TREMAYNE: Why Ferrari faces a fork after its French Grand Prix frustrations

The French Grand Prix. Max Verstappen first, Lewis Hamilton second. That was the result in 2021, and again on Sunday. But how much has it changed over this period?

Max is the world champion and has won seven of the 12 races held so far. Lewis won none. But one feels after Sunday’s event in which Charles Leclerc, winner of three of the 2022 races, crashed while in the lead, that things are starting to change very slightly as a great season begins. its second half.

READ MORE: Binotto says Ferrari must ‘turn the page’ and secure 1-2 in Hungary after French GP loss

Ferrari always has a very fast car. Charles and Carlos Sainz proved it in practice and qualifying, and either driver could have taken pole position even without the tow that the Spaniard, damned this weekend by engine penalties for starting from the back of the grid, was asked to provide in Q3.

I liked that where Ferrari went for downforce and traction in the slow stuff, Red Bull went for straight-line speed with a lower downforce setup. I knew ‘old’ Paul Ricard quite well, having spent a morning there driving a Vauxhall Lotus in 1990, on a very curious day when Joe Saward and I were ‘privileged’ to interview the rather odd man who had taken over Onyx from Mike Earle team, the Swiss car manufacturer Peter Monteverdi. And I know which of these setups I would have wanted with all its really long straights…

Ferrari and Red Bull have different approaches to taking on Circuit Paul Ricard

Charles needed to retain his pole advantage, which he duly did, and it was Red Bull who blinked first as they entered Max on lap 16 to switch from the medium Pirelli tires to the hard tyres. He had fallen 1.8 seconds behind and as he went forward Charles seemed to have the upper hand.

But the undercut is very powerful at Ricard, and if you read what Max and Christian Horner had to say afterwards, they were very confident that he would have taken position on the track and would be in the lead once the Ferrari stopped. They seemed to have solved their tire deflation issues from the Red Bull Ring.

READ MORE: Sainz defends Ferrari strategy after late pitstop saw him finish fifth in French GP recovery race

That the red car came to an unexpected stop with its nose in the tires on the magnificent 180 degree right-hander of Le Beausset, after Charles lost the rear and spun, sadly denied us this which could have been a very finely balanced contest.

And most likely ruined Charles’ title aspirations.

2022 French Grand Prix: Leclerc hits the wall from the head of the race

I know there are 10 races – and therefore up to 260 points still left on the table – but… if Charles had hung on to win, he could have gone to Hungary this weekend 31 points behind Max. Instead, after what was a real disaster, the gap is doubled. He is 63 points behind.

It was either that great racing entrepreneur Roger Penske, or perhaps the quintessential team manager John Wyer, who coined the phrase, “To finish first, you must first finish.” And earlier in the year it was Max and Red Bull who uncomfortably remembered this truism in Bahrain and Australia. But they overcame their reliability issues and haven’t looked back.

READ MORE: ‘I’m losing too many points’, says Leclerc as he’s blamed for ‘unacceptable’ mistake that cost him his head in France

Ferrari, however, were unable to maximize the benefits of a very fast car, with engine problems stopping Charles in Spain and Azerbaijan, and Carlos in Austria. And strategic missteps at Monaco and Silverstone cost the Monegasque more points. His spin-off at Imola, and now that crash at Ricard, added maybe 32 extra points lost on the drivers’ side.

When you’re fighting for a world championship – especially against a team as strong as Red Bull and a driver of Max’s caliber… well, you know how it goes.

Verstappen delivers results at clinical pace after early Red Bull misfires

Is Perez still a force in this title fight – and is Mercedes becoming one?

Meanwhile, so close to Austria, it looks like the bubble that Sergio Perez was inflating after Monaco is starting to deflate slightly, and the Mexican’s disappointing performance on Sunday suggests the Adrian Newey/Rob Marshall RB18 is not so easy to set up. as Max sometimes makes it seem. They were probably lucky in some ways that Charles winger Carlos started from the back row, not alongside him up front.

Which brings us to Mercedes. Their lack of speed on Friday was a blow, after the pace they showed at Silverstone and on Friday in Austria before the two crashes compromised them. But here’s the thing about them: their reliability has been impressive pretty much throughout the first turbo-hybrid era, and so far throughout this second.

READ MORE: 63-point championship lead ‘probably bigger than it should have been’, admits Verstappen after French GP win

The W13 may not be the fastest, but it keeps going. And points, as they say, make prizes. Maybe, in Mercedes’ case, not the biggest – yet – but some are worth it. The second and third Sunday were definitely that. If the W13 was a boxer, right now he wouldn’t be the winner, but the grizzled warrior who doesn’t get knocked down and still goes the distance.

It’s telling, given their respective pace, that Ferrari are just 44 points ahead of the Silver Arrows in the constructors’ stakes. Both are still miles behind Red Bull, but I wouldn’t feel too relaxed if I were Mattia Binotto right now, especially as Mercedes’ race pace was once again very impressive at times, all as he had been at Silverstone.

Mercedes now presents another problem for Ferrari

Once Mercedes gets over its inability to change tires quickly enough in qualifying, and perhaps find a little more straight-line speed, they could start to get really troublesome for Red Bull and Ferrari. And while Red Bull has a comfortable enough cushion, an intrusive contender in the title fight is the last thing Binotto needs.

And questions have again been raised about Ferrari’s strategic process. There seemed to be confusion as to whether to pit Carlos late in the race. He first wanted to come in and was told to stay outside. Then, just as he was making a nice overtake on Checo in the last corners, practically in sight of the pits and well after the entry, he was told “box, box, box! just as he approached the start/finish line, having landed the pass, he didn’t think it would be possible.

READ MORE: ‘It’s huge for us’ – Hamilton ‘couldn’t really be happier’ with P2 finish at 300th Grand Prix at Paul Ricard

Giving Ferrari the benefit of the doubt, the radio message may not have been relayed publicly in real time, but such things create the same kind of impression as the decision to pit Carlos over Charles at Silverstone. . Of a team pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.

Mattia put his usual brave face on things and explained that the data indicated that Carlos could not have made it to the end in a difficult position anyway on the well-worn medium tires he took on lap 18, after being one of only three riders to start on the hards. No doubt that was true, though I guess Max and Lewis might have bet on staying out if it had been them.

Mattia also spoke of a possible Ferrari double at the Hungaroring. The hard truth at the moment is that such a result is not only desirable if Ferrari is to stay in the title fight, but essential.

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