How nightmare Dutch weekend triggered 2023 turnaround for Charles Leclerc

Thomas Maher
Dutch Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc slides through the gravel in his Ferrari at Zandvoort.

Dutch Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc slides through the gravel in his Ferrari at Zandvoort.

Charles Leclerc believes the turning point of his 2023 season came during the Dutch GP weekend at Zandvoort, after finding better performance for the rest of the year.

The Monegasque driver had a troubled weekend at Zandvoort, crashing out of qualifying before one of several off-track moments in the race resulted in floor damage that eventually required him to retire.

But the weekend marked a turning point after an inconsistent first half of the season, with Leclerc outlining how experimentation with setups ended up unlocking better performance for the remainder of the year.

Charles Leclerc: We learned from every step

Looking back over his 2023 season in an extensive interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, Leclerc confirmed that he felt Ferrari had performed a turnaround in competitiveness for the second half of the season.

“The turning point came at Zandvoort,” he said.

“We tried completely different things with the two cars and learned a lot from that. We also experimented a lot in the first part of the season. Some things helped, some didn’t.

“Sometimes Carlos [Sainz] was good, sometimes I was. Sometimes nothing worked at all.

“That’s why it looked like we didn’t know what we were doing. But we learned from each of these steps.

“Zandvoort was more the moment when we secured the understanding we had gained up to that point with special tests.” recommends

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With Leclerc going without a win despite securing five pole positions, he had to handle watching on as Sainz scored the Scuderia’s only victory of the season – the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race.

Weighing up the pros and cons of the year, Leclerc admitted it hadn’t been an “outstanding” year as “the car wasn’t as good as expected”.

“On the other hand, we learned a lot for 2024,” he said.

“And that’s the best you can expect in a difficult year. Unfortunately, we couldn’t change much this season, but in the medium term, we are now in a position to take a step forward. I’m reasonably happy with myself.

“The characteristics of this car didn’t really suit my driving style. We worked on this during the season and slowly found a direction that suited me better.

“The new underbody in Japan in particular has helped me. The front axle is now biting better again.

“On the negative side, there were a few faults at the beginning of the season and, of course, the disqualification in Austin.”

While the 2023 car ended up being far from a disaster, Leclerc said the less positive traits of the SF23 were apparent from the very first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain.

“Carlos drove in almost no wind on the first morning and he was quite happy,” he said.

“I got into the car in the afternoon and the wind picked up. The car was suddenly extremely difficult to drive. I was still unsure at first because I didn’t know how the other cars would react.

“When Red Bull drove a race simulation with full tanks on the last day of testing, we realised that they were way ahead of us in race trim. You can’t bluff there. Full tanks are full tanks.”

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