Leclerc is not a driver prone to making mistakes, having learned and matured over his three years at Ferrari in 2019-2021. However being embroiled in a title battle is something else again, and any slip will inevitably be in the spotlight.
“I saw the opportunity that before I didn’t think was there,” he said after the race. “It was very clear to me that today third place was what was possible. But I saw the opportunity, and I still tried it. I went a bit quicker in Turn 14 and 15, took too much kerb, and spun.
“All points count, and today I’ve put away seven points, against the 15 that we had if we were finishing third. So every point is important, and I will learn from this for the future. And it’s the way it is now. I’ve analysed the data, I know what I’ve done, and I’ll move on.”
“I knew that there was an opportunity, so I tried to push a bit more, and it was too much”
Leclerc denied that he was taking any extra risks as he tried to find the pace with which to usurp Perez: “I don’t think I was taking particularly more risk. But, yeah I was quick there, and the car felt good there, especially in the race today.
“I felt like it was probably one of the corners where Checo was a bit less competitive than me, and obviously on that lap, I knew that there was an opportunity, so I tried to push a bit more, and it was too much.
“But apart from that, I don’t think I’ve taken any unnecessary risk on the other laps during the weekend or whatsoever. Everything was okay on that side.”
It’s easy to suggest that there was extra pressure on Leclerc’s shoulders last weekend, having come to Italy as championship leader, only to realise that at this track at least, Red Bull had a performance edge. But he denies that it contributed to the error.
“No, there wasn’t. I mean, that’s what I think, at least. Obviously we’ve had pressure, not only today, but for the whole weekend. And I don’t think I’ve done many mistakes before today. It was a dumb mistake that cost me a lot, and I’ll learn from it. But no, on my side there was no particularly added pressure whatsoever.”
Leclerc is an intelligent guy, and he’s not the sort of driver who makes the same mistake twice.
“Maybe this one is a bit different. I mean, it’s one of those mistakes where it’s a bit more the mental approach that you’ve had at that particular moment of the race. But I’ve always been strong in knowing exactly which particular feeling I felt at that moment of the race, and knowing how to correct it.
“I’ll learn from it, and won’t do it again. And actually I have been a bit lucky, because I’ve only lost seven points to what I could have scored. But it’s seven points that could be valuable at the end of the season, and every point counts when you’re driving for the titles. It won’t happen again.”
Binotto insisted that Leclerc’s error was not related to the special circumstances of racing at home.
“The expectation level was very high here in Italy,” said the team boss. “And we did try to calm them down, and I think we did whatever we could internally in the team to try to relieve the pressure, and make sure that we stay concentrated and focused during the weekend.
“While they are driving, I don’t think that’s the case. While they’re driving, they’re trying to do their best.
“Obviously he’s fighting for the best positions, he knows that he’s leading the championship. But when I was hearing him on the radio during the race he was very calm, and I think the way he was managing was certainly not feeling the pressure itself.
“So I think it has been a genuine mistake, it may always happen, a small mistake which cost him some positions. And I’m pretty sure that he’s aware of that, and that’s good enough.”
However the fact that it came after Sainz spun out on the opening lap in Melbourne, and had a costly crash in Q2 at Imola, made it that much harder to take.
It’s been a tough start to the season for a man who, in the latter half of last year, was very evenly matched with Leclerc and now finds himself in danger of slipping into a supporting role.
“It’s very simple,” said Sainz. “In Australia, I was completely at fault. And here after reviewing the footage, I think I couldn’t have done anything more to give Daniel more space.