Leclerc has slipped 34 points behind Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen heading into this weekend’s race in Montreal, and has endured a number of engine issues in recent weeks.
So much so that Ferrari have decided to cut their losses and give Leclerc a fresh power unit for the grand prix. He was already facing a 10-place grid penalty after an engine component change in the week.
“A new power unit has been fitted to Charles’ car prior to FP3,” a Ferrari statement read. “It is the fourth of the season (only three are permitted), therefore Charles takes a further grid penalty.”
Teams are allowed to switch their engines twice in a season. For Ferrari, this will be a third power unit change, after two engine failures in their last three races.
Leclerc’s recent results have slumped after an impressive start to the season where he won two of the first three grands prix. Retirements in Barcelona and Baku came either side of a frustrating fourth-place finish in Monaco. And while he succeeded in claiming second place in Miami back in May, he was still left in Verstappen’s dust.
Remarkably, Ferrari’s engine issues have come during races. Leclerc has had no problem out-pacing Verstappen in qualifying, claiming six pole positions this season – including each of the last four grands prix weekends.
But it is reliability on race day that appears to have Ferrari puzzled.
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Ferrari’s recent car troubles – which includes seeing both drivers trundle out of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with mechanical issues – just won’t go away. But the Prancing Horse hopes that by giving Leclerc a fresh power unit he can at least set himself up for the summer.
And while swapping into a fourth engine just nine races into the season isn’t exactly good form, there are some upsides to this decision.
Leclerc will now start 20th on the grid, alongside Yuki Tsunoda. On a track that is built for passing, the Ferrari should have no trouble weaving its way through the field. Had they taken this hit on a circuit like Monte Carlo or Baku then they’d be staring at zero points.
But the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at least offers Leclerc a chance here. He’s unlikely to be rivalling Max Verstappen for the race win, but engine changes are all about damage limitation – and Ferrari will hope this is the end of their setbacks.
Meanwhile, the wet conditions in Saturday’s free practice are not expected to be replicated during Sunday’s race. And championship leader Verstappen will hope that’s the case after spinning in Saturday’s practice session to draw out the yellow flags.
Kevin Magnussen had spun out at Turn 2 just moments before the Dutchman also went onto the grass and came close to clipping the safety barriers. As it was, he was able to safely get his Red Bull back to the garage.
FP3 ended with Fernando Alonso topping the timings with a 1:33.836 lap. Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel made up the top three during a session where the intermediate tyres were tested to the limit.
Calling for a change in tyres, Nicholas Latifi said: “I’m going to crash at every corner almost.”