leclerc hasn’t been able to pull together a solid race in mixed conditions with the SF-23. The car’s unpredictability particularly when exiting corners has caused problems for Leclerc’s driving style meaning he can’t put together a solid lap, even in qualifying. This unpredictability meant unforced errors saw Leclerc picking up damage as the race went on.  

As Ferrari team principal, Frederic Vasseur, explained, Leclerc needed a new front wing on Lap 11, before floor damage forced them to retire the car on Lap 40.

“He damaged the right endplate and the endplate went into the floor and damaged the bottom of the floor,” Vasseur told the media.

It was significant damage that cost Leclerc around 60 points in downforce which is equivalent to losing about several seconds per lap. Nowhere was this more apparent than during his battle with F1 debutante, Liam Lawson, in the AlphaTauri.

“Obviously, already the first lap when I had damage I could feel much more than the guys were telling me on the radio,” Leclerc said. “Initially, it was five to 10 points as what I’ve been told.

“Then we realised that it was more than 60. And more than 60 is a different category. So after that, the first lap, it was all uphill.

“We were just waiting for some rain, you can do something different than the other and maybe get one or two points, every point counts so we didn’t give up too early.

“It was such a slight touch, but for some reason, it had huge consequences for my car.”

Another Botched Strategy?

frederic vassuer ferrari
Frederic Vasseur

Once again it seemed that Ferrari had messed up their pit strategy when Leclerc came in for Intermediate tyres after the first lap while the team wasn’t ready. At least, from an outsider’s perspective that is what happened, but it was Leclerc’s decision to come into the pits and he didn’t tell the team until the last corner.  

Despite not being ready for him, Vasseur was happy with Leclerc’s initiative.

“I think that first [stop] from Charles looks a bit strange from the outside,” he said. “But, in the end, even if he lost perhaps seven or eight seconds in the pitlane, it was a good one.

“If you have a look, [Pierre] Gasly also had a good step forward with this kind of call, but it was a good choice to stop on Lap 1.”

Why is the driver making this call and not the pit wall? Vasseur explains that the drivers had a better idea of the conditions.  

“They [the drivers] all saw the rain before us because it was into the last corner and he decided to pit,” he said.

“It was a very late call. But again, I think it was the right decision because, after the pit stop, he was in a much better position than before. Even with the six, seven seconds that we lost into the pitlane, it was a good call on that.

“If you are 10 seconds behind, or five seconds behind, when you do the call, it’s much easier. I don’t have to complain about this. It was the right call.”

Leclerc agreed that he “did call for it in the last corner” and “expected to lose some time” but believes it was “the right choice.”

It wasn’t all bad news for Ferrari as Carlos Sainz managed to hold onto P5 until the race end, avoiding damage, and taking home a solid haul of points. Sainz managed to keep the faster Mercedes and McLaren behind him, but couldn’t manage to get ahead of Alpine’s, Pierre Gasly. It wasn’t a podium, but given Ferrari’s pace at Zandvoort, it was the best that could reasonably be hoped for.

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