The French Grand Prix had it all - crashes, penalties and controversies - and while fans should be in jubilation over being able to witness such entertainment, there is a distinct note of disappointment and sorrow in the Formula 1 air.
Charles Leclerc was in a commanding position to take his fourth win of the year and Carlos Sainz had battled back his grid-penalty to fight with Red Bull and Mercedes after just a few laps, giving fans a reason to hope a double podium finish was on the cards.
But no. Once again it was not to be for the Italian Horses.
At the Paul Ricard circuit on Sunday (24 July), Leclerc got off to a strong start, managing to hold off 2022 rival Max Verstappen’s power and pace to push ahead.
All was going swimmingly for the Monegasque driver who looked set to achieve a fourth and vital win in this year’s calendar.
Yet, as seems frustratingly predictable now, Leclerc’s back tyres locked up and he spun into the wall on lap 17, unable to remove himself.
The start of the season saw genuine excitement and intrigue as the new regulations brought with them a change in power dynamics.
Barcelona pre-season testing had shown fans that Ferrari were back and 2022 was going to be their year to return to conquering the tracks.
Six months on, it feels as if Barcelona testing was as far back in history as Ferrari’s last Championship - almost 15 years and counting.
Leclerc has always been destined for an F1 career filled with glitz, glory and glamour and it really felt as if 2022 was going to be his year to enjoy all of this. Instead, we’ve witnessed six months of uncertainty and unreliability, leaving us now with too many questions that seem unable to be answered by the Ferrari management.
One of the main questions that pervades the red air around the garage is simply ‘who’s fault is it?’
We have had four Ferrari wins so far this year as well as seven podiums. Had these been the results back in 2021, there would be cause for celebration and not concern.
Yet with what was seemingly promised back in Barcelona, sitting 82 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors Championship is now a cause of confusion, let alone one for concern.
After Sunday’s race, the 24-year-old took immediate responsibility for his actions and when asked by the press afterwards he replied: “(The crash was) a mistake, a mistake. I’ve been saying I think I’m performing at my highest level in my career but if I keep making those mistakes then it’s pointless to perform at a very high level.”
Interestingly, although maybe not particularly surprisingly, Ferrari Team Principal Matteo Binotti soon came out and also cited Leclerc’s DNF as ‘a genuine driver error’.
Giving his verdict on Leclerc’s crash to Sky Sports, former F1 Champion Nico Rosberg said: “(it’s) really very unusual for that to happen in the way it did, because you’re not even pushing to the maximum there, you’re saving tyres.
“For the rear to go like that, one thing could be at that point, that’s exactly the point when the wind comes from the rear, and if you get an unlucky gust or something, that can suddenly take 20% of your downforce away right in that moment.
“And also, what was happening with the engine there? It only takes a little bit of a cut or something that can kick out the rear. I really think they need to take some time to look at that because I still can’t believe that it would be a driver mistake.”
The former Mercedes driver rightly points out that while drivers are often to blame for sending their car spinning into a wall, the position Leclerc was in makes it hard to believe it was solely a driver error and there wasn’t something wrong much deeper below the surface.
Ferrari have received heavy criticism this year as a result of their strategy choices and engine failures, and perhaps France was an easy way of placing yet another lost win in the hands of their driver - not the car or their repeatedly failing strategies.
Yet, it is hard to ignore what has come before and, as such, while Leclerc may face demons of his own, Binotti cannot hide behind his drivers and must accept that their strategies need to change if they are to win any more podiums, let alone races this year.
While we examine Leclerc’s misfortunes, we are ignoring the other disappointment from Ferrari in France which saw Carlos Sainz miss out on a potential podium.
The Spaniard was battling with Sergio Perez for third place having risen up through the grid from last and just as Sainz had overtaken the Mexican, Ferrari decided this was the perfect time to pit.
List of Leclerc results in 2022:
- Bahrain: 1st
- Saudi Arabia: 2nd
- Australia: 1st
- Emilia Romagna: 6th (spins chasing Perez)
- Miami: 2nd
- Spain: DNF (engine failure)
- Monaco: 4th (poor pit stop cost 1st place)
- Azerbaijan: DNF (engine failure)
- Canada: 5th (engine grid penalty)
- Great Britain: 4th (failure to pit stop during Safety Car cost 1st place)
- Austria: 1st
- France: DNF (tyres fail)
While this focuses just on the 24-year-old Leclerc, a whole other chapter could go into what has happened throughout Sainz’s season but the questions and lack of answers very much mirror the storyline suffered by his Monegasque teammate.
Ferrari are the most successful team ever in Formula 1 and while they looked to be returning to their historic triumphs when the season began, they have instead been hit by a huge reality slap which cannot be passed off as a ‘driver error’.
Binotti, his engineers and his strategists instead must fix their continuous vexations so their talented drivers can thrive in an environment they were promised.