Max Verstappen wins another race thanks to his 2022 rival Charles Leclerc retiring again
The French Grand Prix had it all – crashes, penalties and controversy – and while fans should be rejoicing at witnessing such entertainment, there is a definite air of disappointment and sadness in Formula 1.
Charles Leclerc was in a commanding position to claim his fourth win of the year and Carlos Sainz had fought back his starting penalty to battle with Red Bull and Mercedes after just a few laps, giving fans hope of a double podium finish the cards were forthcoming.
But no. Once again it was not to be for the Italian horses.
At Paul Ricard’s circuit on Sunday (24 July), Leclerc got off to a strong start and managed to match the power and pace of 2022 rival Max Verstappen to move forward.
Everything was going brilliantly for the Monegasque rider who looked set to claim a fourth and important win on this year’s calendar.
However, as it now seems frustratingly predictable, Leclerc’s rear tires locked up and he spun against the wall on lap 17 without removing himself.
The start of the season was one of real excitement and intrigue as the new regulations brought about a change in performance dynamics.
Six months later, it feels like the Barcelona tests are as far back in history as Ferrari’s last championship – almost 15 years and counting.
Leclerc has always been destined for an F1 career of glitz, fame and glamour, and it really felt like 2022 was going to be his year to enjoy it all. Instead, we have experienced six months of uncertainty and unreliability, which now leaves us with too many questions that Ferrari management cannot seem to answer.
One of the main questions permeating the red air around the garage is simply, “Who is to blame?”
We’ve had four Ferrari wins and seven podiums so far this year. Had these been the results in 2021, there would be cause for celebration, not worry.
But with what appeared to have been promised at Barcelona, Red Bull’s 82-point deficit in the Constructors’ Championship is now a cause for confusion, let alone concern.
After Sunday’s race, the 24-year-old immediately took responsibility for his actions and responded to press inquiries afterwards: “(The fall was) a mistake, a mistake. I’ve said that I think I’m playing at the highest level of my career, but if I keep making these mistakes, there’s no point in playing at a very high level.”
Interestingly, though perhaps not particularly surprisingly, Ferrari team boss Matteo Binotti soon came out and also called Leclerc’s DNF a “real driver’s mistake”.
Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg told Sky Sports his verdict on Leclerc’s crash: “(It’s) really very unusual for that to happen because you don’t even go to the max there, you save tyres.
“For the tail to go like that there could be one thing at that point, that’s exactly the point where the wind is coming from behind and if you get an unfortunate gust or something it can suddenly take 20% of your downforce away in that one Moment.
“And besides, what was going on with the engine there? It just needs a little cut or something that can kick the rear end out. I really think they need to take some time to look at this because I still can’t believe it could be driver error.”
The former Mercedes driver is right to point out that while drivers are often responsible for their car being slammed into a wall, the position Leclerc was in makes it hard to believe it was just about was a driver error and that something was wrong didn’t emerge much deeper.
Ferrari has been heavily criticized this year for its choice of strategy and engine failures, and perhaps France was an easy way to put another losing win in the hands of its driver – not the car or his repeatedly failed strategies.
However, it is difficult to ignore what has happened before and so Binotti cannot hide behind his drivers even when Leclerc faces his own demons and must accept that their strategies will have to change if they want to win more podiums in their own races this year.
As we examine Leclerc’s misfortune, let’s ignore Ferrari’s other disappointment in France, which saw Carlos Sainz miss out on a potential podium.
The Spaniard was battling Sergio Perez for third place after moving up from last on the grid and just as Sainz had passed the Mexican, Ferrari decided it was the perfect time to pit.
List of Leclerc results in 2022:
- Bahrain: 1
- Saudi Arabia: 2
- Australia: 1
- Emilia Romagna: 6th (spins behind Perez)
- Miami: 2nd
- Spain: DNF (engine failure)
- Monaco: 4th (bad pit stop cost 1st place)
- Azerbaijan: DNF (engine failure)
- Canada: 5th (engine grid penalty)
- Great Britain: 4th place (failure to pit stop for the safety car cost 1st place)
- Austria: 1
- France: DNF (tire failure)
While this only focuses on 24-year-old Leclerc, the events of Sainz’s season could be a whole different chapter, but the questions and lack of answers very much reflect the history his Monegasque teammate suffered.
Ferrari are the most successful team of all time in Formula 1 and although it looked like they would return to their historic triumphs at the start of the season, they were instead hit with a huge slap in the face that cannot be passed off as a ‘driving error’.
Instead, Binotti, his engineers and his strategists must eliminate their constant annoyances so their talented riders can thrive in an environment they have been promised.