Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2022

Leclerc shows he was right to tell Ferrari ‘we can get them’ with win in Red Bull’s backyard

2022 Austrian Grand Prix review

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Through the first quarter of the 2022 season, Charles Leclerc enjoyed one of the strongest starts to a Formula 1 campaign a Ferrari driver has had in the last decade.

As Leclerc began the 27th lap of the Spanish Grand Prix in late May, he was already sitting on a 19 point lead over Max Verstappen and would have felt confident of growing that advantage by at least another seven points by the chequered flag. Moments later, his turbo failed. Instead, it was Verstappen who left Barcelona with a six-point lead.

The five-race stretch between Spain and Silverstone which followed was surely the most agonising sequence of races in Leclerc’s F1 career. At the end of each race, the two words that Leclerc would regularly use to sum up how he felt at the end of the weekend were “frustrated” and “disappointed”.

But at the end of Saturday’s sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, where Verstappen securing the number one spot yet again, Leclerc’s demeanour on the radio was that of a driver who knew it was all to play for on Sunday.

“You’ve done a good job,” his race engineer Xavier Marco Padros told him after crossing the line.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Verstappen enjoyed huge support at Red Bull’s home track
“Yeah, we have,” Leclerc replied, calmly. “We can get them tomorrow.”

With Saturday’s sprint race producing the same top three starters that Friday’s qualifying session had, Leclerc had a whole evening on which to work out how to improve his getaway off the line on Sunday, after team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr had beaten him off the line the first time around. With everyone in the top ten starting on medium tyres, it would be another straight fight on the opening lap to determine which of those at the front would emerge with the lead.

As the lights went out for the second time in the weekend, Leclerc got a better launch than he did the first time on Saturday. Unfortunately, so too did Verstappen. Kissing the turn one apex for the first time, the Red Bull was one-and-a-half car lengths in front of the Ferrari, Verstappen having successfully held his lead.

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Behind, however, George Russell was poking his nose up the inside of Sainz and the pair ran side-by-side through the corner, Sainz making liberal use of the run-off to stay alongside the Mercedes as the field charged through the coral-coloured haze and up the hill to turn three.

Verstappen covered off Leclerc as the field sprinted away
Sainz managed to pull ahead of Russell before aggressively covering the inside line to deny him passage through the tight right-hander. That allowed Sergio Perez to stake a claim for fourth. This was a vital move for the Red Bull driver, as clearing Russell on the first lap would undo the last of the damage from his Friday qualifying penalty, and bring him into the fight between his team mate and the Ferraris.

Perez dived to the outside of the Mercedes under braking for turn four. Russell, trying to stick to the inside line as tightly as possible, clipped the inside kerb just enough to cause his car to drift into the rear of the Red Bull, sending Perez spinning through the gravel – his chances of a salvaging a podium disappearing like the flare smoke around the Red Bull Ring grandstands.

“You saw it clear, no?,” a disgruntled Perez asked his team over radio. “I gave him enough room.”

The stewards agreed, handing Russell a five-second time penalty for the contact. Not that that was of much comfort to Perez, whose race was now effectively over well before it officially ended due to his damage 23 laps later.

“The fact was Checo was on my outside and I needed to leave him space,” Russell conceded after the race. “But if he puts me in a position when I’m already at the limit of my car and somebody turns in, who’s got more grip, there’s nowhere I can go.”

In the sprint race, Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc never exceeded three seconds barrier, but nor had the Ferrari got come close enough to trouble the championship leader. On Sunday, Leclerc only allowed Verstappen to get more than a second ahead of him for a single lap in the early phase of the grand prix.

Try as he might, Verstappen was struggling to pull away not just from Leclerc, but from the exit of the corners too. “Rear tyres are shit,” the leader casually informed engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

Leclerc was soon on the attack against Verstappen
Leclerc was not only quicker than Verstappen, but visibly more confident too. The Ferrari’s superior traction out of turn three on lap 10 gave Leclerc a genuine run up the hill to turn three, diving to the inside. Verstappen held firm and held the lead, but the Ferrari had momentum along the winding downhill straight to turn four. Leclerc braved a look around the outside, but Verstappen defended. The Ferrari driver wisely recognised his advantage and backed out, happy to wait for a better opportunity.

