Feature F1 Unlocked
PALMER: How Leclerc pulled off his brilliant last-lap lunge on Perez for P2 in Las Vegas
Charles Leclerc’s race craft was superb in Las Vegas. He overtook the Red Bulls three times in the Grand Prix and his last gasp move on Sergio Perez was particularly impressive, earning him a well deserved second place.
What made Leclerc so threatening in race trim was his ability on the brakes. He had already demonstrated what he could do on Lap 35, out-braking Perez for the lead from a couple of car lengths back at Turn 14. It was a move that seemed to catch the Mexican driver by surprise.
Leclerc had no answer to Verstappen’s outright pace and couldn’t halt the champion’s advances, but he did once again show off his braking ability compared to the eventual winner.
As Verstappen looked to claim a comfortable move inside Leclerc into the final braking zone, the Ferrari man swept back around the outside of Verstappen almost by accident, such was the difference in braking points between the pole sitter and the race winner (see the clip below).
Leclerc had a full two car lengths advantage in the braking phase, but Verstappen released his own brakes and still managed to complete the move. While Leclerc provided no real defence against the Dutchman, the tone was set for his battle with Perez.
The slipstream advantage in Las Vegas was huge, thanks to the lengthy straights and slow speed corners, particularly in the second half of the lap. It meant that with similar pace, as Leclerc and Perez had, it was difficult for one driver to build a gap over the other. It even took a number of laps for Verstappen to creep away from the other two.
On the final lap, Leclerc had another chance to pass Perez, this time from much further back. If the move on Perez on Lap 35 was from a couple of car lengths back, the move on the final lap was from double that distance. In theory this should have been a huge, desperate lunge – but in reality Leclerc had the poise and control to pull it off.
It was a beautiful move from Charles with some crucial details to help him get it done. Firstly he waited in the slipstream as long as possible, to gain maximum closing speed – but also to keep his cards close to his chest.
If you start showing a nose too early in these passes then it can provoke the driver ahead into defensive action. We often see this sort of jinking around from drivers who are trying to put off their rival or dummy the move to get them offline.
For Leclerc on Saturday night it was the opposite, he sat in the wheel tracks of Checo until the last moment so as not to give away his intentions.
Secondly once Charles went for the killer move on the brakes he came in with such force, that he had to ensure he kept his steering wheel completely straight in a bid to keep his tyres from locking.
It’s easy when you send it in this manner to be panicked and start to turn slightly, or be a little erratic with your control inputs in the midst of battle – it’s a moment of high adrenaline. But Leclerc kept his steering perfectly straight as he moved to the inside of Perez which gave him maximum deceleration potential as he lunged.
Charles was approaching Turn 14 with 23kph more speed than Checo, thanks to the DRS and tow, and yet still managed to brake seven metres later.
To do this he had to hit over 5G of deceleration, compared to 3.7G for Perez. Without keeping calm and smooth, he’d have had a big lock up and wouldn’t have made the corner.
Critically for Leclerc, there was no recovery time for Perez to fight back either, unlike with Alonso last time in Brazil. There’s no DRS out of that corner, so once the Monegasque driver had the move completed, it was a straight blast to the finish line for a hard earned second place.
Checo will be feeling frustrated I’m sure at having been passed on the final lap for the second race in a row. In Brazil he was guilty of over defending against Alonso, thus giving the Spaniard a chance to fight back and re-pass him.
In Vegas he was probably guilty of not defending at all. Had he covered the middle of the road even, it may have been enough to deter Leclerc from his ballsy lunge, however Checo clearly didn’t think Charles could attempt the move from that far back and thus left the door wide open, inviting him to try.
It was a spectacular ending to a brilliant battle between the two, who managed to exchange places an incredible four times on track in the second half of the race.