Paul Ricard Takeaways: Now Leclerc bungles it up!

Paul Ricard Takeaways: Now Leclerc bungles it up!

Charles Leclerc didn’t need Ferrari to mess up his race this time as he was fully up for that task at Paul Ricard, while the team were busy messing other stuff up.

By other stuff, I mean Carlos Sainz’s race, which was an elaborate Red Plan that began back from the Austrian Grand Prix, remember that one?

Two weeks are not enough to forget the “Blaze of Glory” in which Sainz retired from the race at the Red Bull Ring after his power unit detonated as he was on course for second place.

As a result, the Spaniard had to take a new power unit and start race at Le Castellet from the back of the grid, where he delivered a strong come back, with a potential podium on the cards, had there not been another questionable strategy call from Ferrari.

The Scuderia also managed to screw up Sainz’s pitstop under the Safety Car – caused by his teammate’s crash – which should have been a chance for him to advance up the order, but ended up with a five-second penalty.

But the star of the show has to be Charles Leclerc, with his glaring, race-ending error for which he has only himself to blame, as he now lags, 63 points behind Max Verstappen in the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.

Ferrari found themselves in the spotlight for the wrong reasons once more, which is becoming a tad boring. Nevertheless they sit on top of our Takeaways from the 2022 French Grand Prix.

Maybe Leclerc doesn’t deserve to win the Championship

Leclerc won the last race in Austria despite his throttle pedal issue, and one would have thought both he and the team would use that momentum in France.

Things were looking good, as Ferrari pulled a tactical masterstroke with the tow they had Sainz give for Leclerc to help the latter secure pole, a plan both drivers and team executed with perfection, rendering Max Verstappen helpless despite his RB18’s superior straight-line speed.

I have to admit that I was sweating watching Ferrari doing the tow thing, but they ultimately pulled it off with finesse, setting Leclerc up for a promising race on Sunday.

Leclerc was brilliant in his defense from Verstappen in the opening stint of the race, the Dutchman unable to pass despite all his efforts, with Red Bull pulling the trigger early on the pitstops and going for the undercut.

By then, one would presume that the pressure was off Leclerc, which makes his error even more strange, but as our colleague David Terrien pointed out, the Monegasque was under pressure still, as he was trying to to ruin Red Bull’s undercut attempt, pushing on aging Mediums.

Many lamented the missed opportunity of watching a great fight on track between Verstappen and Leclerc last Sunday, but if things keep going this way with Ferrari and Leclerc, then we are losing much more than one fight, as the Championship is under the risk of becoming a one-horse-race, and it won’t be a Prancing one.

As for Leclerc’s error, it cannot be justified no matter how intense the pressure was, as the Championship he is fighting for now slipped away even further, and while he could blame Ferrari for his misfortunes, Leclerc now has two of his own making.

He said that he “does not deserve to win the Championship” if his mistakes persist; well maybe Leclerc does not deserve it, at least not this year.

Are Mercedes improving or not?

The eight-time Constructors’ Champions has a run of podiums since Silverstone, and it was a double podium that they achieved at Paul Ricard; Lewis Hamilton second and George Russell third.

But despite their ‘porpoising’ being unnoticeable these days, Mercedes’ results cannot be considered to be achieved on merit, as they are always capitalizing on others’ errors or misfortunes.

Don’t get me wrong, as full credit goes to the team and their drivers for the perfect execution of races in an underperforming car. It shows their caliber and quality as a squad, unlike Ferrari who are wasting all the potential of their rapid F1-75 with team errors, reliability problems, and driver errors.

Coming back to Mercedes, despite their recent strong results, their pace is not yet convincing, and while they talk up their chances after every result, they ended up being almost one second off the ultimate pace in qualifying in France.

At the end of the French race at Paul Ricard, Hamilton finished over ten seconds behind winner Max Verstappen who was clearly nursing his tyres to avoid making a second pitstop, which means the actual gap would have been much bigger.

I said before that Mercedes will not rest until they turn their W13 into a race winner, and despite their apparent improvement, it has not been good enough or fast enough as the season passed its midway mark, while the summer break looms after next weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Mercedes might be getting better, but it is too slow, and all Toto Wolff’s lobbying to change the regulations for 2023 shows that the team has no chance of sorting out their troublesome car under the current version of the rules.

Red Bull should not relax despite their advantage

Max Verstappen might be leading the Drivers’ Standings by 63 points after the race at Paul Ricard, and Red Bull’s 82 point advantage over Ferrari in the Constructors’ Standings might look healthy, but with a little under half the season yet to be contested, Red Bull and their lead driver need to remain alert and meticulous in their approach.

A relaxed Verstappen who carefully picks his fights this year – evident from how he takes on Charles Leclerc – is a great advantage for Red Bull as Leclerc remains error prone, and the energy drinks outfit are not likely to be making the sort of errors Ferrari do.

On the other hand, Ferrari has improved their car especially in race trim, and their latest iteration rear wing has reduced Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage.

On the reliability front, Red Bull had their share of reliability issues early in the season, and while things have been stable on that front for some time, there is no guarantee that reliability gremlins would not resurface.

Let’s not forget the budget cap which dictates car development this season, a factor that should not be underestimated as this year’s F1 campaign progresses with every team having their own plan in that regard, while unexpected accidents and crashes will negatively impact such plans.

In conclusion, Red Bull would be smart not to relax despite their current advantage, but I am sure they don’t need me to tell them that…

Quick Hits

  • Respect for Fernando Alonso on how he managed his race with the McLaren’s keeping them close enough to ruin their tyres but not pass. Every race he shows his quality that is not diminishing with age.
  • Daniel Ricciardo seemed to be in a better place this race. Hopefully he keeps going.
  • McLaren must be disappointed with their race at Paul Ricard after introducing a significant upgrade to their MCL36 which didn’t seem to put them ahead of Alpine.
  • A deserved “Driver of the Day” for Carlos Sainz after a strong drive from the back with some seriously good overtaking on the way.