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Pole Powerhouse: Can Leclerc Convert Qualifying Success into Race Wins?

The 2024 Formula 1 season is off to a roaring start, kicking off on the Arabian Peninsula on March 2 with the Bahrain Grand Prix before heading east to Jeddah for one of Saudi Arabia’s premier events. The region has always been a strong suit for Monégasque racing driver Charles Leclerc, as the Monte Carlo native made history in Bahrain as a 22 year old, becoming the second-youngest driver to ever win pole position in a Formula One race.

This season, Leclerc is back to his standout ways in the Middle East, currently sitting at No. 3 on the Formula One leaderboards after suffering a down year during the 2023 campaign.

Leclerc has been one of the best drivers in qualifying rounds throughout his career, racking up 23 pole positions since getting his start with Sauber in 2018, but he hasn’t always been able to turn those early successes into podium finishes. Here’s a look at what stands between Leclerc and a World Drivers’ Championship as the 2024 season hits full throttle.

The Short Answer…

I know that just about every F1 fan is tired of hearing the name by now, but the simple fact of the matter is that it’s Max Verstappen’s world. We’re all just living in it. While Leclerc currently sits third in the world, compiling 28 points after a fourth-place finish in Bahrain and a podium finish in Jeddah, it doesn’t seem to matter yet, as Verstappen won his first two races by a combined 35 seconds.

The Dutch driver is amidst a run that would put other great athletes like Tom Brady or Lionel Messi to shame: there’s nothing to hang one’s head about for finishing in second or third place when your competition is as dominant as Verstappen is, and the ESPN Bet promo code is already treating the 2024 F1 series as if it’s a done deal, taking bets on who will finish second to Verstappen rather than the eventual outright winner.

Leclerc deserves every bit of credit for his success in the qualifying rounds, but the simple fact of the matter is that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with Verstappen and the power of Red Bull’s vehicles over the course of a full race: Leclerc’s success in achieving pole positions matters—even if it’s been Verstappen to lock down the best starting position in each of the first two races of the season—but even that advantage feels minute when compared against the talent of the Dutch driver and his crew.

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Photo from Pexels by Jenda Kubeš

Rebounding From 2023

The good news for Leclerc is that he’s already off to a much better start than he enjoyed in 2023. The Monégasque star finished fifth in last year’s standings, tying Fernando Alonso with 206 points but falling behind the Spanish racer in the standings via tiebreaker. Leclerc didn’t manage a single outright win after finishing in second place with three in 2022—although wins are extremely hard to come by with Verstappen hogging all the fun.

Fifth place is extremely respectable, but Leclerc could’ve done much better. There was no catching Verstappen, whose 575 points more than doubled the next closest competitor, but it was the first few races of the season that ultimately tanked Leclerc’s 2023 campaign.

He was forced to retire from two of the first three races—suffering from technical problems during the Bahrain Grand Prix before a lap one collision in the Australian Grand Prix a couple weeks later—and never managed to recover.

What’s the Verdict?

The scary thing about Verstappen is that he might not even be at the height of his powers yet. He had the most dominant season in the nearly eighty year history of Formula 1 racing last season, and he’s still just 26 years old… barely two weeks older than Leclerc himself. Once again, I think that the analogy to Tom Brady applies well: the NFL quarterback prevented plenty of other superstars from winning championships or racking up individual awards, stifling the competition around him with more than two decades of stellar play.

It’s going to be nearly impossible to swipe wins away from Verstappen, who won 19 of 22 races last season, so maintaining success in the qualifying rounds and pulling in the occasional victory when Verstappen has a down night is about the best that Leclerc can manage right now. It sounds defeatist to say so, but the Dutch driver is quite literally winning at a pace that we’ve never seen before in the history of motor sports.

Like I said, it’s Verstappen’s world, and we’re all just living in it, even if you’re one of the best racers in the sport like Leclerc is.

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