With all due respect – the bare minimum, really – to Max Verstappen, Ferrari have been Ferrari’s toughest opponents this season. Kathryn brought as much back from Silverstone earlier this month, and it remains as true as it was then after the French Grand Prix on Sunday. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Charles Leclerc was in a great position to win a race, only to end his day picking up a Did Not Finish. Or hey, here’s another one from the archives: Ferrari absolutely twists a pitting strategy and likely loses position in the process. These are reruns and they get exhausting.
Let’s start with Leclerc. While it’s always easier and perhaps more cathartic to blame Ferrari’s mechanical works for a DNF, by Leclerc’s own admission, it was purely driver error from a driver who didn’t. hadn’t really been here before. In a post-race interview, Leclerc admitted he pushed too hard at Turn 11, causing his rear tires to flip and spin straight into the wall. He called the mistake “unacceptable”, and it really is, if his goal is to win the championship. It looks like his mistake at Imola earlier in the season, and it’s the type of mistake he will slowly work through as he climbs to the top of Formula 1.
However, it’s still about Ferrari, so there was actually a mechanical problem as the retirement approached: after Leclerc crashed into the wall, he could have potentially reversed and returned to the track. to try to score points. Even a dot would have been useful, after all. Just as happened in Austria two weekends ago, however, Leclerc seemed to have a problem with the accelerator pedal that wouldn’t allow him to back off the wall, ending his run for good and causing this which will likely be Ferrari’s enduring sound of the season: a stream of heavy breaths leading to a primal rage roar of “No!” which thundered throughout the south of France:
OK, so that was Leclerc’s exit. However, Carlos Sainz surely did better than his last outing, when his car literally caught fire. And yes, it’s true that Sainz put in the best performance of any driver on Sunday: After starting 19th due to engine failures, Sainz climbed up to third place late in the race. But since this is Ferrari and it’s 2022, that’s not how it would end.
Before passing Sergio Perez in third, Sainz had picked up a five-second penalty in the safety car pit stop that followed Leclerc’s crash. You see, Sainz had a dangerous outing, almost crashing into Alex Albon’s Williams car and a poor mechanic in the McLaren pit:
So, fine, that’s a penalty. Sainz was so fast, however, that he looked like he could pass Perez on the track and possibly finish more than five seconds ahead of George Russell for a fourth place. Things were looking good as Sainz raced over Perez on lap 42, only for Ferrari to ask the Spaniard to stop when he was overtaking. The radio call came as Sainz rode wheel-to-wheel on Perez, and his exasperated complaints about the strategic call only increased after the team pushed him through to the next lap, ending his chances of finishing anything above fifth place.
It was a strange call, or it would have been for any other team. For Ferrari, it just feels like par for the course at the moment. Between mechanical problems in Spain, Azerbaijan, Austria and now France, as well as strategic miscalculations in Monaco and Silverstone, Ferrari left so many points on the board, and that’s even before taking driver errors into account. Formula 1 isn’t so much about being the fastest on the grid, although that’s a big part of it. It’s also about rectifying the dots with consistency and smart strategy.
Red Bull has understood this, and they have the car to back up their sound process. Mercedes also know what they are doing after years of being the best team on the field, and only a misfire on the car design keeps them away from a real title challenge. Ferrari, however, is wasting what appears to be the best car on the grid with a slew of self-inflicted injuries.
Leclerc and Sainz battle not only the other 18 drivers on the grid, but the Ferrari pit wall, the Ferrari cars and their own inconsistencies. Leclerc ramming his car into the wall at Paul Ricard likely ended the title chase, as Verstappen’s only issues this year have been mechanical issues that Red Bull have mostly under control. The Monagesque driver is now 63 points behind the defending champion, a gap as insurmountable as possible after 12 races in the season. With the summer break just one race away, Ferrari will have to hope it can fix whatever ails it in August. Otherwise, what could have been a return to its historic form will end up as yet another “next year is our year” campaign.