The theory behind how Charles Leclerc was able to beat Carlos Sainz

Sam Cooper
Carlos Sainz looking serious during an interview with Charles Leclerc. Jeddah March 2022

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz looking serious during an interview with Charles Leclerc. Jeddah March 2022

Charles Leclerc believes a change in his off-track preparation has allowed him to stay a step ahead of Carlos Sainz this season.

Sainz pulled off an upset in his first season with Ferrari as, against most expectations, he ended 2021 with 5.5 more points than the established Leclerc but that has not proved to be the case in 2022.

Leclerc established himself as the number one driver and went on to finish 60 points ahead of Sainz and in front of all of other drivers expect Championship winner Max Verstappen.

Not only did Sainz finish behind Leclerc, he also trailed George Russell and Sergio Perez as the Spaniard seemed unable to extract the maximum performance out of the F1-75.

Leclerc meanwhile secured the second highest number of wins from a single driver and was notably quicker in qualifying, earning nine pole positions which was the most of any driver and three times the amount Sainz managed.

The Monegasque was asked how he stayed ahead of his team-mate through the course of 2022 and revealed a tweak in his off-track lifestyle allowed him to avoid mid-season burnout.

“I changed a few things,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “The way I work. The way I discipline myself at home.

“It was a bit freestyle last year. Whenever I was at home, I did a thousand things. To be honest, in 2021 I was very tired from the middle of the season until the end. That affected me and affected the performance.

“It’s also possible that this car suits me better. We had a great winter test. We tried a lot of things there. We put a lot of focus on how I can drive the car. That helped that I started the season on a high level. I was able to concentrate on the details.”

Leclerc boiled down on exaclty what is was about the car that allowed him to feel comfortable and he said, like most F1 drivers, he prefers oversteer to understeer.

“I really hate it,” the 25-year-old said in regards to understeer. “We did a really good job there in the winter tests, focusing quickly on balance – making the car oversteer a bit more. I like that. We had all the tools over the season to strengthen the front axle.

“You have more control with an oversteering car. At least that’s how I see it. You steer and the car does exactly what you tell it to do. In an understeering car I feel like a passenger who doesn’t have much to do. The car simply doesn’t steer in the middle of the bend. I don’t know what to do.

“I prefer to be in control at all times. Even if that means that sometimes the car is a bit more difficult to drive. Sometimes you use the rear tyres more. But for me, that’s the fastest way around a race track.”

Perhaps Leclerc’s dominance in the early stages of the season can be explained by how comfortable he immediately felt with the car. The Ferrari man put that down to work done during winter testing and said that by the end of that period, he knew what he had to do with the car.

“This season, the winter test was enough [to be comfortable]. At the end I knew what to do with the car,” he said.

“Then over the year you learn different things that maybe there wasn’t time for in the winter tests. That comes with experience. The big picture was there after the winter tests.”

Read more: Helmut Marko – Mercedes a greater threat as Charles Leclerc ‘still makes mistakes’