“I cannot hold this long,” Verstappen warned. He was proven correct two laps later when Leclerc made a bold lunge from a considerable distance back behind to bully his way into the lead. At the end of the lap, Leclerc officially broke Verstappen’s stunning streak of 176 consecutive racing laps in the lead around the Red Bull Ring, stretching back to the start of last year’s Styrian Grand Prix.

Having lost the lead, Red Bull took stock of Verstappen’s higher-than-anticipated tyre wear and their driver’s claims he had flat-spotted his tyres and brought him in at the end of the next lap, replacing his medium compound with hards. He rejoined over 21 seconds behind the new leader in seventh place. With the benefit of fresh tyres – and arguably the fastest car on the grid – Verstappen made quick work of those in front of him, passing Mick Schumacher and, a handful of laps later, Lewis Hamilton to move up to third, 17 seconds behind Sainz.

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Verstappen was now comfortably the fastest driver on the circuit and eating into the Ferraris advantage. But Red Bull were becoming concerned about how Leclerc and Sainz ahead were clearly pacing themselves on their mediums. “Looks like they could be going on a one stop,” Lambiase alerted his driver. “So we’ll be pushing all the way to the end of the race here, Max.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Verstappen regained the lead but Leclerc inevitably closed in
However long Red Bull expected Ferrari to stay out for, it was probably longer than lap 27, when Leclerc was called in to move onto hard tyres at the end of lap 26. Crucially, he emerged only just ahead of Hamilton, with just over six seconds of clear track between him and Verstappen. One lap later, Sainz was in and Verstappen was back out front.

“How many laps do I need to do now?,” queried leader. “That would be 45 laps,” replied Lambiase. A tall order.

Now it was Leclerc’s turn as the fastest driver on track. Despite being instructed to “take care of these tyres,” Leclerc was not so much tapping away at Verstappen’s lead as he was hammering it. Just five laps out of the pits, the Ferrari was already within a sniff of DRS range of the Red Bull.

As soon as Leclerc had earned the ability to open up his rear wing on lap 33, he could simply pick his moment to set himself up for the pass. He chose the run up the hill to draw alongside at turn two and pass Verstappen up the inside, the world champion offering little resistance.

“My tyres are dead again,” Verstappen reported two laps later. But despite being told he was still on “optimum strategy” and to carry on as best he could, Red Bull bowed to the inevitable and called their sole remaining driver in at the end of lap 36 for another set of hard tyres.

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Out ahead of Hamilton in third, Verstappen was immediately quickest. Instructions to pace himself were soon rescinded, with Red Bull instead telling him he was “free to push”. However, he was not catching Leclerc at anything close to the same rate he had the first time around.

Leclerc held a useful tyre advantage after the first pit stops
From lap 38 until Leclerc eventually pitted for a second time at the completion of his 49th lap, Verstappen gained only eight seconds on him. That was sufficient for Verstappen to regain the lead when Leclerc made his second pit stop for another set of hard tyres, but the Ferrari driver had the Red Bull in his sights as he made his way up the hill for the 50th time.

The boost of the fresh rubber was immediate. With Sainz pitting on the following lap, Leclerc began gaining tenths on Verstappen on the exit of the slow right-handers of turns three and four. The Ferrari cruised up to the back of the Red Bull for a third time at the start of lap 52. Heading up the hill, Verstappen covered the inside line that he had failed to during their previous battle, but Leclerc deliberately positioned his car to take an early apex and out-dragged Verstappen to take the lead for a third time in just a single afternoon.

“What a joke, that traction is,” a bemused Verstappen uttered. But now behind him, Sainz was only four seconds back from the Red Bull and gaining at a rate of well over half a second a lap, including 1.4 second on lap 55 alone.

Sainz broke into DRS range of Verstappen at the end of lap 56 and appeared to be well on his way to breezing past the Red Bull. But then, heading down the hill, Sainz suddenly began falling back.

“No, engine! Engine!,” Sainz frantically called over the radio. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no…”

“Yep,” was all his race engineer Ricciardo Adami could muster in reply to yet another power unit related disappointment.

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There were frightening scenes as Sainz clambered out of his Ferrari as flames engulfed it, and the car began rolling backwards as the marshals came to his aid. Meanwhile Red Bull knew they had to react to the only opportunity they would likely get to be able to beat the sole remaining Ferrari for that afternoon.

Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Reliability problems ended Sainz’s race
“If you see ‘Safety Car’ or ‘VSC’, box, Max,” came the clear instruction. Moments later, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed. That put Ferrari on the spot for a second weekend in a row: Leclerc lost his shot at victory in Silverstone when the Safety Car appeared in the final laps. But this situation played out differently.

“Verstappen will box,” Marcos Padros warned the race leader.

“Should we box? We are in front,” asked Leclerc in response.

“We want to box and Verstappen will box,” came the reply. “Box now, box.”

Both came in and moved onto the medium tyres for the final 13 laps of the race. Such was the gap to third-placed Hamilton, neither Red Bull nor Ferrari had to question whether they would lose track position by doing so. When the race eventually resumed the moment Leclerc started lap 60, his first few laps following the restart were slower than Verstappen’s behind. Was this cold tyres, or something more troubling?

“Throttle pedal feels a bit strange” Leclerc reported on the radio. Despite lifting off his throttle pedal completely, his power unit was still registering throttle input in a range of 5-15%. Not enough to prevent him missing the apexes of the first four corners on the circuit, but enough to worry both the driver and the pit wall. This, surely, would not be yet another Sunday of “frustration” and “disappointment”?

Despite his impediment, Leclerc was somehow maintaining a relatively consistent pace – Verstappen only able to whittle small amounts of time out of the Ferrari’s lead.

“You cannot imagine what I’m doing with the pedals,” Leclerc said. “It’s a mess.” Verstappen lowered the fastest lap of the race but could not seem to take advantage of Leclerc’s compromised speed to ever get within two seconds of the leader, let alone DRS range.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2022
After a late scare, Leclerc held on for a badly-needed win
After the most nervous final laps of the season for the Ferrari team, they could breathe a collective sigh of relief as Leclerc ticked off the final laps to cross the line and secure his first victory since the Australian Grand Prix, all the way back in April. But had it been a stressful finish for Leclerc?

“Oh, not only a little bit stressful, very stressful!,” Leclerc laughed afterwards. “The throttle was really inconsistent and in the middle of the corner it would get stuck to whatever percentage.

“In turn three, it was very, very tricky because that’s where you don’t want any more speed in mid-corner. It was quite tricky to manage – not so much in the high-speed but mostly in the low-speed but at the end we managed to get the car to the end, which is great.”

Having been beaten in a straight fight – a rare occurrence in 2022 – Verstappen was grateful he had not lost out to both Ferraris by the chequered flag, but admitted he was concerned over his race pace and tyre wear levels relative to his rival.

“Tricky race, but still, second is better than third, which it was looking like,” he mused on the cooldown lap back to the grid.

“It was a bit more difficult than I expected it to be,” he continued in the press conference later. “It’s something I cannot really explain right now, why [tyre wear] was so high. It’s just something we need to analyse and understand why this happened today. But even on a, let’s say, “off day”, to only lose five points over the whole weekend is I think still good.”

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes; Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Red Bull Ring, 2022
Despite crashing on Friday, Hamilton reached the podium again
Hamilton may have completed the podium but was so far behind the leading pair it was like they had been in a different race. Still he had nothing but positives to take from a “massively satisfying” third place – and having entertained himself by watching the leaders scrap on the video screens around the circuit during the race.

“I was just watching their race on the TV,” Hamilton explained. “I could see them coming through turn six as I was coming out of turn one. But after such a difficult weekend, you know, with the crash [on Friday], with a monumental effort from the team to rebuild the car this is a really great result. So I’m very grateful.”

Russell’s efforts to fight his way back through the field following his opening lap contact with Perez were rewarded with fourth by the chequered flag. Esteban Ocon drove another lonely race for the afternoon to claim fifth for Alpine, while Mick Schumacher backed up his maiden points in Formula 1 the previous weekend with a fighting drive to sixth – his season appearing to have finally gotten started.

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A total of 64 lap times were deleted by the stewards for 43 track limits infringements over the course of the race, resulting in seven black-and-white warning flags and four five-second time penalties being handed out. Seventh-placed Lando Norris was one of these and he could not help but wonder if a top six might have been on the cards if he had kept inside the margins just one more time.

