Charles Leclerc ‘punched steering wheel’ in ‘heart attack’ Max Verstappen message

Oliver Harden
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc celebrates after taking pole position for the 2023 United States Grand Prix.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc celebrates after taking pole position for the 2023 United States Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc has revealed he punched the steering wheel of his Ferrari in a moment of panic at the climax of United States Grand Prix qualifying after assuming he, not Max Verstappen, had breached track limits.

Leclerc claimed his second pole position of the F1 2023 season in a dramatic qualifying session at the Circuit of the Americas, pipping McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to top spot by little more than a tenth.

Verstappen, the newly crowned three-time World Champion, actually set the fastest time of all in Q3, but saw his final lap deleted after exceeding track limits at the penultimate turn of his lap.

Charles Leclerc reveals ‘heart attack’ moment in Austin F1 qualifying

Verstappen, who had earlier expressed his annoyance with the team’s positioning after encountering team-mate Sergio Perez at the end of his first Q3 lap, will start Sunday’s race from sixth.

Addressing the media after the session, Leclerc has admitted that he took his frustration out on his steering wheel after initially assuming that his lap was deleted when informed by race engineer Xavier Marcos Padros.

He said: “I just had a heart attack because my engineer told me ‘track limits’ – and then ‘for Verstappen’.

“When I heard ‘track limits’ I punched the steering wheel with my helmet, and then I heard ‘for Verstappen’ and then I was: ‘OK, that’s better news for us.’

“That’s why in the moment I just said to Xavi: ‘Please tell me the name before the track limits just so I don’t get too excited.'”

Having also claimed pole for F1’s first sprint race of the season in Baku, Leclerc feels Ferrari are well placed to exploit the potential of the car on a sprint weekend.

He explained: “The car was really good and I think this is our biggest strength when we get to a weekend like this, to a sprint weekend.

“From FP1, every lap counts and it’s very important to be starting with a strong base setup of the car and that’s exactly what we did.

“So from the first lap we build up the confidence, I build up the confidence with the car and I felt good straight away so then in qualifying I tried to put everything together. recommends

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“The first lap in Q3 felt quite a bit better than the second lap but I think there was a bit of track improvement and the second lap was good enough for pole even though on track we got beaten by Max.

“But very happy anyway to be on pole. It’s a surprise for us. We definitely did not expect to be fighting for pole position here.”

Asked if he still considers Verstappen and Red Bull to pose a threat in Sunday’s race, he added: “For sure, as always.

“Red Bull is always very strong and obviously Max this year is always on it. So for sure he will be a threat and up there [on Sunday].”

Ferrari are the only team other than Red Bull to win a grand prix in 2023, with Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz triumphing in Singapore last month to end Red Bull’s run of 15 straight victories.

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