‘It was a disaster’ – Leclerc ‘very disappointed’ with P6 finish in Budapest as he singles out what cost him victory chance
Charles Leclerc was sitting pretty midway through the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver looking well-placed to take a key victory heading into the summer break. But Leclerc blamed a decision to switch to the hard tyres for seeing him plummet down the order and come home P6 at the flag.
Starting P3 on the grid, Leclerc showed stronger pace than second-placed team mate Carlos Sainz early on in the race, Leclerc overcutting the Spaniard in the stops before passing the Mercedes of pole-sitter George Russell for the lead on Lap 31 of 70.
But a second stop, and a switch to the hard tyre, appeared to undo all of Leclerc’s hard work, as he struggled to warm up the white-walled rubber, the Monegasque damning the tyres as “s***” before falling behind eventual winner Max Verstappen and down the order – a late switch to softs seeing him emerge in the P6 position he’d eventually finish in, as Sainz also lost out to the Mercedes pair to finish fourth.
“I’m very, very disappointed obviously,” said Leclerc, who started on the mediums along with Sainz, as Russell took softs. “The pace was really good on the medium tyres, the second stint also [on mediums] everything was under control and then we decided to stop on the hards.
“I don’t exactly know what are the reasons behind this decision yet, but we’ll speak with the team for me to understand, but clearly it wasn’t the right decision. And I made it clear that I felt good on the medium, so I don’t exactly know what happened.”
Asked why his pace had dropped off so drastically, meanwhile, Leclerc countered: “Honestly, the pace on my side, I was pretty happy, the only thing is that everybody will remember the last part of the race where it was a disaster for me, especially the hard – that’s why I lost the race basically: I lost 20 seconds with the pit, another maybe six seconds on five laps on the hards because I was just all over the place with that tyre. Yes, that’s where we lost our race.”
The Hungarian result means that Leclerc has seen the podium just once in the past eight races – when he won the Austrian Grand Prix – and has accrued just eight points to Verstappen’s 50 in the past two.
And asked if that was a blow ahead of the summer break – with racing resuming in Spa at the end of August – Leclerc replied: “Yes, but on the other hand I feel very motivated and I just want to get back in the car and win again.
“So yes, today hasn’t been good, the last Sunday hasn’t been good, but overall the pace is there. We just need to get better at putting everything together because it always felt like there’s something going wrong, and we need to get on top of this… by speaking with the team obviously, and first understanding our mistakes, and then getting better.”
Although Leclerc holds on to P2 in the drivers’ standings heading into the summer shutdown, the Ferrari driver has now fallen a full 80 points behind Verstappen.