Kevin Magnussen secured another double points finish for Haas in eighth, with Daniel Ricciardo in ninth, just eight seconds adrift of his team mate this time around. Fernando Alonso recovered from the very back of the grid to take the final point in tenth, and kept it despite a stewards investigation over a late pit stop following which a wheel worked loose.

Leclerc regained vital ground in the championship fight
But after five weekends of heartache, setbacks and missed opportunities, Leclerc had no qualms in admitting that this victory was the “breakthrough” he had been desperately looking for to shift the paradigm in his battle against Verstappen.

“I definitely needed it,” he said. “Whenever I get to a new race since [these] five races, I have a smile on my face and I kept being optimistic. But obviously [it’s] hard race after hard race, it just felt like everything was against me. So, finally we had a breakthrough good race today and it really feels good to have a win again.”

With half of the 2022 season complete, Verstappen still holds a commanding 38-point lead in the drivers’ championship. But with so much racing still to play out until November, Leclerc and Ferrari can take heart from the knowledge that, at least based on Sunday, they are currently faster than the team they’re chasing.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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32 comments on “Leclerc shows he was right to tell Ferrari ‘we can get them’ with win in Red Bull’s backyard”

  1. The major problem of this gp is that there is no handbrake on the cars in order to evacuate the car in a slope while it is catching fire.

    1. Normally, leaving the car in gear would be enough – but since most of his engine was no longer in the car, it was free to roll. I felt the Marshalls were quite slow considering the intensity of the building fire… But thankfully all ended well.

    2. That could easily be solved if the marshalls were a) quicker (and maybe: allowed to go past the armco without a VSC in place?) and b) they’d have some block or other object to put behind the wheel of a car (anything else than a glove) as part of their standard kit.

      1. Indeed the block were applied very late but Carlos should get out turn the wheel to the wall if the car rolls down it would stop by the the wall.

        1. Not sure the steering would react normally since the hydraulics were almost certainly down with the engine blown @macleod.

          1. It was certain a nice blowup of a engine which everyone could watch. But Hydraulics are a separate system from the engine / steering but they uses the same reservoir tank so it takes time before everything fails. And steering still works even without powersteering it will be very heavy…

          2. Yes, I just cannot imagine Sainz just taking his time moving the wheel slowly (little space, heavy steering wheel) while the car was more and more engulfed in fire and letting it roll back (hopefully) into the tyre wall.

          3. Not sure the steering would react normally

            He steered the car there (well done) so you’d expect he could do some San Francisco hill parking as well.

          4. His steering was working until the engine went completely towards the end of the straight. And he more or less drove straight on after that into the runoff area jff, so cut the BS there.

      2. If the marshalls had back pack fire extinguishers, they would have two hands available for putting the block behind a wheel rather than trying to do it while holding the extinguisher and nozzle.

    3. I could be wrong but I think it’s mandated that the cars should be in neutral and the steering wheel attached in order for the marshalls to be able to move it by hand if possible/necessary. Obviously he could have quite rightly left the car in any state though given the flames that started as it warranted an emergency exit. Bit of an awkward one as clearly the marshalls were at the scene quickly but seemed to be awaiting an instruction to attend to the car. You’d like to just say the marshalls should have leapt in regardless but at the end of the day it’s tough expecting them to take an extra risk to their lives given the procedures are there for a reason.

      I’ve often wondered if F1 has mandated stoppage points around the circuit where drivers can/should aim for in the event of an incident. You often hear them say the driver has found a run off or opening but really these should be well documented and known to the drivers in advance of where they can put there cars in an emergency if possible.

  2. The trouble is that even though he won, one car exploded, one limped to the line with technical issues and then handed extra points to Max in the sprint and through the fastest lap (despite having a strategy that allowed Charles to pit later).

    It was a hard fought win and was well deserved but it was a far from perfect weekend again for Ferrari. Red Bull didn’t quite have the pace this time out but Max is doing a great job of winning when the opportunity is there and getting the maximum possible when it’s not. Ferrari are still throwing too many points away.

  3. … not to mention that RedBull’s pitstop strategy was shambolic. They had a podium thanks to the VSC after Sainz went up in smoke.

    1. @horacio It wasn’t shambolic, their tyre deg was just too high for them to have any real options. Even a tortoise-and-hare strategy wouldn’t work as Ferrari seemed to be pretty good on straightline speed.

