Is Charles Leclerc F1’s Unluckiest Driver?

Originally a video script for WTF1 in November 2023, Dre pondered whether Charles Leclerc is F1’s unluckiest driver.

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Read time: 6 mins

Formula 1 can be a brutal sport at the best of times, and it only gets worse when lady luck deals you a bad hand. Ask Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc about that one. The 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix featured another horrendous bit of luck for the Monaco driver, as a hydraulics failure on the formation lap led to Charles spinning into the barriers and ending his day early. The man himself famously venting in frustration: “Why am I so f***ing unlucky?”

We wondered the same Charles, because if you look back over this season and beyond, it begs the question, is he F1’s unluckiest driver?

In 2023 alone, Charles has had multiple races ruined either via sheer bad luck or via the shortcomings of his team. Going back to the season opener in Bahrain, Charles had a comfortable podium in the bag when his car’s electronics failed with 18 laps to go. 

Not only did it ruin Leclerc’s Bahrain, but because Ferrari had already damaged both of their allocated control electronics for the season, Leclerc had to take a 10-place grid penalty in Saudi Arabia a fortnight later, one of the earliest engine penalties ever seen in F1! What would have been a front-row start for Charles turned into a minor comeback to only finish in seventh.

Charles had a rough Singapore, where a poor qualifying was compounded with severe cooling issues with his car, limping home in fourth with Max Verstappen chasing him down at over four seconds a lap at the end of the race. A double blow for Charles given it was a race his teammate Carlos Sainz would go on to win.

Miscommunication between the pit wall and the driver has played a role. Charles was caught out in Qualifying at his home race in Monaco when he impeded Lando Norris in the tunnel. The stewards acknowledged that Leclerc did as much as he reasonably could to avoid Norris, but because his team didn’t tell him on the radio that the Brit was coming, he still got hit with the penalty.

Hungary was a total mess of a weekend. Charles had no radio communication with his engineer. His drink bottle wasn’t working during one of the hottest weekends of the year, Ferrari’s pit crew had a nine-second stop during the race, and Charles himself didn’t help matters by speeding into the pitlane and collecting a five-second time penalty.

There have been some bizarre performance-related outliers throughout the season too. At Barcelona, Charles complained that his car was “undriveable” on the left-handers on the track, an issue that was never explained by him, or the team. Charles was knocked out in Q1 for the first time in four years and Ferrari elected to start the race from the pit lane, breaking Parc Ferme and replacing the entire rear end of the car overnight. Even then, in the race, Charles struggled on his tyres and could only manage 11th. 

It’s never a Ferrari video without race strategy being mentioned somewhere, and back in Canada’s qualifying session, Charles called for soft tyres to start Q2, trying to take advantage of the driest conditions in a session that had sporadic rainfall. His team, however, ignored his request, leaving Charles to set his best time on intermediate tyres, while his rivals all got their times in on slicks. And just when Ferrari switched to slicks themselves… it started to rain again, leading to an early exit. Whoops.

Moving on to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Charles was the only driver who was put on a 1-stop strategy, when everyone else was on 2-stoppers. In classic Ferrari fashion, it didn’t work, and a promising start from pole ended up with Charles sixth on the road. This alone would be a bad day for Maranello, but it only got worse as the car was disqualified in post-race scrutineering because the plank below the car was too badly worn. 

In an attempt to maximise performance, Ferrari ran their car too close to the ground and Austin’s famous bumpy surface wore out the skidblocks on their car too aggressively. 

Fun facts for you: Austin was the tenth time in Leclerc’s career he had qualified on pole, only to have the race won by Max Verstappen. And with Austin 2023 now in the books, Charles now has the hat-trick of horrible ways to end a race weekend – The did not start, the did not finish and, the disqualification, all in races he qualified from pole position. 

All of these flashpoints were just in 2023. You could argue the previous season in 2022 was even worse given Ferrari was a genuine title contender for the first half of the season.

Who could forget Belgium that year? The embodiment of horrible luck. A tear-off from Verstappen’s helmet landed in the brake cooling duct of Leclerc’s car. He had to box early as a result and tried to go to the end on only one more stop. When that didn’t work, Ferrari tried a late stop in order to go for the fastest lap. 

The attempt failed because Charles had to overtake Fernando Alonso on his hot lap. On top of that, Charles took a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pitlane. He was one kilometre per hour over the limit because the sensor on his car had overheated from the tear-off. Directly and indirectly, one tear-off destroyed Leclerc’s weekend. 

Charles had two power-unit failures in Spain and Baku. He was in the lead of both races when the failure took place, and both races were eventually won by Verstappen. There was Monaco, where Ferrari was caught out by the drying conditions and let Sergio Perez undercut them for the win. Ferrari turned a 1-2 in Qualifying, into a 2-4 on race day, and Charles understandably called the weekend “A freaking disaster”. 

You could make a case though that 2022 wasn’t even Leclerc’s worst home weekend. In 2021, Leclerc had qualified on pole but crashed at the end of Q3. Ferrari checked the car overnight, especially the gearbox, but it was deemed fine. But, Ferrari didn’t check the left-hand side of Charles’s car, and on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, it was discovered that his left driveshaft had failed.

The car couldn’t be fixed in time, and a dream opportunity for Charles to win at home led to a Grand Prix he didn’t even start. Yes, you could argue that the whole situation could have been avoided if Charles had never crashed, but surely you expect your team to check your car properly, right?

And that leads to another intriguing question, is all the luck Charles had to go through in his career outside of his control, or has he made some of his own luck over the years?

The big example of Charles genuinely losing his bottle was the 2022 French Grand Prix. Another race he was leading and had a genuine chance of winning, before losing his concentration and slamming into the outside wall, ending his race. 

There was also Zandvoort in 2023, where Leclerc crashed in qualifying and had an off in the race, ending his day early due to damaging the floor of his car. 

The direction of Ferrari’s development of their car has also had an impact on Leclerc. Ferrari has added more understeer into the setup of their car to improve its tyre wear and consistency. It’s a similar move to how Red Bull has set up their cars, compromising in Qualifying to maximise race pace by adding understeer to protect their rear tyres. 

But this is a change that conflicts with Charles’ driving style, with the man himself admitting: “I’m not completely comfortable with the car. There’s a bit too much understeer for my liking, I struggle to drive around it.”. It may also partially explain teammate Carlos Sainz’s recent upturn in form, scoring podiums in Monza and Austin, and winning in Singapore earlier this year. 

Ferrari has a car now that’s more consistent in terms of performance, but because Charles prefers his car with more front-end grip, it means he can’t extract the maximum out of the car at all times and makes him more liable to make mistakes. It’s a knife-edge situation dealing with Ferrari trying to figure out the weaknesses of their car, such as dealing with crosswinds (Like Miami), longer corners (like Catalunya), or sudden changes in track temperature and their narrow operating window. 

So you can argue either way Charles’ luck is down to nature, and partly down to the nurture of his team. In any case,  for the good of his wallet, he might want to avoid those Roulette wheels as the sport heads back to Las Vegas very soon!

So, is Charles Leclerc F1’s unluckiest driver? Or is he responsible for his own frustrations? Let us know in the comments and if you enjoyed the video, leave a like and be sure to Subscribe!

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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