Top 50 Drivers of 2022
Topic

Top 50 Drivers of 2022

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #2 Charles Leclerc

2nd in Formula 1 World Championship

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #2 Charles Leclerc

Prior to the Formula 1 summer break, it was tough to choose between opponents Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen as the standout. The Ferrari driver shone bright aboard the first grand prix car that had the potential to take him to a title.

He opened the campaign in Bahrain by deliberately letting his rival overtake, only to regain DRS to surge past on the next straight. Prior to Verstappen breaking down, Leclerc was already poised to triumph after outwitting his opponent. Leclerc ran away to a dominant victory at the Australian GP, and he was simply staggering in Austria also. He had the pace to pass Verstappen three times before nursing a sticking throttle to chalk what would unbelievably be his last win of 2022. The drought from then on reflected how badly Ferrari let the nine-time polesitter down.

PLUS: The five best race drives of F1 2022

Already, there were the notable British and Hungarian strategy shockers that dashed hopes of Sunday success. The ruinous unreliability that cost potential victories in Spain and Azerbaijan further contributed to his title challenge crumbling. And in response to the fragility, Ferrari wound down the engines for the rest of the year to prevent the qualifying king from properly fighting for a fourth win.

After the summer, Verstappen delivered top-drawer displays weekend after weekend while Leclerc was too humdrum in Japan. There, he aborted the chicane to cop a 5s penalty that finally decided the crown in the Dutchman’s favour. He also fell short of his best in Mexico and Brazil, independent of the latest pitwall and performance missteps.

PLUS: How Ferrari missed its big chance to end a painful F1 wait

While Verstappen did make mistakes, such as his off in Spain and spin in Hungary, the cost was minimised as he recovered to win both. The price Leclerc paid was much higher. His grassy excursion to fall from third to sixth at Imola while pursuing Sergio Perez was needless, and the shunt while leading at Paul Ricard calamitous. That smash was when Verstappen and everybody else knew that the crown was effectively decided. It is noted that Leclerc felt the need to push the limits to make amends for his team dropping the ball so spectacularly.

Leclerc was a cut above the rest in Melbourne, even before Verstappen's retirement, but Ferrari never enjoyed the same clear edge again

Leclerc was a cut above the rest in Melbourne, even before Verstappen's retirement, but Ferrari never enjoyed the same clear edge again

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Why there was no coming back from Paul Ricard

Charles Leclerc doesn’t hide entirely behind Ferrari’s strategic, reliability and latter-half performance shortfalls when assessing why his first shot at the Formula 1 world title fell spectacularly apart. Ultimately, he barely scraped over the line as the runner-up.

When asked to isolate and review his own work in 2022, the Monegasque admits he overdid it once or twice. Particularly when trying to defend against Max Verstappen’s undercut to cement first place in the French Grand Prix. In deference to that now infamous shunt into the wall of the sweeping Beausset right-hander, Leclerc says: “Well, if anything, I could have pushed less on some occasions, like in France. I think in the first few years, this was always an area in particular where I was focusing on because I knew it was a weak point.”

For this, see Leclerc also missing out on a likely pole when he binned it in Baku qualifying in 2019 or losing the rear at Monza in 2020. Then securing pole on his home turf in Monaco the year after, before promptly finding the wall.

The howler at Paul Ricard helped propel Verstappen into a 63-point lead. The margin was so considerable that even the Red Bull pilot, who seldom acknowledged his championship chances in public, then knew he was on course for a successful title defence.

Speaking shortly after his second coronation in Japan, Verstappen said: “There were a few moments where I thought, ‘You know, we have a good chance of winning it’. But the moment where I thought, ‘Now we are going to win it’ was after Paul Ricard. The lead increased by quite a bit. We had a competitive car. I knew it was going to be quite close in the coming races. But I was like, this is a gap which we cannot give away anymore.”

Verstappen took – and would maintain – first place in the points in the Spanish GP, when Leclerc retired from a 13-second lead with a power unit failure. But five rounds later in Austria, the Ferrari’s pace advantage over the RB18 gave a small glimmer that the fight might still be on. Just a fortnight after that, though, the Paul Ricard clanger put paid to whatever hope remained.

Paul Ricard spin was horribly costly for Leclerc and Ferrari's title prospects

Paul Ricard spin was horribly costly for Leclerc and Ferrari's title prospects

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Autosport 2022 Top 50: #1 Max Verstappen
Previous article

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #1 Max Verstappen

Next article

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #3 Kalle Rovanpera

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #3 Kalle Rovanpera
The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad Plus

The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad

A trail blazed in Esports has inspired a revamp of the annual prize that aims to discover the best young engineering talent. Autosport met Autosport Williams Engineer of the Future winner Michael Preston

General
Jan 18, 2023
The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right Plus

The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right

Nyck de Vries’s Italian GP exploits weren’t the first post-eleventh-hour call-up in motorsport history, and won’t be the last either. Here are some offbeat tales from the past

General
Dec 26, 2022
Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past Plus

Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past

Rising sportscar star Adam Smalley had to pinch himself when offered the chance to drive the car that won the world’s most famous enduro in 1987

Historics
Sep 6, 2022
Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return Plus

Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return

The iconic Lola name is being relaunched after it was taken over by new ownership. Part of that reboot is a planned return to racing, though the exact details of this are still to be finalised - though its new owner does have a desire to bring the brand back to the Le Mans 24 Hours. But romanticism doesn't appear to be the driving force behind this renewed project...

General
Jul 14, 2022
Rating the best drivers of the century so far Plus

Rating the best drivers of the century so far

Autosport's Top 50 feature has been a staple of the magazine for the past two decades since its first appearance in 2002. Here are the drivers that have featured most prevalently during that time

General
Jan 7, 2022
The best motorsport moments of 2021 Plus

The best motorsport moments of 2021

Motorsport produced one of its greatest years of all-time in 2021 despite a backdrop of ongoing COVID-19 challenges and an ever-changing racing landscape. Through the non-stop action Autosport has collected the finest moments from the past 12 months to highlight the incredible drama and joy motorsport generates

General
Dec 31, 2021
The racing comeback artists who resurrected long-dormant careers Plus

The racing comeback artists who resurrected long-dormant careers

Making it in motorsport can be tough, and sometimes drivers move elsewhere before their best chance arrives. Here are some of those who made it back

General
Dec 26, 2021
The hidden racing gem attracting ex-F1 heroes Plus

The hidden racing gem attracting ex-F1 heroes

It’s rarely mentioned when it comes to assessing the best national contests, but the Brazilian Stock Car series that reaches its climax this weekend has an ever-growing appeal. Its expanding roster of ex-Formula 1 names has helped to draw in new fans, but it's the closeness of competition that keeps them watching

General
Dec 10, 2021