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Ferrari fumbles again as season slips away

Ferrari fumbles again as season slips away

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen enjoys an 80-point championship lead ahead of the midseason break, and he largely has Ferrari to thank for his almost unassailable position at the top of the table.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Thursday 4 August 2022, 09:30AM


Ferrari’s garage responds to yet another disappointing race for the team at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Ferrari’s garage responds to yet another disappointing race for the team at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Ferrari’s first half of the season ended not with a hoped-for bang but with the whimper of yet another grand prix victory blown up by a bumbling pit wall.

The Hungarian Grand Prix last Sunday (July 31) had long been earmarked as a likely Ferrari victory, the twisty Hungaroring perfectly suiting the SF-75 while neutralising some of Red Bull Racing’s strengths.

The team wasn’t just hopeful of a good result, it was confident. Principal Mattia Binotto said the Scuderia’s aim was to take a one-two finish, nothing less.

But in a microcosm of the entire season, the final race before the midseason break showed up the team’s worst traits, which conspired to hand victory to Verstappen.

Fundamentally Ferrari had the fastest car in Budapest, just as it has for most of the season - albeit it had the unexpected challenge of George Russell starting from pole.

Slow pit stops for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz cost Ferrari an easy shot at passing the Mercedes through strategy, and though Leclerc was able to eventually muscle past on track, Sainz languished behind for the rest of the race.

By middle distance Ferrari seemed to have a handle on the grand prix, but Verstappen was recovering quickly - much as he’s done after a slow start to his campaign - and suddenly, with around half the race to run, he was within pit stop range of the lead.

He went for an aggressive undercut. Ferrari panicked.

Leclerc protested that his medium tyres were still going strong and could run deep into the race, but his pit wall was committed to maintaining track position. It was too early for the soft tyre, so it plumped for the durable hard, a compound that it hadn’t used all weekend and that had proved woefully slow on every other car that had tried it in the race up to that point.

It turned out it was equally slow on Leclerc’s car. He was passed easily by Verstappen - twice in fact, after Verstappen spun once and let Leclerc back through - and would’ve been overtaken by Russell and Sainz had he not made an emergency third stop for softs, dropping him to sixth.

CBRE Phuket

It was a devastating blow to his already slim title hopes, dropping him to 80 points off the lead, more than three clear race wins. Ferrari is 97 points adrift.

Ferrari boss Binotto defended the team after the race, protesting that it wasn’t strategy but a slower than expected car that had cost his team a spot on the podium.

“It’s important to say the pace of the car today was not as expected,” he said. “It was totally different conditions, cooler, but overall the speed today was not quick enough whichever tyres we were using.”

And while it’s true the car wasn’t at its ominous Friday practice best, when it seemed sure to sweep the field easily, it had more than enough performance to take the race on rather than race so defensively.

But that’s been the story of the Ferrari’s season. It did the hard work during the winter to develop a race-winning car, but operationally the team lacks sharpness.

Adding insult to injury was that Mercedes was unusually quick enough this weekend to snatch both podium places behind Verstappen, relegating the red team to fourth and sixth.

Red Bull Racing, on the other hand, was flawless on the attack. Despite a qualifying error leaving Verstappen 10th, he picked his way up the field with precision, and his team was unflinching in deploying an aggressive pit-stop strategy to apply pressure on the leaders.

His unusual spin - he says he was managing a clutch issue - was the only real error, and he recovered that in less than four laps to ensure no harm was done.

To win the championship you need speed and execution. Mercedes has the nous but this season not the speed. Ferrari has the performance but not follow-through.

Only Red Bull Racing has both, and at Verstappen’s current hit rate, he’ll be a double world champion in a matter of races.

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