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Everything seemed perfect for Ferrari from the start of winter testing. It quickly became apparent that last season’s work had paid off and the 2022 car showed promise.
The start of the season confirmed those promises were true and Scuderia took advantage of Red Bull’s reliability woes to move up a decent league lead after just three races.
Then Ferrari reached his land in Imola. And that’s when she got her first warning.
Let’s start with Charles Leclerc. I had already emphasized this season that I was curious to see whether he would eradicate the small driving mistakes that he makes from time to time. At Imola he set a perfect example of what I had in mind.
Sometimes it’s like he wants to do a little too much. Like last year in Monaco, when he drove into the wall in qualifying with a provisional lead, damaged the car and couldn’t start the next day.
Sort of like in Baku in 2019 when he was a favorite to take the lead but finished and hit the wall as he only needed to finish in the top-10 in Q2 to advance to the next round, leading to his notoriety conducted radio communications “I’m stupid!” to his team.
At the last Grand Prix, Ferrari and Leclerc decided to play aggressive a second time and try to put some pressure on Sergio Perez. In itself it wasn’t a bad decision. In theory, Ferrari had nothing to lose. Leclerc wouldn’t pass Perez if nothing changed and one more stop wouldn’t see Leclerc lose any position so why not try rolling the dice and see what happens.
In practice we encouraged Leclerc to push as hard as possible to get second place with the result we know today.
In retrospect, one wonders whether it would not have been wiser to settle for third place and let the Red Bulls have been the fastest all weekend. In a title race that promises to be close, every point counts, it’s sometimes wiser to take the points available than double play or quit… especially of course when we’re ahead in the championship.
For Ferrari, however, this Grand Prix is not a disaster. The team is still first in the standings, as is Leclerc, who is still 27 points clear of Verstappen. We could afford a more difficult weekend and if we learn the right lessons from it, it could even be to Ferrari’s advantage. We have seen what a dilemma we have to face with the Reds this season. Play for everything, or collect the points available to us?
If it’s taken as a warning that the season is long and nothing is won despite an excellent start to the season, Scuderia will only be stronger for that.
Leclerc will also learn from his mistakes. It’s normal training for a young driver and you have to give him time to gain experience. Despite being in his fourth season at Ferrari, this is the first time he can really fight for the title, and all that that entails.
In fact, his rival this season is a good example of how, despite its immense potential, experience is impossible to buy. Since joining Red Bull in 2016, Verstappen has made costly driving mistakes. His aggressive driving style has been the subject of much criticism over the years. However, with time and experience, he understood that a title race is a long marathon and became the fearsome and, most importantly, consistent rider we know today.
It will be the same at Leclerc. His start to the season is remarkable, he could afford a mistake like that. The talent is undisputed. He just has to be careful not to open the door to Verstappen too often. But one thing is for sure, the season promises to be very exciting between the two drivers.
Less and less room for Sainz
If Leclerc could afford a small mistake and still maintain a good lead at the top of the championship, let’s just say Carlos Sainz doesn’t have the same luxury.
After two podium finishes earlier in the season, the Spaniard failed to complete three rounds in two events and finished first on the second round at the gravel pit and at Imola in Australia.
It must be said that he bears no blame for the incident on the first lap of the last Grand Prix. Daniel Ricciardo took the blame after the race. Still, the Sainz case shows how small mistakes here and there can quickly change the look of a season.
In Australia he did too much to move up after qualifying ninth. At Imola, leaving the track in qualifying put him in a difficult position, but the sprint race allowed him to erase much of that mistake.
After two difficult weekends, Sainz is now 48 points behind his team-mate. As we are in the longest season in Formula 1 history he still has time to return to the championship but in his case the margin is getting tighter.
So it will be interesting to see how Sainz, Leclerc and Ferrari will recover this weekend on the all-new Miami layout. There’s a lot of excitement as this Florida Grand Prix approaches and for us in Quebec it also means a much more lenient schedule for those who, like me, like to get up later! Qualifying will be presented this Saturday at 4:00 p.m., while the race will start at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.