  4. Another weekend of safety hazards. First with Sainz, I feel the marshalls were slow to react and they didn’t have anything with them to inmobilize the car. Maybe in the future they could have blocks with them.

    And at the same time, the accident in Monza with the sausage kerbs continues to put those track limits solutions in the spotlight. There must be other ways… how come the outside of turn 3 is all gravel, but turn 9 and 10 isn’t?

    1. they didn’t have anything with them to inmobilize the car.

      The first responder came running with a wheel chock.

    2. The first thing the marshal tried to do was stop the car from rolling by placing a block behind the right front wheel, so that’s unfair criticism.

      1. It did look a rather tiny chock to be fair, I think they could definitely benefit from a bit bigger (wider) and more suited tools for that job in future.

  5. So, why did RB struggle with deg but Ferrari not, isn’t this the opposite of what has generally happened this season?

    1. Compared to RBR, at the start of the year the F1-75 lacked top speed and tyre management. Ferrari addressed its tyre wear issues with the introduction of their first major upgrade package in Barcelona which was carefully prepared over 2 months after pre-season testing and was tested in Monza before the Spanish GP in their second filming day. In Baku, a new rear wing, that was also tested in Monza, was introduced to address the lack of top speed.

      As for RBR, they seem to be caught by surprise in Austria. Verstappen was complaining over the radio about the unpredictability of the car. It’s worth to mention that RBR introduced some upgrades in the Austrian GP despite the fact that the sprint format normally doesn’t leave teams enough time to evaluate their upgrades.

      Ferrari for example do not have that confidence to introduce upgrades in Sprint weekends, they refrained to do so in Imola and Austria racing with unchanged cars. RBR have introduced upgrades that delivered in Imola. Maybe that wasn’t the case in Austria because their car has always been consistent in race conditions especially with Max behind the wheel.

      1. @tifoso1989

        I don’t think the RB updates didn’t work. It’s their concept that seems weaker in high altitudes where the air is thin so downforce matters more and drag matters less. Which is precisely the reason they brought upgrades here I think.

        Unpredictability I think implies a weak front that he always drives on the razor’s edge. They seem to keep adding front since Canada. (By bringing the center of the floor-generated downforce forwards.) But it’s still the weak point or at least in terms of Verstappen’s driving.

        When you have lower downforce than normal you will use more tire grip and eat through the tires faster.

        I fully expect Ferrari to ace Mexico and Sao Paolo.

        1. @cobray
          I think @petebaldwin explained it better than me. I didn’t mean the upgrades didn’t deliver, the point is that the sprint weekend is too short probably to nail the perfect set up in one session. You made an excellent point on the altitude.

          1. Yeah the main thing I took from this weekend was the Ferrari engines were so much stronger at altitude than the rest. This seemed apparent with the relative performance of Haas and Alfa Romeo increasing too. Mexico is a slam dunk 1-2 win for Ferrari if they can finish the race with both cars imo.

      2. @tifoso1989 – Also got to remember it was a sprint weekend so they had 1 session and then their setup was locked in. They may have just gone a bit too far in one direction so they were fast but ate through their tyres.

        1. This. They were looking good in the longruns on friday, but I suspect they changed something in the setup between FP1 and quali, and it obviously didn’t transfer well to race pace on sunday. Normally you have two more sessions to iron these issues out, in a sprint weekend you do not.

          I really wouldn’t read too much into this weekend in terms of who has the better car.

        2. Yes, that was what I make of it too @petebaldwin. And then the rain overnight might have only worsened it for them.

    2. I don’t know. Ferrari, with the exception of Imola (sprint) and to a lesser extent Miami, didn’t really have any problems with deg.
      Red Bull in the other hand suffered slightly more in Bahrein and Spain and a lot more in Australia and Austria.
      The other races were about even I’d say so it’s difficult to see a pattern

    3. According to Mark Hughes at The Race, Ferrari perform better on deg in rear-limited tracks, while RBR are better on front-limited ones.

  6. So, it seems LEC wasn’t convinced they should have stopped, pretty sure it would meant losing the win. One has to give it to Ferrari for applying the proper strategy this time around.

    1. While RBR maybe lost an opportunity of getting the win by not seding VER back on track with Softs for the last 15 laps, the way Ferrari lost in Canada with SAI.

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