PALMER: Why Ferrari will look to fight back after the pain of its double DNF in Baku
Charles Leclerc and Ferrari couldn’t go wrong in the opening races of the season, as the Monegasque driver built what looked like a menacing commanding lead in the championship while Red Bull faltered with early reliability worries.
As Red Bull led its second DNF in three races in Melbourne, Ferrari celebrated another win, one that seemed settled before Verstappen’s car was even racing, and it left the team 49 points clear of Red. Bull in the standings, and Leclerc an incredible 46 points ahead of Max Verstappen.
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The turnaround in the next five races was even more staggering, leaving Ferrari needing a fight back to get them back in the championship fight.
It was an 80 point comeback to Verstappen and a whopping 129 point comeback to Red Bull, leaving them a distance behind in both championships, championships they once led.
The big difference between Red Bull’s points infiltration and Ferrari’s is that Red Bull lost with a similar refueling problem in Bahrain and Melbourne, a more complex problem that they now seem to have under control.
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Ferrari had more major powertrain failures on Leclerc’s car in their two DNFs in Spain and Baku, and to compound their problems both failures came while Leclerc was in the lead and looking for victory, certainly in Spain. and probably during the race. in Baku as well, while Verstappen’s retirements came when he was squarely beaten to second place. Therefore, one could say that the net cost of retirements has been higher for Ferrari.
This makes it more difficult to cash in, especially since Red Bull then inherits the most comfortable of the doubles for the second time in three races.
Other issues also made things more difficult for the Scuderia.
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Verstappen and Leclerc had two retirements, but Leclerc also made a big mistake at Imola by battling for second with Perez late, hitting the barriers and costing himself a handful of points, when in my opinion the team blundered in Monaco with the lead car strategy, which cost Leclerc even more.
Charles has been brilliant in qualifying this season; taking six of the eight pole positions, he is currently on an incredible four pole streak in a row and has yet to start the front row.
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He is undoubtedly the best qualified at the moment. His ability to nail the final lap of Q3 is incredible. When the pressure is on, the track is at its best and you have a ride to set everything up and explore new limits, it just delivers steadily without error. It is one of the most difficult skills in motor racing and has always been integral to success in F1.
In some ways, that adds to the exasperation on Sunday as he continues to put himself in the best position but then can’t score the points, which is ultimately what matters. I can’t remember a time when a driver scored four poles in a row but didn’t win any of those races.
If I were him, my frustration would start to mount. As a driver, there is nothing you can do but swallow the reliability issues and move on.
You can control so many aspects from the cockpit, you can have a race under complete control, but if your car lets you down, it’s one of the most heartbreaking experiences. Even more so this year for Leclerc who can feel he is in a real title fight for the first time in his F1 career and is driving at a level worthy of being there this season.
Reliability issues are not only a headache in terms of lost points, but also in terms of grid penalties, which Charles will surely have to take probably sooner rather than later, and also in the age of cost caps, this means they’re going to have to devote more time and resources to improving the reliability of key components at the possible cost of finding performance upgrades.
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Ferrari had been coy about its upgrade program at Miami, preferring to keep its cards close to its chest at the start of the season with limited development, while other teams made a steady stream of small improvements to the car.
They rightly thought it could benefit them in the longer term, as the cost cap would mean that other teams would overspend their budget up front, while Ferrari has room to improve further over time. the season.
I’m sure that still holds up to some extent, but what they didn’t consider at the time was that they would need to fix a lot of the reliability issues that hadn’t arose at that time. The Ferrari that once seemed fast and reliable has now shown that it is not a bulletproof machine.
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To add salt to injuries, Red Bull is ticking all the boxes at the moment and putting pressure on Ferrari, with five straight wins in races that have seen them deliver decent all-round performances.
Imola saw them ride strong in the wet, Miami they won with better tire management, Spain and Baku were easy due to Ferrari failures, while Monaco was a strategic success for them.
Verstappen, as defending champion this year, also appears to be driving with more maturity. He is happier biding his time in the races rather than opting for the win-or-bust approach he sometimes took last year.
All in all, that makes Red Bull a serious force in the championship and Ferrari, I’m sure, are feeling the pressure of not having won a Drivers’ Championship since 2007, despite having come a number of ways times since.
With the championship already swinging back and forth, they are hoping for another major twist. Mattia Binotto has played down Canada as a ‘must win’, but they will surely want to hit back as soon as possible to show that they are still a major factor in this championship fight.