Rapid pace on the alternate strategy allowed Arthur Leclerc to climb up the up the order from P12 to P9 in the Barcelona Feature Race. Returning to the points after a three-race absence was a satisfying moment for the DAMS driver, but he asserts that his Qualifying pace is major weakness that needs addressing urgently.
Leclerc opted to go on the alternate strategy, going from primes to options. During his first stint on the hard tyres, the Monégasque shadowed Richard Verschoor, before a cleanly executed pit stop on Lap 23 enabled him to undercut the Van Amersfoort Racing driver.
Benefitting from the softer rubber and lower fuel levels, Leclerc was eventually able to slash his 15 second deficit to Dennis Hauger after his stop to just six-tenths by the chequered flag. However, he admits that it seemed doubtful whether the lengthy stint strategy would succeed due to the heavy tyre degradation around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“The race feeling was great, I had to do quite a lot of overtakes on track. I lost a bit of time in the beginning of the race trying to pass Cordeel and I was four seconds off Verschoor after the overtake, but we managed to close the gap and finish the stint right behind him. So, when we boxed, we could take the opportunity to undercut him.
“Then after that, the pace on the softs was great. Looking at the numbers it was a bit difficult because 15 laps on the softs is quite a big number of laps, but we manage to keep the tyres lasting pretty well and to even fight for eighth and seventh. I tried until the last lap where I was really close with Dennis, but I didn’t manage to do it.
“In the end, the strategy was quite good. The target was to be different compared to the others around us to get as much rear as possible because it’s a track where it will be hard to overtake. Starting P12, there’s not a small number of cars starting in front of you and half of the grid were on the softs, so it was difficult to do the opposite of the others, but we made it work quite well.”
In spite of the positives that Sunday brought, Leclerc is reflective on the fact that his Friday performances are holding him back. Qualifying in P13, six-tenths off pole but only 0.177s adrift of P10, it left the Ferrari junior facing an uphill battle to get back into the points from the start.
A chequered run of Qualifying performances has seen Leclerc start no higher than 13th in the last three rounds, with P7 in Melbourne remaining his best result to date. Admitting that his one-lap pace remains his Achilles’ heel, he’s hoping that the realisation can revive his results at the mid-season mark.
“To be honest, I’m really not happy about what I’m doing in Qualifying at the moment. Now I need to wake up a little bit because in Quali, the gap was really, really close but there are small details that need to be adjusted. I didn’t take the maximum out of it, so it’s just on me, I need to wake up a little bit in these sessions. Then, the rest of the weekend should be okay, we know the race pace is good. Since Formula 3 it’s been quite good, but now it’s just up to me to do the job in Qualifying."
Heading on a short break before racing resumes at the end of the month, the upcoming rounds could prove to be the biggest test for the field’s stamina. A jam-packed schedule includes two double headers in five weeks, but also heralds the return of some of his strongest circuits, including Silverstone – where he scored his only win of his 2022 Formula 3 campaign.
Sitting 13th in the Standings, nine points off breaking back into the top 10, Leclerc credits DAMS’ efforts to continue to drive him forward in his rookie season. Eager to build momentum from the moment he hits the track for Round 8 in Spielberg, he says the target will be to adapt to each of the circuit’s individual characteristics and challenges.
“Firstly, I think we are doing a great job with the team, so I would like to thank them because we put a lot of effort in to improve each race weekend and we’re definitely going in the right way. In Qualifying on Friday, I had a great car to drive, just I was not able to do a decent job.
“Looking at those four races, I will take this time to really focus on myself and try to do a better job for the upcoming rounds. I think it will be really important to build the weekend from the start, which I haven’t done the best job in this area. You build your weekend in Free Practice and then go into Qualifying, so I will focus on this.
“With the rounds, they’re all different track, so the approach will be different, the setup will be different – everything will be different. It’s quite separate, so we’re just going to take the race weekends one-by-one and try to improve the weak points.”