Unfortunately, the Monegasque will not be able to hold onto that position for the race after picking up a 10-place grid penalty for taking on new Power Unit (PU) components.
Leclerc was the pacesetter in the first Free Practice session on Friday. He even looked to be the faster of the two Ferrari cars during the earlier phases of qualifying before being outshone by Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard became the first Ferrari driver to clinch pole position at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) since F1 started racing here in 2012.
While in conversation with Danica Patrick following the session, Charles Leclerc opened up about the obstacles he faced in putting the lap together, admitting that the elements did him no favors. The 25-year-old said:
“It is obviously really difficult, especially with the wind. The car changes a lot from lap to lap, but overall, I did my best. The last lap wasn’t the best. Carlos [Sainz] did a better job today and deserves to be on pole. I will be starting a bit further back because of the penalty but the goal is to try and come back at the front as quickly as possible.”
He was then asked about the passing of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz at the age of 78. The Monegasque replied:
“It is incredibly sad but apart from everything he has done in his career which is incredible, he is a human being and it is a really sad loss for motorsports. So, all my thoughts go to their family and friends.”
When asked to share his plans for the race, Charles Leclerc admitted he would be ready to take any opportunity that presents itself but ruled out any unconventional risky behavior. He said:
“Yeah, well I will give my best as always. We are again starting I think 12th or 11th with the engine penalty we have. So, yeah, I will give my best. No crazy risks but if there is an opportunity, I will be here to take it.”
Considering that every F1 race at the COTA has only been won by drivers starting on the front row, Charles Leclerc will have his work cut out for him starting in P12.
The high tire degradation that is normally seen in Austin does not exactly bode well for the Ferrari F1-75, which has felt the brunt of this effect more than once this season.
Charles Leclerc is ‘equally talented’ as Max Verstappen, claims former F1 driver
Charles Leclerc is just as talented as two-time world champion Max Verstappen in the eyes of former F1 driver Christian Klien.
Leclerc started the season strong and looked to be in control of the 2022 F1 Drivers World Championship battle for the opening five rounds. That was before his and Ferrari’s season started to unravel with technical and strategic errors from the team as well as individual mistakes from the 25-year-old.
This allowed Max Verstappen to claim the 2022 crown at a canter in Suzuka, with the final nail in the coffin coming from a mistake from Leclerc on the last lap of the 2022 F1 Japanese GP.
Despite the obvious gulf in points between Leclerc and Verstappen this season, Klien feels the pair are on par when it comes to talent behind the wheel. While in conversation during an episode of the F1 Nation podcast in the build-up to the 2022 F1 US GP, the Austrian said:
“I think Charles [Leclerc] is equally talented. I mean some of his pole position laps that he put together this year was just unbelievable. I also think he has the race craft. If you have a bigger tyre degradation during the race there’s not much that you can do as a driver.”
Charles Leclerc has the best pole record in 2022 but Max Verstappen has more wins from those poles than the Monegasque himself.
Having lost the title to the Dutchman, Leclerc is now locked in a battle with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to try and claim P2 in the standings. The pair is separated by only a point heading into the race in Austin.