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Analysis | Why it almost seems as if Ferrari does not want Leclerc to win
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Analysis | Why it almost seems as if Ferrari does not want Leclerc to win

4 July - 08:22
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GPblog.com

Ferrari has, not for the first time in 2022, given away a potential double victory. Indeed, it helped Max Verstappen limit his damage in the battle for the world championship by favouring Carlos Sainz. GPblog finds out what went wrong at the British Grand Prix.

A repeat of Monaco

After the Monaco debacle you would expect Ferrari to have learned from their tactical blunders, but nothing could be further from the truth at Silverstone. Not only did the team again make the wrong choices at the wrong times, but it was chaotic over the boardroom radio and the drivers seemed to be making the choices.

Sainz had put himself in a good position for the British Grand Prix with the pole, putting Ferrari in a difficult position. Charles Leclerc is the leading driver in the championship and the closest to Max Verstappen in the standings. Yet throughout the race, the team did not seem to fully realise this.

Although Sainz had taken pole, it became clear in the race that he did not have the pace of Verstappen and Leclerc. The Dutchman put a lot of pressure on the Spaniard and the latter made a mistake. Had it not been for a piece of carbon that ruined Verstappen's race, Sainz might never have won it.

Hamilton sees his chance

Things turned out differently and on lap thirteen Sainz regained the lead. Leclerc was a second behind and Hamilton was six seconds behind. That Leclerc was still so competitive was remarkable. He was missing a part of his front wing. That he was still faster than Sainz must have given Ferrari pause for thought.

In the three laps that followed Ferrari did not seem to fully realise the danger of Hamilton. After Verstappen had dropped out Hamilton accelerated where Sainz could not. On each lap the seven times world champion gets closer and Leclerc starts to realise this. On lap sixteen he asks his team what he needs to do to get past Sainz.

Of course the situation is tricky for Ferrari. Sainz is in the lead and has never won a race. He will not give up that lead without a fight. Leclerc seems to realise this too, but the calls for help become more intense on lap eighteen. Ferrari's response, however, didn't come until lap 19 when Sainz was asked to push. He receives this message several more times, after which he irritatedly announces that they don't need to tell him anymore.

On lap 21, eight laps after Verstappen dropped out of the race, Ferrari pulls Sainz in front of Leclerc. Hamilton has already closed the gap to 3,5 seconds and Leclerc, without DRS behind Sainz, is unable to get ahead of Hamilton. Indeed, Hamilton is closing in on the Monegasque by a second until Leclerc's pit stop on lap 25.

Déjà vu

In the meantime Sainz did what he had to do on his new hard tyres. He was as fast as Hamilton and faster than his teammate. As a result, Leclerc comes in behind his teammate after his own pit stop and it starts all over again. Leclerc closes the gap to Sainz, but then seems to get stuck again.

Leclerc initially drives faster lap times than Hamilton, but once stuck behind Sainz is a few tenths slower per lap than Hamilton. Sainz is told a target time of 1.32.2 by his team, but Leclerc argues over the board radio that this is not fast enough. The driver is right. Hamilton is ahead despite Sainz's acceleration. Why Leclerc sees this and the Ferrari pit wall does not is a mystery.

On lap 31, six laps down from his teammate, Leclerc gets the spot from Sainz to secure the undercut. This succeeds. In the next few laps, Leclerc shows that despite a broken front wing, he is faster than his teammate and manages to narrow the gap to Hamilton. Under the pressure, Hamilton dived in on lap 34.

Although we will never know if this lost time behind Sainz would have ultimately cost Leclerc if Hamilton had been allowed to continue his pursuit on the new hard tyres, everyone knows that every millisecond counts in this sport. Ferrari taking so long to make decisions will cost them a lot of points in the end.

Ferrari blunder

The biggest blunder of all, however, was made by Ferrari when they pulled over in the safety car for Esteban Ocon on lap 39. A free opportunity to go to the soft tyre is not taken with Leclerc. With hindsight, the team argues that they would probably have lost time with a double pit stop, but the gap between Leclerc and Sainz was nine seconds. You can almost do three pitstops in that time.

On Leclerc's board radio you hear the engineer say that the pit window for a safety car stop is not open. In other words, there is not enough room to make a pit stop without losing a place. That's true, but in this situation everyone would go to the soft tyre. On the hard tyre you are seen at the restart.

Ferrari sees this logic a few seconds later for Carlos Sainz. His pit window is not open at all with Lewis Hamilton at his heels, but he goes in? Ferrari simply took too long to come to this logical conclusion and tries to get away with a poor excuse afterwards.

The disarray is compounded when Sainz's engineer says over the board radio that the team have discussed having him ten car lengths away from Leclerc. In this way they want to protect Leclerc and get a 1-2.

First of all, it is of course exceptional to suggest this to a driver who, on soft tyres on P2, is in a unique position to secure his first victory. It also just goes to show that Ferrari themselves recognised that they had disadvantaged Leclerc. It tried to save what it could. How they saw that with this strategy, however, is a mystery.

Leclerc disadvantaged (again)

If Sainz had managed to hold off Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton for three laps while having to slow down to keep his distance from Leclerc, how would he have been able to hold them off when DRS was activated and the Spaniard did not have DRS himself?

The clever and remarkable thing is that it was the driver in question who remained calm. Despite his team's remarkable proposal, he saw the big picture clearly. He didn't need any data to tell the team that they had come up with a ridiculous plan and single-handedly ensured that the plan was swept aside. Perhaps Ferrari should think twice in future before dumping every idea in the driver's cockpit.

For Leclerc, it is unfortunate that for the second time he has been so badly let down by his own team. He is the team's leader in the standings, was clearly the better driver in the race despite damage to his car, but he is not treated like that. You sometimes wonder if Ferrari really want Leclerc to be number one, or if Sainz might be preferred. It would go some way to explaining Sunday's peculiar choices.

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