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Formula 1 Belgian GP

How Leclerc went from Spain Q1 exit to Spa pole in similar condition

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has explained his improvements in dry-to-wet tracks in the 2023 Formula 1 season – going from a Spain Q1 exit in such conditions to second in Spa qualifying.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Leclerc, one of F1’s star qualifiers, has had several disappointing results against the clock in 2023, as he has struggled to keep to the minimalistic approach required in mixed conditions to reduce mistakes and keep the sensitive Pirelli tyres in the correct state with his aggressive driving style. 

In addition to his Barcelona exit when that qualifying session had followed a wet FP3 and he qualified 19th there, he was eliminated in Canada’s Q2 session when changing from intermediates to slicks. 

Plus, after securing a position on the front row for the Austrian GP, he could only manage sixth in the sprint shootout qualifying that followed the next day, held after the hours ahead of that running at the Red Bull Ring had been wet.

Speaking ahead of the Spa weekend, Leclerc had revealed that he and Ferrari had “put quite a bit of work into” addressing what had been going on, which he said "paid off" after he finished second to Max Verstappen in GP qualifying for the Belgian event on Friday evening. 

Leclerc said his efforts had been focused on “changes with my driving style”, as “in those conditions, [an aggressive style] just didn't work for me”.  

“I was making too many mistakes and it was difficult to build from a solid base,” he added. “So, I changed a little bit the approach and it seems to be better.” 

An analysis of Leclerc’s efforts back in Barcelona compared to his driving at Spa on Friday evening reveals a much calmer approach overall. 

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, in the post Qualifying Press Conference

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, in the post Qualifying Press Conference

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Other than a slight twitch catching an oversteer snap through Turn 8 – one the trickiest parts of the Spa layout on Friday after rain had doused the venue ahead of GP qualifying, along with the Turn 9 left up ahead where Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen crashed – and a slide in the changing cambers of the final Bus Stop chicane, Leclerc’s SF-23 remained calm and poised throughout his run to a personal best 1m46.988s. 

His precision on the narrow dry line was also notable, which suggests his efforts to keep the tyres in better shape – both at the right temperature to start laps and have enough life left to be fast at the end of fliers – have also paid off. 

Leclerc did however rue leading the pack at the end of Q3 as he felt Ferrari had gone “a bit too early” considering the track evolution factor in mixed conditions, with Verstappen one of the last Q3 runners to complete a time at the end. 

While Leclerc said it was “difficult to give the details” on his change in driving style for drying tracks because “it's very slight changes”, he did admit he was also now making different changes to the steering wheel ‘tools’ the Ferrari drivers use to adjust the differential positioning in an effort to improve car control as he pounds around on qualifying laps. 

“As I said, I have a very aggressive driving style, whether it's in full wet or full dry, which pays off in those two conditions,” said Leclerc. “But whenever I'm in between with slick tyres, then it doesn't really pay off.  

“And there I tried different directions, also with tools, so the way the car is set up and the way I can change it from one corner to the other.  

“And this gave me much more confidence straightaway. And the lap time came better.”

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