Austrian GP: Charles Leclerc has a ‘breakthrough’ in Formula 1 title bid, but can the frail Ferrari keep up?

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Charles Leclerc was happy to be back on the top step of the podium, but admits he is concerned about reliability following team-mate Carlos Sainz’s engine problems.

Charles Leclerc was happy to be back on the top step of the podium, but admits he is concerned about reliability following team-mate Carlos Sainz’s engine problems.

The tension was palpable in the closing laps and the relief was evident after Charles Leclerc crossed the finish line on Sunday. “He definitely needed that,” said the Monegasque, having deftly overtaken Max Verstappen for the lead not once, not twice, but three times.

“Finally, we had a good revolutionary race.”

He may still be 38 points behind his main rival in the championship, but if Leclerc is to celebrate his first Formula 1 world title in November, the Austrian GP may be the turning point we remember, with Spielberg scoring a return to prominence and ending an unfortunate run of bad luck that followed a stormy start to the season.

Leclerc looked set to add to what was already a 19-point lead in the title as he comfortably led the Spanish GP, the fifth race of 2022, reaching the middle of the stage before an engine failure. He would then face engine penalties in Canada, while bizarre strategic decisions by Ferrari cost Leclerc chances at Monaco, Baku and Silverstone.

Charles Leclerc came out on top after another dramatic battle with title rival Max Vertstappen in Austria.

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Charles Leclerc came out on top after another dramatic battle with title rival Max Vertstappen in Austria.

Charles Leclerc came out on top after another dramatic battle with title rival Max Vertstappen in Austria.

Seven rounds and three months after last climbing to the top step at the Australian GP, ​​Leclerc was unfazed by losing to Verstappen in the Sprint. His decree that “we’ll catch them tomorrow” after that mini race was a sign of his confidence. and he was a driver possessed when the lights go out.

Leclerc, so often the prey this season with Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage, was the hunter. He stunned Verstappen on the inside of Turn 4 on Lap 12, before making the most of his tire advantage at Turn 3 on Lap 33 and decisively exiting that corner with 13 laps remaining.

Quicker than his team-mate throughout the weekend and displaying the excellent racing skills he has shown since breaking into F1 in 2018, Leclerc also needed his typical calm and collected style to handle the acceleration issues that plagued his limit switch, with its pedal. having bogged down in certain corners to cost him speed.

Charles Leclerc crosses the finish line first to win the Austrian GP, ​​his first victory without starting from pole!

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Charles Leclerc crosses the finish line first to win the Austrian GP, ​​his first victory without starting from pole!

Charles Leclerc crosses the finish line first to win the Austrian GP, ​​his first victory without starting from pole!

He eventually won by a couple of seconds and his title bid is back on track.

“I definitely needed it,” he said afterwards. “I mean, of course, every time I come to a new race after five races, I have a smile on my face and I remained optimistic, but obviously race after race I felt everything was against me.

“So we finally had a great race today and it really feels good to have a win again.”

What happened to Red Bull? Are Ferraris faster?

The pattern for F1 2022 had been for Ferrari to have speed on a Saturday and Red Bull to have the lead on a Sunday. In fact, before Spielberg, Ferrari had seven poles and three wins, and Red Bull had three poles and seven wins.

Therefore, one of the great surprises of the Austrian GP was that Verstappen did not, and apparently could not, put up any more of a fight.

The best of the action from an epic Austrian Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc took victory.

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The best of the action from an epic Austrian Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc took victory.

The best of the action from an epic Austrian Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc took victory.

The main problem for the Dutchman was tire degradation. While Sunday was initially predicted to be a one-stop race, Verstappen was wearing out his tires much faster than the Ferraris behind and was unable to hold off Leclerc before his first stop, just after the first overtake.

Although Verstappen was then quick on new tyres, Leclerc made light work of a six-second deficit coming out of the pits and an overtaking pattern, irreversible for Verstappen and Red Bull, was set for the race.

“I was expecting it to be tough today, but I didn’t expect it to be like this,” said Verstappen, who was also complaining about cornering traction in the closing stages. “It’s something we need to analyze and understand.”

His consolation is that he only lost five points to Leclerc over the weekend, while his previous closest rival, team-mate Sergio Perez, had a pointless Sunday.

Ted Kravitz recalls an epic race at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Ted Kravitz recalls an epic race at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Ted Kravitz recalls an epic race at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Of course, Ferrari’s pace shouldn’t be overlooked either.

With a lower downforce rear wing than earlier in the season, Ferrari was just as quick as the previously dominant Red Bull down the straights and also evidently as kind to its tires as before.

That was a potent combination, one that changed the Red Bull vs. Ferrari dynamic in Austria, and could very possibly change it in the future.

While this was a statement win for Leclerc, it was a statement win for Ferrari.

Ferrari’s Achilles heel fails again

The concern for Leclerc and Ferrari is that their great weakness from 2022 was again apparent on Sunday.

With better pace than Verstappen in both cars, it looked like it was going to be the first one-two finish for the Scuderia since April when Carlos Sainz entered Red Bull’s DRS range. Cue engine smoke, then engine fire and another DNF.

It makes four mechanical failures for Ferrari already this season.

Leclerc’s win coupled with Perez’s retirement means Ferrari has made up ground on Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, but people could validly argue that the Scuderia have had the fastest car in 2022. So a deficit of 56 points in the ranking is simply not enough.

Carlos Sainz's Ferrari caught fire following an engine failure that ended his career in Austria.

Use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari caught fire following an engine failure that ended his career in Austria.

Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari caught fire following an engine failure that ended his career in Austria.

Team boss Mattia Binotto, who admitted he couldn’t even watch the final three laps for fear Leclerc would suffer the same fate as Sainz, said the engine failure was “most likely” the same as Leclerc’s in Baku. , adding: “It is certainly a concern. But the people in Maranello are working very hard to try to solve them.”

“We need to get through this as quickly as possible,” Leclerc said.

There could also be repercussions in the future. Just as Leclerc served an engine penalty in Canada, Sainz surely now has a threat, while the Spaniard’s title bid, just a week after he appeared to kick-start it with a British GP win, could well have finished after dropping 75 points. behind Verstappen.

Ferraris are fast, but fragile, and that too could have a lot to say in this fascinating title race.

The intrigue continues with a double header ahead of the summer break, starting with the French GP on July 22-24. Watch all the action live on Sky Sports F1.

Leave a Comment