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In brief

Formula 1: Charles Leclerc “Driver of the Day” at Japanese Grand-Prix

Leclerc 4th at Japanese F1 Grand Prix 2024
Leclerc 4th at Japanese F1 Grand Prix 2024

Having started the race in 8th place, Charles Leclerc managed to pull back to 4th, just short of the podium.

Despite a tricky qualification round, the Monegasque driver ran an interesting race, earning him the”Driver of the Day” vote by race fans. And yet on Saturday, after the qualifications, he said he was a little worried about the race the next day: “It was a bad session, I couldn’t find any grip. In Q1, I was quite pleased with my run, I thought it wasn’t bad at all, but I turned out to be almost a second behind the best time. Honestly, I don’t have any answers for you right now, which isn’t a good sign.”

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Still, Charles Leclerc did better than he feared, adopting an unusual strategy that enabled him to finish unexpectedly in 4th.

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How did he do it?

First up, there was a dramatic plot twist on lap 1, with a red flag due to an accident. The race was stopped, and there was a restart.

Charles Leclerc changed to medium tyres on the second lap, and kept running on those for 25 laps. That’s a very long stretch on mediums – Max Verstappen kept his for only 16 laps in comparison.

An excellent feat by the Monegasque driver, as it put him in the lead. However, as his became worn he had to give way to the two Red Bull cars on fresher tyres.

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On the 27th lap, he swapped for hard tyres, which allowed him to keep up until the end of the race, albeit behind team-mate Carlos Sainz, who took another podium after winning the previous Grand Prix, in Melbourne.

A double-edged strategy

Why did Charles Leclerc adopt this strategy? Since he was far from the front of the grid, the Ferrari driver wanted to start the race with tyres that offered speed and endurance. He was able to drive economically, with little traffic since he was ahead of all those who had pitted around lap 15.

The long run on the mediums gave the Monegasque driver two advantages:

  • He could come into the pits in the event of a safety car, moving up the ranking on new tyres
  • He could have one less tyre change, spending less time in the stands, and gaining time on the track. A pit stop in Japan loses drivers about 20 seconds.

The strategy paid off, with a majority of fans voting him “Driver of the Day”:

Charles Leclerc – 23.8 % Yuki Tsunoda – 17.7 % Carlos Sainz – 14.6 % Sergio Perez – 8.3 % Lando Norris – 8 %