The Ferrari driver had to pit early at the Red Bull Ring after damaging his front wing in a brush with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly on the run out of the first corner.
He dropped all the way down to 17th on the road, before pulling off a series of overtaking moves to battle his way up to seventh, one place behind teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.
Buoyed by the race pace of his car, just one week from the nightmare his team suffered in France, Leclerc felt the afternoon at the Red Bull had shown something special.
“If we look at the first lap, it’s been an incredible race for us,” he told Sky F1. “We’ve been incredibly quick, but obviously this first lap basically stopped us from doing something much, much, much better today.
“It was a big opportunity. The pace was incredible. It’s probably one of my best performances in Formula 1 today, apart from the lap one.”
Leclerc said the pace over the race in Austria was hugely encouraging because of the way that Ferrari has struggled on Sundays so far this year. It also bodes well for a repeat performance next week at the same track.
“I’m really looking forward to next weekend obviously,” he added. “Today it was really, really special. I mean, it’s been a long time that we had this type of race pace. It was good to see.”
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Leclerc added he was unsure who was to blame for the clash with Gasly, as the slight brush between them caused a puncture that eventually put his AlphaTauri rival out of the race.
“To be honest, I need to re-watch the images from outside,” explained Leclerc. “I have no idea whether Pierre went a little bit to the left and I went a little bit to the right at the same time. I guess it’s a bit of both. And at the end, we touched.”
Leclerc’s teammate Sainz was equally happy with his climb from 12th to sixth, but reckoned he could have finished higher up if he had not lost time being stuck behind a slow Lewis Hamilton who had lapped him earlier.
“It was a very good day in the office,” he said. “We managed to have a very strong first stint on the mediums, overcut pretty much the whole midfield with really good pace.
“Then a very weird scenario, no? I was on very fresh hards, I had Lando in front that I knew I could catch with clean air, but suddenly I found myself behind Lewis.
“I doubted for five, 10 laps, whether to follow him and to try to catch Lando. Suddenly I realised that Lewis was struggling with the tyres, I was much quicker and I had to unlap myself.
“But by the time I unlapped myself, it was too late to go and catch Lando.”