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Ferrari Is Sabotaging Its First Real Shot at the F1 Title in Years

Red Bull's running away with the championship and Ferrari still can't get it together.
A Ferrari mechanic with their head in their hands

All of us are human. We all make mistakes. Sometimes it’s comforting to remember that, which is why watching the 2022 Formula 1 season is actually a valid form of therapy. I’ve done a lot of things that have been against my own best interests, thrown away opportunities, had fits of pique that saw me turn down things I should’ve gone for, and missed calls I should’ve taken. But at least I wasn’t spending $140 million to do that in public at Grand Prix circuits like Ferrari has this year.

Ferrari is now 82 points behind Red Bull in the constructors’ championship. Charles Leclerc is 63 points back from Max Verstappen in the drivers’ points stakes. Carlos Sainz, maybe more worryingly, is just one point ahead of George Russell whose move to Mercedes this year has not exactly gifted him a rocketship. All of those are weird positions for a team with the fastest car.

Charles Leclerc at the French Grand Prix, with Max Verstappen facepalming in the background

From testing onwards, Ferrari has been (most of the time) the quickest team by far. It seemed to have a bit of a blip around Imola and Miami but it picked right back up. Leclerc has claimed seven pole positions this year and Carlos Sainz, one; he could well have had another one last weekend if he hadn’t taken power unit penalties. When it’s working—not on fire, and not in a tire wall—the F1-75 looks legit. Like a proper Ferrari F1 car. It’s mean, dominant, and blisteringly fast with two incredibly quick drivers.

Sainz has struggled with the car, suffering a series of uncharacteristic big crashes at the first few races while seeming well off Leclerc’s pace in a way he wasn’t in 2021. Leclerc’s always seemed like he needs to crash a car a few times to really get the mastery of it but despite sending it into the wall during practice in Jeddah he was at the front from the start of the year, claiming two wins and a second-place finish out of the first three races.

The way Leclerc’s season has fallen apart was sort of pre-empted by the struggles Sainz had early on. Keeping control of the car seemed like his biggest challenge but he also had reliability issues that have started creeping into Leclerc’s side of the garage. Both cars have had power unit failures, as well as in other Ferrari-powered cars in the rest of the grid, and the big crashes just keep coming.

Leclerc missed a podium in Silverstone while Sainz won, and Sainz retired in a particularly disturbing, on fire and rolling backward down a hill way in Austria while Leclerc won. Back-to-back wins look good as a headline but when Red Bull isn’t having the same issues it doesn’t make a dent in the points deficit.

Charles Leclerc with the expression of a man who drives for Ferrari

Reliability is one thing. To have your engine blow up occasionally is to be a Formula 1 manufacturer; to completely sabotage your own strategy is Ferrari. Leclerc missed out on a win at his home race in Monaco and dropped points again at Silverstone through Ferrari’s poor strategies. And again in Le Castellet, it did the same thing to Sainz.

Having driven from 19th to third, despite a botched pit stop that saw him released into the path of another car and given a five-second time penalty he had to explain to his own engineer over the radio, Sainz was pitted again late in the race so that he could finish fifth. Perhaps the team was right that he wouldn’t have been able to stay ahead of Sergio Perez who was already battling Russell’s Mercedes but it seems bizarre, if not downright against the spirit of racing, to not let him at least try.

Leclerc blamed himself for crashing out of the lead at Paul Ricard and with other drivers having said there were gusty winds through that corner, he just might be telling the truth when he says he simply lost control of the rear. But having had a problem where the throttle wouldn’t lift fully on his car in the final laps of Austria, there’ll always be a cloud of suspicion that it might have been another issue, given the crash was unforced and totally out of the blue.

To win an F1 world championship you need to build a really good car, have really good drivers, and then use both of those to score more points than your rivals. Two out of three ain’t bad a lot of the time, but that’s definitely not good enough in F1. If Ferrari can’t find a way to stop making mistakes, then Verstappen and Red Bull will run away with the titles.

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