F1 commentator Peter Windsor feels Charles Leclerc is not the same driver he used to be with Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz’s pace making him look “desperate.”
Leclerc has arguably endured the most challenging season of his F1 career in 2023, with the Monegasque trailing Sainz in the Drivers’ standings with eight races remaining.
After a poor performance at last month’s Dutch Grand Prix, Leclerc saw Sainz take pole position for Ferrari’s home race at Monza two weeks ago before resisting his team-mate’s challenge to secure third place behind the dominant Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Carlos Sainz pace will be ‘getting to’ Charles Leclerc
With Sainz fastest in two of the three practice sessions in Singapore, where Ferrari look increasingly likely to end Red Bull’s dominant run, Windsor has warned to keep a close eye on Leclerc in light of his team-mate’s emergence.
Speaking via his YouTube channel, Windsor believes Ferrari’s pace at Marina Bay was not unexpected after they showed strong pace on the straights in the high-downforce surroundings of Monza last month.
He said: “The straights are a little bit longer in Sector 3 now they’ve taken out some of the tight corners under the grandstand, which can only help Ferrari, but my thoughts were based on how good the Ferraris were on the straight at Zandvoort.
“They weren’t quick over the lap – it was a high-downforce circuit and there’s a lot of long-radius corners there where they were not very good – but they were quick on the straight with maximum downforce on the car.
“[It’s] maximum downforce here but that’s really helping them because the straights are longer, there are more of them and they look really good. And the other point about Singapore is that, like most street circuits, it has a lot of stop/go: hard braking, 90-degree left, on the power again.
“Obviously within that there are differences between the drivers, differences between the cars, but in terms of a Ferrari – quick on the straight, good brakes, get the car in, get it out – it’s a perfect car for a driver like Carlos Sainz with his slightly wider turn ins and the rhythm he can get into.
“There are not many corners around here where a Charles can be a Charles or a Max can be a Max – and that showed a little bit, I think.
“It’s just a really good circuit for a point-and-squirt car that is quick on the straight – and that’s what the Ferrari is.
“That’s not to detract from them and it’s certainly not to detract from the job that Carlos Sainz is doing right now. He’s found this sort of groove over the last four or five races now, looks really good in the car, difficult for Charles Leclerc to beat him.
“Yeah, he was slightly quicker in FP1 by a tenth or two. In FP2, though, it was Carlos Sainz who was just quicker than Charles Leclerc.
“Now, the amount by which he was quicker was insignificant – a hundredth of a second, whatever – it’s the fact that he was at the top of the times again, that’s what will be getting to Charles Leclerc.
“It’ll be interesting to see if he makes any mistakes, if he’s feeling the pressure. Here’s a race for him to win, but he’s got to beat Carlos Sainz and that’s not going to be easy, so that’s a really interesting intra-team battle to be taking into Singapore.
“Quite a lot of people have been saying: ‘Do we think that it was correct the way Charles was driving the closing laps at Monza and team orders and so forth?’
“I think it was okay, I think Ferrari handled it well and bear in mind Carlos didn’t spend much time with DRS at Monza in the race and there was Charles with DRS behind Carlos – and that only, I think, amplifies the quality of the work that Carlos Sainz was doing.
“If it’s between those two – and it will be a real fight because Charles will definitely want to be on the pole here, he won’t want to be on the front row on the dirty side of the grid on a street circuit with Carlos on the pole.
“But at the moment, Carlos is driving beautifully and other little details: he was the first out in FP2 with fuel in the car and he got one more lap in the long run – it’s those little details that begin to add up.
“All I can say is watch this space to see how Charles Leclerc reacts.
“It was still not the Charles Leclerc that we’ve seen at his peak. There’s something that is not quite the same for Charles.
“Everything’s a little bit edgy, all his inputs look a little bit spikier than they used to be, everything’s a bit more desperate.
“It’s the only word to describe it, I think – and that’s purely as a result, in my opinion, of Carlos finding this wonderful groove that he’s in now and Monza will not have done him any harm at all getting that podium finish ahead of Charles as well.”
Ferrari are without a victory since Leclerc triumphed at the 2022 Austrian GP, seven days after Sainz claimed his maiden F1 win at Silverstone.