Show me a good loser, the saying goes, and I will show you a loser. Second place, another saying goes, is the first of the losers. Third place, therefore, is second of the losers.
Charles Leclerc finished third in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Plus he was also incredibly gracious in defeat, so that makes him a good loser. Add it all up and he is a triple loser.
The truth, of course, is that he is not a loser. I was extremely impressed with the way the 21-year-old Monégasque handled himself after being robbed of the victory in the desert night. The weekend and the race belonged to Leclerc. He was fastest in two of the three practice sessions and became the second-youngest driver to earn a pole position in F1. The record holder in that department is, ironically, his veteran Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Leclerc started first, dropped to third, got back to second on lap two and then sliced by Vettel to take the lead on lap six. That was it. He handled himself with aplomb leading a Grand Prix for the first time.
Ironically, but not unexpectedly, it was Vettel who made the silly mistake when he spun while battling with Lewis Hamilton. It was purely Vettel’s mistake as he got flustered, and it’s not the first time he’s done that whilst under pressure. (Vettel disagrees. “Certainly it was my mistake,” he told us journalists at the track late Sunday night after the race. “I don’t think it has anything to do with pressure.”) Still, flat spotting the Ferrari’s tyres in the spin compounded the whole thing because the vibrations caused the front wing to break off. This was the kind of stuff you’d expect to see from a driver like Leclerc who was in his 23rd F1 race, not a four-time World Champion making his 221st start and who has 52 wins.
Then the engine problem slowed Leclerc and he dropped back to finish third. Even if he had wanted to, Leclerc would not have been able to go off and hide and pout. The rules require the top three finishers to do an array of TV and media interviews after the race. Then, after all that, we journalists at the track go to the Ferrari hospitality unit in the paddock where we get to talk to the drivers and team boss Mattia Binotto.
Leclerc went through all of that without throwing the toys out of the pram even though you know he was gutted. He reminded me of the way Felipe Massa handled himself after losing the world championship to Hamilton in the final few corners of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. Massa fought back the tears, and the dignity in defeat he displayed really impressed me then. To this day I have a huge amount of respect for the Brazilian driver.
It’s early days in Leclerc’s F1 career, and it is too early to say that Vettel will be passing the torch to Leclerc, but Leclerc is going to win races and championships. He is also going to lose, but with dignity like he did in Bahrain.