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Ferrari bungles title comeback at crucial Monaco GP

Ferrari bungles title comeback at crucial Monaco GP

FORMULA ONE: Charles Leclerc finished his home Monaco Grand Prix for the first time in his career on Sunday (May 29), but a shocking day from the Ferrari pit wall dropped him further off the championship lead.

By Michael Lamonato

Thursday 2 June 2022, 09:30AM

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was left frustrated and dejected after Sunday’s (May 29) Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was left frustrated and dejected after Sunday’s (May 29) Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Leclerc was speechless after the race, but not for the reasons he’d hoped just a few hours earlier.

The Monegasque had been in formidable form all weekend. He dominated qualifying to take pole, and while teammate Carlos Sainz locked out the front row, the Spaniard had no answer to the home hero’s blistering pace.

And the Ferrari itself was perfectly suited to the serpentine Monaco streets. Excellent under acceleration and peerless in slow corners, there isn’t another circuit on the calendar better matched to the SF-75. Red Bull Racing, leading the constructors standings and drivers title with Max Verstappen, was just aiming to limit the damage.

So when Leclerc jumped in his pole-sitting SF-75 on the grid ahead of the race, he had every confidence he’d be soaking up victory by the end of the afternoon.

Then the rain started to fall.

Leclerc wasted no time building a crucial strategic buffer to the field in the opening laps, determined to leave nothing to chance. With overtaking difficult in even the wet, the pit stops would be crucial.

There were nominally two pit stops to make - from the extreme wet tyres to intermediates, then from intermediates to slick dry-weather tyres - and nailing the timing of the changes would be the key to victory or defeat.

But at every juncture Ferrari fumbled badly.

Sergio Perez was the first of the frontrunners to change, coming in from third behind Sainz and ahead of Verstappen.

It took Ferrari two laps to respond, apparently inattentive to Perez’s rapid sector times. When Leclerc rejoined the race, he’d lost position to the Mexican by four seconds, having had an eight-second advantage beforehand.

The race wasn’t yet lost. The SF-75 was still the faster car and there was another stop to be made. But whereas Ferrari dithered at the first tyre change, it was too hasty at the second.

It brought Leclerc in just three laps later despite his mighty pace on the intermediate tyres. Worse, he got caught behind teammate Sainz in the pit box, costing him precious seconds.

Red Bull Racing smelt blood. Verstappen completed another rapid lap on the warmed-up inters before pitting, and now he too was ahead of Leclerc.

Sinea Phuket

The pole-sitter had dropped from first to fourth in just three laps.

No words’

Sainz wasn’t immune to Ferrari’s bumbling either. He’d correctly persuaded the strategists to go straight from wets to slicks, skipping a pit stop, but he was brought in a lap too early - not only did he get in Leclerc’s way, but he rejoined the race behind one of the slower Williams cars, which cost him time.

When Perez made his final pit stop, he rejoined ahead of the Spaniard by just one second.

Ferrari had scuppered three golden chances to win and handed them all to Perez, who faultlessly converted the opportunity to a third career victory.

“No words,” Leclerc radioed his team on the cool-down lap. “The season is long, but we cannot do that.”

But the pain in his voice wasn’t just for his lost home victory; it was for the broader championship picture.

The Spanish and Monaco grands prix should’ve been nailed-on wins. Leclerc led both easily and comfortably early, but an engine failure cost him in Barcelona before strategy errors dropped him off the podium in Monte Carlo.

He ends the double-header with just 12 points from a maximum of 52; Ferrari scored just 42 from a maximum of 88.

And not only have Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing assumed the lead in both championships by nine and 36 points respectively, but Sergio Perez is only six points behind Leclerc - that is, he’s closer to Leclerc than Leclerc is to Verstappen.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said after the race he’d be undertaking an inquiry into how his team dropped the ball so comprehensively, and he’ll need answers soon. In less than two weeks Formula 1 embarks on an Azerbaijan–Canada double-header - both high-speed tracks expected to suit Red Bull Racing, both danger races for the Italians.

Having held the whip hand at the start of the month, Ferrari is suddenly at the mercy of its title rival with a third of the season gone.

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