• Charles Leclerc is almost single handedly keeping Ferrari's reputation afloat in 2020.
• Leclerc finished the Portuguese Grand Prix in fourth place.
• Ferrari threw a possible podium position away this past Sunday.
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The Ferrari Formula 1 team is in one of its worst slumps yet. The team is lagging down in sixth place in the 2020 championship, and battling with the midfield runners for the final points-scoring positions. The team's lead driver, Sebastian Vettel, is making no impression this year, while Charles Leclerc, the youngster who joined Ferrari at the start of the 2019 season, is headlining every story on the team.
This past Sunday in Portugal was no different, as the driver qualified and finished the race in a very commendable fourth place. Leclerc drove brilliantly in qualifying and converted his fine form into a strong finish.
Ferrari knows that their 2020 racecar is far removed from any decent level of performance, but what Leclerc is managing with the car is deserving of ample praise.
Did they lose a podium?
Leclerc started the race on the Medium tyre and quickly settled in a rhythm, but never losing sight of Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) in third place. Verstappen, on the Soft tyre, came in for his mandatory pit stop and fitted the Medium tyre - a stop that brought him out nearly 30 seconds behind Leclerc.
Ferrari failed to capitalize on this and waited for another ten laps before bringing in Leclerc for his pit stop and fitting the Hard tyre to his car. In this time, Verstappen closed the gap on Leclerc and passed his pitting Ferrari rival.
Given that a pit stop in Portugal takes around 24 seconds, Ferrari had to pit Leclerc the very next lap after Verstappen performed his stop. Add to this that the Red Bull driver rejoined the race in light traffic, Leclerc would have had an advantage of at least six seconds over him. Of course, the harder the tyre compound, the longer it takes to 'switch on'. Still, it would have given Leclerc at least two laps to get the tyres up to temperature and set about attempting to keep Verstappen at bay - even if it would have been unlikely to prevent the Dutchman from passing him.
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Inability to adjust
Verstappen finished the race on the Medium tyre, which shows that Ferrari would have been able to do the same on the Hard tyre. Yes, the team had a strategy that they followed, but there was nothing that suggested that they are thinking of, or at least considering, the possibility of a podium finish. Ferrari, as we know, has given up on 2020 and has written the season off as a monumental loss, but they are doing very little to really support Leclerc on strategy.
Leclerc is doing his utmost to help Ferrari retain something of its ever-dwindling reputation, but the team is not meeting him halfway. The aerodynamic updates are bringing in small performance gains, but it means nothing if the driver can't exploit it. And Leclerc is doing just that.
Ferrari has said that they already began work on the 2021 car - which includes a new engine and chassis - but they will have to do more than that if they want to see their star driver, Leclerc, on an F1 podium again. Leclerc is raking in the results on his own, and at some point, the team's management has to face their faults.