Just 8 races into the 2018 Formula 1 Season,Â Charles Leclerc has gone from being a rookie to a sensation. His performances have put a question mark on Kimi Raikkonen’s expected one-year extension with Ferrari – this is despite the multiple podium finishes by the Iceman.
The last driver who went from being a rookie to a sensation was Max Verstappen. Back in his debut season in 2015, Verstappen was labelled as talent that came by ‘once in a decade’. I wonder if Leclerc’s arrival and early career performances challenge that claim already. And why not, arrivals of sensational talent is only good for Formula 1 and should help attract newer fans.
For this week’s episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, Mithila and I ran a basic check on Verstappen and Leclerc’s first 8 races. The obvious comparison were how many races did they finish and how many points were scored. But of course, the pace differential between the two cars raced (in 2015 & 2018) is something we took into account as well. And also, how well did they fare in qualifying?
First things first, both drivers have fared exceptionally well in qualifying. Verstappen had 4 appearances each in Q2 and Q3 in 2015, but was out-qualified by Carlos Sainz Jr. 5 times to 3. As for Leclerc, the start to his Formula 1 career wasn’t as electrifying as Verstappen’s, but come Baku, he has been on a roll. Four Q2 appearances followed by his maiden Q3 appearance at the 2018 French Grand Prix.
In the races, Verstappen managed two points scoring finishes (Malaysia and Austria) scoring 10 points in total (we got that wrong in the podcast though!) while Leclerc has managed four points scoring finishes notching 11 points along the way. The variance between the Toro Rosso and Sauber between 2015 and 2018 has only become bigger (Toro Rosso being the quicker team). And of course, Verstappen was up against Sainz while Leclerc is up against Marcus Ericsson – but then again, I am not taking into account team-mate comparisons in this post.
When it comes to crashes, we all remember how Verstappen crashed out of the Monaco Grand Prix due to a driver error. Leclerc’s only retirement this season was also in Monaco, although due to a brake failure.
All in all, Leclerc’s debut could be rated better given his consistent finishes (in a Sauber that too!) and the 1 extra point in comparison. The big area where Leclerc scores higher is probably in maturity. We are yet to see Leclerc commit a rookie error (apart from extremely apologetic radio messages!) this season, while Verstappen is still committing his. But Verstappen isn’t alone, we saw Sebastian Vettel commit an error on the first-corner-first-lap in the French Grand Prix as well. Maybe that’s how they breed some in the Red Bull Racing stables!
I know that such stories and posts create controversies, but this one is worth visit and narrating. There’s more in this week’s episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, of course.
(Season 2018, Episode 20)