Charles Leclerc believed he was heading towards a podium finish at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, but realized on the last lap that he was only fourth.
The Ferrari Formula 1 driver started last Sunday’s race from fourth on the grid, and that is where he finished despite believing while still in the car that he was on the podium.
The reason for that is that Leclerc had mistaken Sergio Perez for Max Verstappen during the race, when the Mexican slowed down to retire with a broken suspension after banging wheels with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.
Leclerc was passing a slowing down Red Bull car on track under the Virtual Safety Car, and he basically thought it was Verstappen – who was leading the race – which meant he would be third behind the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
“I saw [Max] stop at the [virtual] safety car, I don’t know what happened then, and I thought he wasn’t in the race anymore,” Leclerc explained. “He was basically stopped on the left and we all overtook him.”
“So, I thought I was doing a podium until the last lap, when I actually looked at the board and I was P4!” he added.
Leclerc was facing the media after the race, and they explained to him it was Perez whom he passed on track; he responded: “Oh right, maybe that was Checo!
“Because I thought Max was out of the race at that moment, it was just confusing for me,” he admitted.
Ferrari had no answer to McLaren’s speed at Suzuka
After being the fastest car on track in Singapore, Ferrari dropped to third fastest behind Red Bull and McLaren, but while Carlos Sainz was faster in Singapore – he won the race – Leclerc had the upper hand over the Spaniard at Suzuka.
But that would not be enough to catch the McLarens, as Leclerc explained: “They [McLaren] were super strong, so there were no surprises. It was the maximum we could do.
“The pace wasn’t as strong as the McLarens and they also had very low tyre degradation,” he added. “But a weekend like this is good in a way, because it confirms exactly what we understood in the last few races.
“Sector one [the twisty Esses] is definitely one of our main weaknesses compared to McLaren. That’s where most of the time is lost and we’ll be working on that for the rest of the season.
“In the last four races we learned a lot about our car, but there’s still characteristics we cannot change until the end of the season.
“I hope we can come back to being the second-strongest team in Qatar,” the Monegasque concluded.
Leclerc currently sits sixth on the 2023 F1 Drivers Championship, 15 points behind teammate Sainz who is fifth. Ferrari on the other hand is third in the Constructors’ Standings, 20 points down on second-placed Mercedes.