Charles Leclerc opens up on Carlos Sainz relationship with ‘hurt’ admission

Ferrari star Charles Leclerc has admitted to being ‘hurt’ as teammate Carlos Sainz became the only non-Red Bull driver to win a Grand Prix in the 2023 F1 season. Amid an unprcedented season of domination, only one race was won by a driver not named Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez with Sainz crossing the line first in Singapore.

The 2023 season was totally bossed by Red Bull, with Verstappen claiming his third successive world championship on the back of 19 race wins out of a possible 22. Perez won in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, but his title challenge faltered as he struggled for consistency while Verstappen cruised clear of the field.

Only at the Singapore Grand Prix in September did the Milton Keynes-based team struggle enough that one of their rivals was able to take advantage. On that occasion, Sainz took the win for Ferrari after expertly defending from McLaren’s Lando Norris around the Marina Bay Circuit.

Sainz perfectly judged the gap to the British driver in second, smartly letting his former teammate stay within DRS range so Mercedes’ George Russell could not enter the battle. The 29-year-old had initially defended the lead from Leclerc before the first safety car was deployed, but the Monagasque star could not maintain performance as the race unfolded.

Leclerc was hurt to see his teammate win the only race Red Bull did not claim in 2023. But the Ferrari driver was ultimately pleased the team seized the moment and delivered. 

“That hurts, especially in a season like this, in which there was only this one chance,” Leclerc told Auto Motor und Sport. “That’s where I didn’t get the qualification right, which ultimately cost me the race. But it was absolutely important for the team because, as a team, we did everything right.

“The thing with the soft tires was my idea. Not to help Carlos. But because it was the best thing for our race. In moments like this, you have to accept that the team comes first. They would do the same for me if I was ahead.”

Back in Singapore, Sainz had edged Russell to pole position with Leclerc in P3 AS 0.079 seonds covered the top three. However, a difference in strategies at Ferrari ultimately cost Leclerc his opportunity to win a Grand Prix in 2023. 

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Ferrari opted for Leclerc to start on a set of soft compound Pirelli tyres to try and get the jump on Russell at the start. It paid off as the 26-year-old snatched P2 around the outside of the Mercedes into Turn 1, but Leclerc was forced to nurse his tyres behind Sainz.

Leclerc then slid down the standings as Ferrari called both drivers in for their first pit stop under the first safety car. He was ordered to create a five-second gap to Sainz, with Lewis Hamilton taking advantage as Leclerc was essentially sacrificed.

With Sainz securing the win, Leclerc eventually finished P4 – 21.177 seconds behind his victorious teammate. Verstappen finished a place behind Leclerc. 

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