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On the face of Charles Leclerc’s two podium finishes – a second and a third – constitute a meagre return for a Ferrari driver by their prior standards. But not by the standards of Ferrari in 2020, when they produced their worst car for decades.

Judged against his four-times world champion team mate, Leclerc’s performance shines incredibly brightly. By the end of the season he was one point shy of scoring three times as many points as his team mate. And it’s not as if Vettel lost a string of finishes to misfortune.

How did Leclerc do it? First, with a conclusive superiority in qualifying which saw him beat Vettel 13-4 on Saturdays. Leclerc regularly qualified in excess of four-tenths of a second quicker in like-for-like sessions, discounting any track evolution advantage he may have gained by reaching Q3 on 11 occasions to Vettel’s three.

There were times when Leclerc qualified the Ferrari far in excess of where it belonged. He lined up fourth at Silverstone, the Nurburgring, Algarve and Bahrain. At times he even conspired to drag his Ferrari through Q2 on harder tyres while Vettel couldn’t do the same on softs.

Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Second in Austria was way beyond what Ferrari deserved

The SF100 was never capable of finishing a race as high on merit. That meant Leclerc typically slipped back from these high starting positions. He bagged second place in the season-opening round – a result which looked more outstanding with every subsequent race – thanks to a well-timed Safety Car period, some great passes and other drivers running into trouble.

Third in the British Grand Prix also came courtesy of some good fortune, though he brilliantly reached Q3 on medium tyres, giving him a valuable strategic advantage. Silverstone was good to him: At the second race a week later he managed his tyres superbly and one-stopped to fourth.

This was followed by a three-race barren spell: His power unit failed in Spain, and Ferrari’s poor straight-line speed left them nowhere at Spa and Monza. After that he was never out of the points again until the final two races of the season.

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He was perhaps fortunate to come away with sixth at Sochi after dodging an investigation for knocking Lance Stroll out of the race on the first lap. But fourth place at Algarve came his way courtesy of what was arguably the qualifying lap of the year to reach Q3 again on medium tyres.

Charles Leclerc

Beat team mate in qualifying 13/17
Beat team mate in race 10/13
Races finished 13/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate 585/800
Qualifying margin -0.41s
Points 98

Leclerc finished in the top five again at the next two races, Imola and Istanbul. A better result was possible at the latter, where he ran wide on the final lap while trying to pass Sergio Perez for second place, and slipping to fourth as a result. Characteristically, notwithstanding his superior pace compared to Vettel up to that point, Leclerc was beside himself with rage at letting such an opportunity pass him by.

There were times when Leclerc let his desperation to bag a result get the better of him. By his own admission he took excessive risks at the start on occasions, notably in the penultimate round where he compromised Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen’s races, and most unfortunately in the second race where the victim was his own team mate.

But while on that single occasion Leclerc carried the can for ruining his team’s race, the rest of the time he was usually their only driver who was not only capable of scoring regularly, but finishing in the top half of the top 10. Under the circumstances, that was remarkable.

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2020 F1 season review

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