Arriving in Monaco on Friday, Ferrari knew they needed a big result to swing the F1 title battle back in their favour, after a dismal weekend last time out in Barcelona.
This is a track where the Scuderia have gone well in previous years. The last four visits to Monaco for F1 have brought two Ferrari pole positions, a Ferrari race win, and five Ferrari podiums. With this also being Charles Leclerc's home race, hopes were high that he and teammate Carlos Sainz could strike back against the flying Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Despite an odd crash at the end of qualifying between Sainz and Perez, the Spaniard lined up in P2 behind home favourite Leclerc on pole. It was the perfect qualifying for Ferrari, and seemed to be a sign they could work their way back into the frontrunners spot in the championship.
However, several strategy errors cost them a potential 1-2 result on Sunday, and may be a worrying sign that the Ferrari of the new era is not quite as refreshed as we thought it may be.
Monaco F1 GP: The bungling Ferrari of old shows its head in Monte Carlo
Monaco's place in F1 is a debate that we seem to have just about every year, and it was no different this year. Rumblings about issues surrounding the renewal of the race's contract with F1 were passed around all weekend, with the same complaints as always raised about the track.
Many of those complaints are valid. The track is too narrow to race, the infrastructure is outdated, there are concerns about its marketability going forward. The 2022 Monaco GP was under a lot of scrutiny, and needed to deliver.
The promoters of the race are probably thrilled, then, that this year's Monaco GP not only arrived at a pivotal point of the F1 championship, but that it somewhat delivered in the "exciting race" category, and could be remembered as a major turning point - mainly due to the bungling Ferrari made of their strategy.
Let's quickly break down what happened to cause Ferrari's strategy to go so wrong.
Biblical rain delayed the race procedure on Sunday, and F1 mandated that all cars start the race on the extreme wet tyres. The first car to move to the less extreme intermediate tyres was the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly and, by lap 17, his pace was rapid.
On lap 17, with Leclerc leading from teammate Sainz, Red Bull moved to put their lead car of Sergio Perez onto the "inters". Two laps later, Leclerc followed, but the additional pace of the inters meant he emerged behind Perez. By the time lap 21 came around, teams were starting to think about dry tyres.
Sainz bypassed the inters altogether and moved straight to the dry tyres on lap 21, with Ferrari also moving Leclerc to the hard tyres. Crucially, Red Bull delayed their call and, with the track still slippery, made use of their later pit stop to get Perez into the lead and Verstappen ahead of Leclerc.
Charles Leclerc is NOT happy with that pit stop! pic.twitter.com/UeY3zpu6xy
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) May 29, 2022
The anger in Leclerc's voice as he realised what was about to unfold at the pit stops was evident, as he screamed: "Fuck! Fuck! Why? Why? What are you doing?"
In his post-race interview with Sky Sports, a dejected Leclerc explained why he was so disappointed with his Ferrari team.
Let down [by the team] is not the word. Sometimes, mistakes can happen. There have been too many mistakes today overall. Obviously in those conditions, you rely a little bit on what the team can see because you do not see what the others are doing with the intermediates, with dry tyres...
I was asked questions - whether I wanted to go from the extreme wets to the slicks. I said yes, but not now, it would be a bit later in the race. I don't understand what made us change our mind and go on the intermediates.
We got undercut, then I stopped behind Carlos...there have been a lot of mistakes and we cannot afford to do that.
We cannot do that, especially in the moment that we are in now, where our pace is extremely strong. We need to take those opportunities. We cannot lose so many points like this - it's not even from first to second, it's from first to fourth. After the first mistakes, we've done another one.
I love my team and I'm sure they will come back stronger, but it hurts a lot.
It's quite astonishing just how quickly things have gone south for Ferrari in this year's F1 title battle. After round three in Australia, Leclerc was 41 points ahead of Sergio Perez, and 51 ahead of Verstappen. The order read Leclerc-Russell-Sainz-Perez-Hamilton-Verstappen, after two retirements in three races for Verstappen.
Just four rounds later, and Leclerc finds himself out of the championship lead, nine points behind Verstappen and only six ahead of Perez, with Sainz falling to fifth place and still struggling to clear the Mercedes of Russell.
It's clear that the pace advantage is ebbing and flowing between Red Bull and Ferrari, with both having experienced time on top so far this season. What gave Ferrari such an advantage in the early stages of the year - and what they arguably should have capitalised on more - was Red Bull's poor reliability.
Ferrari have only experienced one mechanical retirement to Red Bull's three this season, and there were further issues for the Bulls at Miami. Given that Ferrari have also had the pace advantage at at least three, if not four of this season's seven races so far, it is a testament to how much they have slipped up that Red Bull lead in both the F1 championships.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 29, 2022
That is not to say it is hugely surprising. Ferrari have previous. Prior to 2021, the last truly close title battle F1 had seen was between the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in 2017. Similarly, Vettel was closely matched with Hamilton, but a combination of car failures and poor strategy calls throughout the year faltered his title charge.
That is not to say that Vettel would have won the championship without those errors, but he was close enough in the championship that a few swings here and there may have seen a very different story emerge.
That 2017 title battle - and the much more dominant 2018 triumph from Hamilton - is not one that will be remembered in F1 spheres nearly as fondly as the epic 2021 battle between Hamilton and Verstappen. Ferrari risk this 2022 battle going the same way, if they do not nip these errors in the bud early on.
Leclerc's team mate Carlos Sainz has struggled in 2021. Ferrari were lucky that he had his best weekend in Monaco, and took the lead on calling his own strategy. That decisiveness, at the very least, saved a second place finish for the team, on a weekend when things went very wrong on the team end.
Perhaps what will be most infuriating for Leclerc is that he himself has cut out the errors of old. "Charlie", as Martin Brundle so often calls him on Sky's commentary, has shown terrific potential and speed for the past five years, and comfortably beat four times champion Sebastian Vettel in the same car in 2019 and 2020.
Silly errors, however have regularly prevented him from pushing on and winning races or contending for championships - prime example being Monaco last year, when a crash in qualifying prevented him from starting his home GP on pole position.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 23, 2021
The most stark illustrator of that is that Leclerc has 14 pole positions, but only four race wins. His inability to see out races from winning positions has been a vice throughout his career, but he has seriously stepped up this year, and his consistency has been arguably the most impressive part of the season from a Ferrari perspective.
He arrived in Monaco, not only hoping to finish home race in an F1 car for the first time, but to stand on the top step of the podium. Through no fault of his own, found himself outside of even the top three.
Leclerc forgave his team for the strategy errors in Monaco. In such a nail-biting F1 title battle, however, he can ill afford Ferrari slipping into their old ways when the n\ext big call comes around.
Wrapping up from the Monaco Grand Prix
|1st||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||125||4|
|2nd||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari||116||2|
|3rd||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||110||1|
|4th||George Russell||Mercedes AMG F1||84||0|
|5th||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Ferrari||83||0|
- Driver of the day: Sergio Perez. Lots of contenders here, with honourable mentions for Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly. But, on a chaotic day, Perez showed his class to take a famous first win in Monaco.
- Day to forget: Esteban Ocon. Oh dear. The Frenchman is a driver-of-the-season contender so far, but his second collision with Hamilton, where he squeezed the Englishman into the wall, was not pleasant to watch, and ultimately cost him a points finish.
- The big question ahead of round #8: Are we due more chaos in Baku? It's an almost 50-50 hit rate so far for the Azerbaijan GP. 2017, 2018, and 2021 were modern classics, mainly due to the chaos we saw. 2016 and 2019, by contrast, were snoozefests. Time will tell if we're due some more pandemonium by the Caspian Sea.