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Leclerc Targets Shanghai After Driver of the Day Performance in Tokyo

What has happened to Charles Leclerc! The Tokyo Grand Prix is the second in a row he has reversed the pattern of his style of race weekend. Typically, he is the “Qualifier” to be feared, a shoe-in for a top position on the grid. If not on pole, we expect to see Charles on the grid at the start, but often he captures pole. 

In Tokyo Qualifying he limped in eighth giving himself the almost impossible task of reining in World Champion Max Verstappen and the Dutchman’s partner Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Leclerc admitted he was out of answers after finishing a disappointing eighth in qualifying. He came home over half a second out of the running; leaving Max Verstappen, to make it four pole positions from four grands prix starts so far this season. Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz qualified in fourth. 

The Monegasque driver was frustrated by the result having tried many different things and none of them working.

On the other hand, Sainz was happy with his qualifying performance, leaving Leclerc a disappointed figure.

Sainz had led Leclerc to a one-two finish for Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, with Verstappen retiring from the race with a brake issue. But Verstappen was hunting for revenge in Tokyo, qualifying first, 0.066sec ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, with McLaren’s Lando Norris coming home in third.

Magnificent Drive from Leclerc

And then in the race proper, Charles who is often on pole but then lets himself be pipped by Verstappen in the race, put in a blindingly fast performance in the race. He drove an impeccably, coming from eighth on the grid to finish fourth at the flag, even briefly leading the Grand Prix. The Monegasque driver’s superb performance was duly recognized, being named Driver of the Day. 

Leclerc had made up four places at Suzuka after his start in eighth. The Ferrari driver was on a strategy which saw him run deep into the race before making his one and only pit-stop, with his tremendous race pace having caught out McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin.

Leclerc was the only driver amongst the front-running teams to make this one-stop strategy work. Mercedes tried the same and failed badly. Charles was in third as the race reached closing stages, but was overtaken by team-mate Carlos Sainz who was running on significantly fresher tyres. Had Leclerc qualified better, then a podium would have been a shoe-in. 

The 26-year-old was open in highlighting that his recent qualifying performances have been lacking magic, something he is just not used to, having been strong over one-lap throughout his career. However, in the race proper, his pace and tyre management were really good.

Verstappen Dominant

Max Verstappen’s dominance resumed with his victory in this Japanese Grand Prix. His breakdown two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, looks like a blip. Nothing like that this time.

Verstappen led from start to finish except for a short time after a pit stop. He was followed across the finish line by Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez — 12.5 seconds behind — and Carlos Sainz who was 20 seconds off the pace.

The three-time defending F1 world champion has won 22 of the last 26 races dating from the start of the 2023 season. Only two other drivers have shown winning form— Red Bull teammate Perez and Ferrari’s Sainz, the winner in Australia two weeks ago.

Verstappen and Red Bull are so dominant that the world championship is in sight after just four of 24 races.

Verstappen, who now has 57 career wins, pushed his season points total to 77 and is 13 clear of Perez on 64. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc follows with 59 with Sainz on 55.

In Tokyo there was a little drama for the spectators from a crash . A red flag was waved just seconds into the tightly packed first lap when Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo clipped each other on the second turn and crashed out. Both Albon and Ricciardo walked away, apparently without serious injuries. A restart of the race was delayed 30 minutes to get the cars off the track and clear debris.

Leclerc Targets Shanghai

Two races now in a row, Monegasque Charles Leclerc has been struggling to put the tyres in the right window in Qualifying. So this will be his main focus going into Shanghai in two weeks. F1 has not run there since 2019 with four races called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An F1 sprint race will also be run in China a day before the GP, cutting down practice time on an unfamiliar track.

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