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Formula 1

Leclerc has ‘stopped counting’ points deficit to Verstappen

by Ben Anderson
5 min read

Charles Leclerc says he has “stopped counting” his points deficit to Formula 1 title rival Max Verstappen, as Red Bull looks set for its first championship double since 2013.

Having led Verstappen by 46 points in the F1 drivers’ championship following April’s Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc has seen that advantage reverse into a 98-point deficit heading into the final seven races of 2022.

There are still a maximum 190 points to play for, so mathematically the championship is far from settled, but Verstappen’s recent run of form – winning five of the past seven grands prix and three on the bounce since Austria – makes the title look increasingly a long shot for Leclerc.

“I don’t know how many points there are between myself and Max, I stopped counting,” Leclerc told media ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

“But it’s a lot of points so we’ll take it race by race, if there’s a good surprise at the end of the year then good.

“Obviously looking at things as they are now, realistically it’s extremely difficult to make it work – but there’s still plenty to fight for.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari F1 Dutch GP Zandvoort

“For the constructors’ championship, for the second place in the championship, I’ll be pushing right to the end.”

This reads like a tacit admission from Leclerc that his and Ferrari’s championship hopes are all but over for this year – though it should be noted that team boss Mattia Binotto consistently stated Ferrari wasn’t targeting a title push in 2022, rather a return to race-winning form after two seasons compromised by the last-minute engine concessions it made in conjunction with the FIA head of the 2020 campaign.

“We are learning a lot race by race,” said Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz. “The team has produced a very strong car, which is something that was our main target, to get back to top and back enjoying fighting at the front of the grid. This was a number one objective and we achieved it.

“Then the way that we’ve raced at the front, I think there’s obviously things we can do better – but I see a very solid team, a solid atmosphere in the team that we can just keep improving and make sure that for next year we can do another step and not only fight for race wins, but also make the race wins happen a lot more often and get the championship.”

Ferrari has taken eight pole positions from 14 races so far in 2022, but only won four races, highlighting a relative weakness in race trim compared to Red Bull – which has a heavier but aerodynamically more-efficient car that also tends to be kinder to the Pirelli tyres than the Ferrari does.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Race Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

Verstappen dominated the most recent race in Belgium after starting 14th on the grid, while Leclerc finished well over a minute behind after starting only one place behind his main rival (albeit compromised by a forced extra pitstop at the start). Carlos Sainz started his Ferrari on pole but finished over 26 seconds behind Verstappen.

Though Ferrari considers Red Bull’s incredible performance at Spa to be an outlier, it should be concerned by the fact it has slipped back towards the clutches of sub-par Mercedes in both championships while Red Bull – and Verstappen in particular – has stretched clear of the field.

Zandvoort is a circuit that requires higher downforce settings and much less compromise between straightline speed and cornering prowess compared to Spa, so theoretically Ferrari should be in better shape relative to Red Bull this weekend.

Ferrari’s home race at Monza, next up on the calendar and requiring especially low-downforce settings, will likely provide a stronger indicator of whether Ferrari has learned lessons from its chastening defeat in Belgium.

“Overall I think we have a strong car,” Leclerc added. “First part of season, we’ve been very strong in corners, all the types of corners: slow, medium-speed we are strong, particularly because of traction.

“But then if you look at Spa, they [Red Bull] were strong everywhere, strong in straights, strong in corners.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Practice Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

“I think it’s more a set-up direction than anything else [that explains why Ferrari was so slow at Spa].

“We don’t have the full confirmation, we have loads of little things that make us think that, but we’ll have the confirmation for sure in Monza.

“If we manage to get back performance compared to Red Bull in Monza, then it means we understood something.”

Carlos Sainz Ferrari F1 Dutch GP

Sainz feels the extremity of Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull at Spa has distorted perception of what he feels has otherwise been a very close fight between the two teams throughout the season so far.

“I think Spa was a great example of how an off weekend can just change the perception so much in Formula 1,” he said. “I don’t think we are as bad as it seems, and I’m pretty sure we can be back on form this weekend and be fighting again for pole and win.

“I don’t believe they [Red Bull] have improved [in reality] so much as they [apparently] did in Spa. I think if we would have to go back to Spa 10 times, 10 out of 10 they would win because they just have a better package for that circuit.

“But I also feel we can do things better in those sorts of tracks, that we can maybe close the gap a bit more in those sorts of tracks and learn something from such a difficult weekend.

“We’ve done 14 races this year. In all of them we’ve been within a tenth in qualifying and in the race and then suddenly there was one where it was eight tenths [sic – the gap was six tenths].

“Maybe I’m just being too optimistic or too hopeful that we will not see that happen again, but it’s my feeling and maybe this weekend will prove me completely wrong – but we will see.”

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