Charles Leclerc found himself on an emotional rollercoaster at the US Grand Prix after misunderstanding a radio message regarding Max Verstappen’s track limits penalty.
What seemed like a “heart attack” moment ultimately led to Leclerc securing his third pole position of the season at the Circuit of the Americas.
Leclerc’s initial flying lap in Q3 had given him provisional pole position, only for Max Verstappen to edge past him by a mere 0.005 seconds.
However, Verstappen’s euphoria was short-lived as he lost his final lap due to exceeding track limits at the penultimate corner.
This penalty catapulted Leclerc to the top spot, but it also triggered a dramatic exchange between him and his Ferrari engineer, Xavier Marcos Padros.
Leclerc, initially disheartened by being pipped to pole, exclaimed, “for f***s sake, for f***s sake” when he heard Verstappen’s time of 1m34.718s compared to his own 1m34.723s.
The true twist in the tale came when Leclerc misunderstood the radio message, believing it was he who had been penalised.
In the post-qualifying press conference, Leclerc humorously recounted the heart-pounding moment: “I just had a heart attack because my engineer told me ‘track limits…’ then ‘…for Verstappen’.
“And when I heard ‘track limits’ I punched the steering wheel and my helmet, and [then] I heard ‘for Verstappen’ and then I was [thinking], ‘ok, that’s better news for us!’
“That’s why in the moment I just said to Xavi, ‘please, tell me the name before the track limits because I got too excited’.”
Despite the unexpected turn of events, Leclerc remains aware of Red Bull’s strength and Max Verstappen’s relentless competitiveness.
He still considers Verstappen a formidable contender for victory in Sunday’s grand prix in Texas, stating, “for sure, as always.
“But Red Bull is always very strong, and obviously Max this year is always on it. So, for sure, he will be a threat and up there.”
Leclerc further reflected on his qualifying performance, noting that his first flying lap in Q3 had been “quite a bit better” than the one that ultimately secured him pole.
He explained the difference between the two laps: “The first one was much cleaner – I put more or less everything together.
“The second lap was a bit more ‘let’s go for it and see what happens.’
“But when you have this kind of mentality, then you have a bit more mistakes.
“All in all, I gained more taking risks than what I’ve lost with a small mistake, so it was just a bit more difficult to put everything together once I started really pushing in that last lap.
“But it paid off, so I’m happy.”