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Autosport Top 50 of 2023: #14 Charles Leclerc

5th in Formula 1 World Championship

Top 50 2023 dotcom14

Top 50 Drivers of 2023

Autosport's team of expert journalists got together to try to assess who were the top 50 drivers of 2023. Here are the results.

Charles Leclerc proved largely inseparable from Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz in 2023 as their car’s characteristics swung from favouring one to the other. But his form in the last two races moved him ahead in the championship.

His efforts in Las Vegas almost yielded victory, as the colder conditions and low track grip played to Ferrari’s sensibilities, and he flexed a lesser-seen tactical streak in Abu Dhabi to take on Mercedes in the constructors’ chase.

Sure, there were errors: Leclerc felt that the only way to get the best from the early-spec SF23 was to straddle the car’s absolute limits. But pole in three of the last five races continued to demonstrate his single-lap effectiveness.

Leclerc's hard-luck story of 2023

"Why am I so unlucky?", Leclerc mourned over the radio on the Brazilian Grand Prix's formation lap, as his car went straight into the Turn 6 barrier. An electronics failure was understood to be the root cause, which switched the hydraulics off and knocked out the power steering, causing Leclerc the ignominy of a DNS on the final classification.

Although Leclerc matched Fernando Alonso in the final points standings, he was beaten to fourth on countback thanks to Alonso's greater collection of third places. Things could have been a lot better had Leclerc not been suffused by the spectre of bad luck over 2023, which had affected the very first race of the season.

Bad luck appeared to follow Leclerc around this year, starting from the very first race

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Bad luck appeared to follow Leclerc around this year, starting from the very first race

Bahrain was reminiscent of 2019, in many ways; back then, Leclerc was denied a first win for Ferrari as his engine control systems shorted out to sap away at his power. This time, Leclerc was set for a podium finish behind the runaway Red Bulls before his Ferrari ground to a halt.

Having already taken a second energy store and control electronics over the weekend, he had to surpass his season's allowance for the Saudi Arabia race two weeks later. This encumbered him with a grid penalty, knocking him off the front row and pushing him back to 12th on Sunday's line-up.

PLUS: How Ferrari responded to a 2023 reality check amid its promising F1 revamp

A clash with Lance Stroll in Australia left him with just six points from the opening three races, but he picked his confidence off the floor in Baku with pole in both sprint and grand prix - and claimed top-three results in both. But a win had eluded him there, as Red Bull was much too strong. He crashed in Q3 in Miami, copped a three-place grid penalty in Monaco for impeding Lando Norris, qualified 19th in Spain, dropped out in Q2 in Canada, before pausing that relatively barren run with a second place in Austria.

It's fair to say that, in many of those instances, luck was a factor. But it's equally true that one makes their own luck at times - and Leclerc so often rides his on the absolute limit. With a more predictable car, the errors will be less obvious; Leclerc feels that he has to drive on a knife-edge with the current Ferraris, and teeters precariously between success and failure.

 
After an encouraging end to the season, Leclerc will hope for better fortunes with Ferrari in 2024

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

After an encouraging end to the season, Leclerc will hope for better fortunes with Ferrari in 2024

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