Two years in FIA Formula 3 have shaped Arthur Leclerc and provided the Monégasque with plenty of learning experiences, a product of both positive and tough results.
For his graduation to FIA Formula 2, Leclerc departs PREMA Racing to join up with French outfit DAMS, a move he has been outwardly positive about after post-season testing in Abu Dhabi lifted his confidence. Alongside him in the garage, Leclerc has a fierce teammate in Ayumu Iwasa to both learn from and measure up against.
Three race victories in F3 were interspersed between plenty of points-paying finishes, but the 22-year-old didn’t manage to achieve title glory. Results aren’t the whole story of Leclerc’s stint in the Championship though. Looking beyond those, what might Formula 2 hold in store in 2023 for him in his rookie season?
WHAT WE KNOW
It wasn’t the story that Leclerc hoped to have penned: his time in F3 culminating in a Title victory en route to the F2 grid. 2022 was a tough year overall for the Ferrari protégé, and while he captured his maiden Feature Race victory, results could and probably should have been stronger, and that is self-admitted.
Qualifying results have been the Achilles heel for the Monégasque driver and was the main obstacle in his pursuit of the F3 Title. What it did reveal though was that he had no problem carving his way through in some stellar redemption drives.
“Arthur struggled a bit in Qualifying, but his race pace has always been mega, being able to overtake when others can’t and doing some great recovering,” was former team boss René Rosin’s assessment following the end of the ’22 F3 season. “I think it’s more of a mental state and feeling the pressure in Qualifying. As soon as he feels confident that he can do the lap, he can show some very good stuff because he’s a very good talent.”
His Qualifying record in 2022 was inconsistent: 14th, 21st, 5th, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 20th, 20th and 5th. There was always top five speed on display but whether it was down to small errors or extenuating circumstance, his final average was below what he will have hoped for. That will need to change this year.
His experiences have had a big impact though on how he races. Hugely introspective following the end to the 2022 season, Leclerc’s assessment of both his and his rivals’ efforts are telling that he has learned harsh but important lessons.
Summarising the year by declaring that nobody had maximised the season was a ‘big picture’ viewpoint that others might have struggled to see, tunnel-visioning in on wins and podiums only.
Picking up points and scoring consistently was the key in F3 in 2022, and Leclerc believed that both he and his title rivals had failed in that regard, unable to sustain that from season start to end. A renewed approach in that vein in Formula 2 though could pay huge dividends in his first season at DAMS.
Confidence, or a lack thereof, could play a big part in how Leclerc does in the early phase of his F2 career. Once again PREMA boss Rosin assessed that Leclerc’s hit in confidence following an incident with former PREMA teammate Jak Crawford affected subsequent performances.
“There was a certain frustration from the crash at the Hungaroring in the Sprint Race, but this is part of the game,” Rosin said. “Fighting for the win or the overall Championship, you need to have in mind that this kind of thing is possible. I don’t want to put any blame onto any drivers, because all the drivers are free to race and to do their own thing. It was a pity for Arthur, I would say that accident compromised his season.”
Usually quite the strong starter to any new Championship he has raced in, Leclerc’s F3 record is the only blemish on an otherwise impressive CV. A victory in race five of the 2021 campaign was one of only two points finishes until his 12th F3 race, where he added a P2 finish to his record.
After that tough start though, only seven point-less finishes followed in the next 28 Formula 3 races he competed in. Confidence gained, he was a regular figure in the top 10, with nine top five finishes in 2022. That was more than eventual Champion Victor Martins managed and only bettered by old teammate Oliver Bearman (10).
He was a happy camper following the post-season test in Abu Dhabi having gotten his first experience in the F2 car. Both on and off the track, Leclerc said he felt comfortable already at DAMS.
“I adapted to the car quite fast also. I'm pretty happy. Now, obviously, there is still some more work to do to find a bit more performance, but it was good. It's been nice, especially because it's a French team and I speak French, so it's quite easy to relate with the team and get on with them. We cannot rely too much on the lap times because the track is really grippy (but) I have a good baseline now to build from.”
How quickly he can build up the confidence levels in Qualifying trim will likely play a big part in his rookie season.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Iwasa will be a tough benchmark to go up against, but DAMS have been steadily improving over the past two seasons, achieving its best finish and highest wins total last year since 2019.
Leclerc’s main spot to improve will be Qualifying but the race pace he has displayed throughout his time in Formula 3 is a huge positive. Translating that into the longer stints and on new Pirelli tyres will be a big part in whether he hits the ground running and makes use of his biggest strength.
Giving himself an easier job in the Sprint and Feature Races by Qualifying further up the grid will go a long way in helping his cause.