RACING

Why Formula 1’s fastest team doesn’t lead the championship

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At the Austrian Grand Prix a week and a half ago, Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his third victory of the season and the team’s second consecutive win. But Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. – who won his first career Grand Prix a week earlier at Silverstone – had a less pleasant outing: the Spaniard narrowly escaped his car, which caught fire in due to engine failure on the 56th lap.

It was the perfect encapsulation of the Prancing Horse in 2022: Sometimes grid class, sometimes calamitous hell.

In 11 races, no team has had more ups and downs than Ferrari. The most legendary team in Formula 1 history couldn’t have scripted a better start to the season, with a one-two finish in Bahrain that ended a 45-race winless drought. But Leclerc and Sainz only completed the track together once in the next three races. And after a 2-3 finish in Miami, which gave Ferrari a 6-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship and Leclerc a 19-point advantage in the Drivers’ Championship, both leads were gone when Ferrari didn’t score. only one podium – Sainz took second place. place in Monaco — over the next three races. (That streak included a trip to Azerbaijan, where Leclerc and Sainz failed to reach the finish line at all – the first time since 2009 that Ferrari has lost both drivers in a single Grand Prix.)

Things have improved recently, following victories at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. But this being Ferrari, it was not without drama. In Austria, Sainz was set to overtake reigning world champion Max Verstappen when he suffered complete engine failure just 15 laps from the finish, and a potential 1-2 for Ferrari went up in smoke (literally). Then Leclerc spent the final streak of the race struggling not only with Verstappen, but also with his own vehicle’s throttle, which had been left open in a problem that manifested itself on the opening lap.

Generally speaking, “Oh my god, I was scared, I was really scared”, is not the message usually delivered by the winning pilot – nor is it usual for his manager to team recognizes that he was unable to watch the final laps. worry in the final moments of a race win.

As a result of all this, Ferrari now trails Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship by 56 points, with Leclerc trailing Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship by 38. These deficits are particularly remarkable given Ferrari’s dominance in qualifying. , capturing pole position. in seven of 11 races. But while Ferrari were very quick to set the pace on Saturday, neither team saw a bigger drop in performance in the race itself.

We quantified this by calculating each driver’s percentile rankings in each event, both on qualifying day and race day, where the top finisher is in the 100th percentile and the bottom finisher is in the bottom percentile. Then we averaged those percentiles to see which teams have the biggest performance gaps, across all of their drivers. Unsurprisingly, Leclerc and Sainz collectively posted an average percentile of 88.2 in qualifying – helping Ferrari edge Red Bull (88.0) to the tops in F1 this season – but their average percentile of 66.9 in races places a distant third behind Mercedes and Red Bull this year. The gap between those numbers (minus-21.3 points) is the largest between a team’s race and qualifying results for any team in 2022 so far.

And in fact, no team from the V6 or V8 eras of the sport (since 2006) has experienced a greater gap between the average race finish percentile and qualifying percentile than Ferrari this season. You would have to go back to the Williams BMW team in 2001 (with Ralf Schumacher and a rookie Juan Pablo Montoya) to find a team with a wider split between qualifying and race day performance.

Ferrari didn’t make the most of their grid positioning

Largest gaps between a team’s average percentile ranking in qualifying and races during the V10, V8 and V6 eras of Formula 1 (since 2000)

Season Crew Drivers Races Qualification Races Diff.
2001 williams J. Montoya, R. Schumacher 17 83.6 54.2 -29.4
2000 Jordan H. Frentzen, J. Trulli 17 68.1 41.0 -27.0
2022 Ferrari C. Leclerc, C. Sainz 11 88.2 66.9 -21.3
2002 williams J. Montoya, R. Schumacher 17 88.6 69.2 -19.4
2002 McLaren K. Raikkonen, D. Coulthard 17 76.5 57.4 -19.1
2001 McLaren D. Coulthard, M. Hakkinen 17 82.6 65.8 -16.8
2005 BAR J. Button, T. Sato, A. Davidson 17 60.5 44.0 -16.6
2012 McLaren J. Button, L. Hamilton 20 81.0 65.0 -16.0
2010 Red Bull S.Vettel, M.Webber 19 93.7 78.1 -15.6
2001 Jordan H. Frentzen, J. Trulli + 2 others 17 64.8 49.3 -15.5

Percentiles are calculated against the peloton in each race and averaged over all drivers in a team. When multiple drivers failed to finish, finishing percentile tiebreakers went to the driver with the most laps completed, then to the lowest position on the starting grid.

Source: Racing-Reference.info

This inability to capitalize on Saturday’s success with wins on Sunday is a recurring feature of the Scuderia, which faced steep race day drops in 2016 (minus-8.4), 2017 (minus- 10.3), 2018 (minus-8.6) and 2019 (minus-9.1). In 2022, at least, much of the drop is the result of Ferrari’s approach to race strategy.

At home at Imola, after Sainz was knocked out of the race by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap, Leclerc picked up an aggressive pace in the closing laps on a wet track while trying to reach the podium. Instead, Leclerc’s car spun and in the wall. Two weeks later in Miami, Ferrari kept both drivers on track when a safety car came out late, rather than fitting one or both with fresh tires to challenge leader Verstappen. “We were left behind by Ferrari,” said Red Bull team principal Christan Horner after the win.

At Monaco, Ferrari locked down the front row in qualifying but did not win the race, largely because the team made multiple miscalculations of the gap and an errant pit stop for dry tires a sabotaged Leclerc’s chances. “If you lead the race [before pitting] and then you find yourself in fourth position [after], maybe we did something wrong,” said team principal Mattia Binotto. “We certainly made mistakes in our judgment and mistakes in our calls.”

Engine problems stopped both cars in Baku, including when Leclerc was leading the race. And at Silverstone, Ferrari again made the puzzling decision to keep one of its drivers on the track – in this case Leclerc – on worn tires for a safety car period as it pitted Sainz, who has added soft tires and won the race. . This knocked Leclerc off the podium and finished fourth. ESPN cautiously noted that Leclerc has dropped 72 points this season due to reliability issues and poor strategy.

As the action turns to France this weekend to start the second half of the season, Ferrari still finds itself somewhere it hasn’t been in years: contention. With an outside chance to catch up with Red Bull in the team standings and Leclerc performing like a driver capable of winning a world championship, Ferrari remains on potential for a long time despite its rocky first half. But the Prancing Horse needs to improve its strategy and avoid more mechanical explosions if the team is to consistently extend its dominance from qualifying sessions to the races themselves.

Neil Paine contributed research.

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