Peter Windsor, the Formula 1 commentator, has questioned the impact of new Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur after Charles Leclerc’s “unforgiveable” mistake in Miami left his career at a “crossroads”.
Having retired from two of the first three races of 2023, Leclerc returned to form at the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix where he secured Ferrari’s first podium of the season and claimed pole position for both the sprint and the grand prix proper.
However, Leclerc had a disastrous weekend in Miami where he crashed at the same part of the track in consecutive days.
After sliding into the barriers late in Friday’s second practice session, the number 16 Ferrari spun dramatically and hit the wall in the closing minutes of Q3, leaving him seventh on the grid.
That was where he finished at the end of a challenging race in Florida with Leclerc crossing the line 10 seconds behind team-mate Carlos Sainz, who was forced to serve a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
Vasseur’s appointment at the end of last year was widely interpreted as a move intended to appease Leclerc, who was handed his F1 debut by the Frenchman at Sauber in 2018.
Speaking during a recent YouTube stream, former Williams and Ferrari team manager Windsor feels Vasseur should have intervened to prevent Leclerc making a second mistake in qualifying.
He said: “I was getting quite bullish about the whole new Charles/Freddy Vasseur partnership – sort of Colin Chapman/Jim Clark or Patrick Head/Alan Jones.
“Not that Freddy is a designer, of course, but after what they had [under Mattia Binotto] I was getting bullish about Charles having this bond with Freddy Vasseur who’s a real racer. They should be on the same wavelength.
“And yet it all went south. It was terrible.
“Charles had a terrible weekend in Australia and it kind of came back in Baku [with a] very good weekend, as good as you can have in the Ferrari in Baku.
“And personally, I was expecting Charles to do a similar job in Miami – and I think the car was just about there to do that.
“He looked messy before he had his two offs and then he had his two offs at the same place – and one of them was on a Saturday in qualifying when it really mattered, which was very un-Charles-like.
“It’s quite Charles-like to do that sort of thing on a Friday, but to do it on a Saturday under pressure – Max Verstappen [take] note – was unforgiveable.
“Which meant he qualified badly; different strategy off the line, didn’t work early on; got there in the end behind Carlos Sainz.
“Not a great weekend, not where that car would have been capable of finishing had Charles had a normal Charles Leclerc weekend.
“So I’ve got to revise my thinking now because, to be honest, I don’t think Freddy Vasseur should have allowed that sort of weekend to occur for Charles Leclerc.
“Does he just let Charles get on with it in terms of how hard he’s going to push the car, knowing they’re right on this very small operational window and risk having more offs?
“Or does he say to Charles: ‘You’ve got the pace, you’ve got the pace over the lap. If you’re really going to push it, don’t push it in places where it isn’t going to really matter. Don’t push it through those esses before Turn 7 because there’s no real benefit there.’
“Was he saying that to Charles? I don’t know.
“I would like to think he was because if it’s an engineer saying that to Charles he can sort of say: ‘Well, yeah, they’re always saying that.’
“But if it’s Freddy Vasseur saying that, that’s a different thing.
“It appears as if Freddy didn’t say that, in which case I’m very surprised and a bit disappointed to be honest because that’s exactly what you needed to be saying to Charles Leclerc especially after Friday when he went off.
“After that, he was just playing catch up.
“I have to say, for me, I was disappointed with the whole Freddy Vassuer/Charles Leclerc tie-up in Miami and how it operated – or didn’t operate, really. It didn’t operate at all.
“And meanwhile, Carlos Sainz did a pretty good job again – very good job really. Just kept it on the island, did consistent fuel runs and he was really good in the race as well.
“Obviously the tyres weren’t brilliant in certain parts – usual Ferrari story [of] tyre management – but on this occasion he was doing a better job than Charles Leclerc.
“And that’s a worry. That is a worry.
“Because if Freddy’s not going to be able to do something about Charles – and really get the best from Charles race in, race out – then Ferrari are in big trouble.”
Windsor remains convinced that Leclerc is of a similar standard to Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, but can only realise his true potential in the right environment and with the right advice.
He added: “All I can say is I’ve always rated him as a driver up there with Lewis and Max and I think he’s had much more to deal with than Lewis and Max in the bulk of his Formula 1 career – politics and various other things, personal things.
“But I think at the moment he’s absolutely at the crossroads of his career because I’d like to think Freddy Vasseur is going to get Charles being as good as he can be in every respect.
“And I was shocked by how messy Charles was in Miami and I would have thought that the errors he made in Miami should have been prevented by Freddy Vasseur.
“I think every good driver needs good people around him, telling him when to push and when to shove, and I’m not sure that’s going on.
“I’m surprised. I thought it was.
“Baku, the evidence was that it was, but maybe it’s not now.”
Leclerc’s title hopes are already fading fast in F1 2023, as he heads to Imola with a deficit of 85 points to Verstappen at the top of the Drivers’ standings.