BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Charles Leclerc is the first driver in Formula One history to win the pole position in two qualifying sessions on the same weekend.
He didn’t come close to winning either race — the story of his career.
Leclerc has a talent for outperforming in an imperfect car — like this year’s Ferrari — to set surprisingly fast times over a single lap. But he wasn’t able to keep up with the dominant Red Bulls in either Saturday’s sprint race or the main Grand Prix on Sunday.
Still, he finished second in the sprint and third in the main race to jumpstart a poor start to the 2023 season for Leclerc, who retired in two of the first three races.
“Got closer (to Red Bull), maybe a little bit, but still very far behind in race pace, at least, and also I think we are behind Aston Martin in terms of race pace,” Leclerc said Sunday. “For now, we need to work on that because for now over one lap, taking a bit more risk — of course I did also two great laps I think — in qualifying which helped us to be in front, but then over 51 laps (in Sunday’s) race, there’s not much we can do more.”
Leclerc now has 19 career pole positions — not counting his “sprint shootout” pole Saturday, which used a shortened format — but only five race wins. His record hardly mirrors Max Verstappen, who has 22 poles but 37 wins and two world championships.
Leclerc last converted a pole position into a race victory over a year ago, at the Australian Grand Prix in April 2022. Since that win, he has qualified on pole eight times — including four in a row in mid-2022 — and picked up one win, when he started second in Austria but passed Verstappen.
F1 has had qualifying specialists before, and plenty of drivers who were unlucky in races. Back in the 1980s, René Arnoux racked up 18 career pole positions but only seven wins, largely because of driving a fast but fragile turbocharged Renault at the peak of his career.
There are plenty of different causes for Leclerc’s comparative lack of wins, ranging from a slow or unreliable car (the Ferrari overheated when he led from pole in Spain last year), team strategy blunders (a pit stop mix-up at the next race in Monaco) to driver error (a crash while in the lead after starting on pole in France a few weeks later).
The strangest of all was at his home race in Monaco in 2021. Leclerc set the fastest time in qualifying but promptly crashed. The car was repaired but a major problem became clear on his way to the grid and Leclerc had to retire the car in the garage, leaving pole position empty on the grid.
Where the next win might come from for Leclerc isn’t clear.
“Still a lot of work to do in terms of race pace,” he said. “I think we’ve done absolutely everything, we’ve tried everything. But (the) bottom line is that we are just not quick enough.”
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.