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Analysis | Leclerc and Verstappen set to for a fascinating in strategic GP

Analysis | Leclerc and Verstappen set to for a fascinating in strategic GP

22 May - 07:13 Last update: 12:37

For the fourth time during the 2022 Formula 1 season, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc will share the front row for the start of the race. Once again, the two rivals for the title proved they are a cut above the rest this year with even their teammates further behind. Though somewhat bizarrely, neither Leclerc nor Verstappen managed to complete their full planned schedule in the final Q3 session. 

Drama preceded anti-climax

It's somewhat of a feature in Leclerc's F1 career. A little small silly mistake at important times. A trait that he needs to remove quickly if he wants to be World Champion in 2022. During his first run in Q3, the man from Monaco spun at the chicane in the final sector. He lost the lap time, and the tyres didn't look to be in a good state either. 

On the other hand, if Verstappen wants to be World Champion in 2022, then Red Bull need to remove the trait where the car has a failure during the most important times. The Dutchman had to abort his second run in Q3 because of a failed DRS system. This adds to the list of small niggles with the car, but from his point of view, this hasn't cost him as much as failures in Bahrain and Australia.

Leclerc impressively managed to compose himself and hold enough confidence to smash in a second lap to take pole position by almost four-tenths. How did he manage to do that? 

The data...

What stands out immediately is Leclerc's advantage coming out of the final corner. On the run down to the finish line, Leclerc has the advantage. As has been the case throughout the season so far, the Ferrari car is much better at the acceleration phase. Leclerc has a little bit more traction and is, therefore, able to push the throttle down a little bit quicker. 

The telemetry shows both drivers are pressing the accelerator at a similar rate. Through the final acceleration period, there's only between 10-20% difference throughout, but that small margin gives Leclerc the advantage. Leclerc also climbs through the gears at a quicker rate than the Red Bull car. 

Leclerc gained almost two-and-a-half tenths to Verstappen at the start of sector three and between turns 11 and 13. As expected, the medium corners really favour Ferrari over the single lap. At turn 12, Leclerc is able to stay on the throttle at an average of 8% whilst Verstappen has to shut the throttle off completely. Leclerc is able to come off the brakes quicker, and thus allows him to carry a speed advantage in this medium-speed corner. A real strength of Ferrari this season. 

That exact same point is replicated at other parts of the circuit including turn three and five. The RB18 is still superior in the straight-line speed department. On any kind of straight, Verstappen takes the advantage of top speed once the acceleration phase is complete. 

So it's Leclerc's race to lose? 

Once again, Ferrari have a quicker car for single lap running. Red Bull's team boss Christian Horner believed that even if Verstappen's DRS problem didn't occur, he wouldn't have been able to beat Leclerc's time. That's impossible to say with any certainty, but historical data would suggest it is true. 

Pole position has won in Barcelona 74% of the time. Pole position always has the highest percentage, but that really is extreme. In contrast, a pole position at Monaco has only won 45% of the time. You have to go back to 2019 when Lewis Hamilton overturned Valtteri Bottas' pole position to get a different Saturday and Sunday winner. Though Hamilton made the move in the opening lap. 

Then you have to go back to 2016 to find the next time pole position didn't win. Verstappen took advantage of the Mercedes crash to take the win in his Red Bull debut. In 2013, Fernando Alonso worked his way through the field to take the win after starting from fifth place in front of his home fans. Between 1997 and 2010 inclusive, the pole position holder always won the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona apart from one single occasion. So surely Leclerc has the win? 

Not at all. Equipped with new rules and regulations, the cars in 2022 can follow each other closely. In the last five races, we've seen battles for the lead and many overtaking opportunities, though DRS is still playing a lead role. But Verstappen's biggest advantage is his race pace and tyre management. In the second free practice session, Red Bull had an average lap pace of just over half a second compared to Ferrari who even lagged behind Mercedes. 

Mattia Binotto confirmed on Saturday morning that Ferrari had made some overnight changes to the car to have better balance in the race. The long-run data looked better for Ferrari in FP3, though still slightly down on Red Bull. The temperatures are extremely high in Barcelona, as is tyre degradation. The pit stops will be absolutely crucial and history tells us Red Bull Racing have the upper hand when it comes to this. All in all, it should be a fascinating race. 

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