On initial viewing, P4 seems like a decent result for Charles Leclerc from Sunday's British Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver was left on a sub-optimal strategy in the closing stages and had to bravely defend from Fernando Alonso to hold on to fourth place after being passed by both Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton late in the race.
On a day when he led 13 laps and looked on course for a race win until the late safety car deployment, Leclerc will be left once again wondering if his title hopes are over before we've even reached the halfway point of the season.
British F1 GP: Charles Leclerc fails to capitalise on huge opportunity
With Max Verstappen in utterly dominant mode in recent weeks, Sunday's misfortune for the Red Bull driver presented an opportunity for Charles Leclerc to make up some of the lost ground. Verstappen sustained damage early in the race after running over debris, and struggled throughout the race. He would only just hold off Mick Schumacher for P7 come the final lap.
Verstappen's poor result gave Charles Leclerc a golden opportunity to catch up to the defending champion in this year's title battle. Instead, his Ferrari team opted to favour his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr with their in-race strategy decisions, leading to the Spaniard taking his maiden race win from his maiden pole position.
By the time race day comes around at the Austrian Grand Prix, it will have been three full months since Leclerc last won a race (in round three in Melbourne). It has to be said that Carlos Sainz was full worth for his race win, but when Leclerc has seen seven races go by since his last win, it seems like quite the missed opportunity to swap the cars around and get Leclerc back in the title fight.
Ferrari disadvantaged Leclerc on two separate occasions. They were slow to invert the order of the cars during the second stint when Leclerc was faster than his teammate, allowing Lewis Hamilton to enter the battle for the win unexpectedly. They then opted to leave Leclerc out on old hard tyres when the safety car was deployed, while they pitted Sainz for fresh soft tyres.
Mercedes did the same with Hamilton, as did Red Bull with Sergio Perez, leaving Leclerc completely exposed and scrapping to hold on to fourth place, let alone contending for the win he felt he should have had.
The battle for P2 that ensued was perhaps the most thrilling we have seen on an F1 track in years.
This is why we love F1 😍pic.twitter.com/lSChualR4X
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) July 4, 2022
This is now the second time this season that Ferrari's decision making has at least to some degree cost Leclerc a race win. They similarly blundered twice in Monaco, stealing a home race win away from the Monégasque, and Silverstone will similarly be remembered as one that got away.
If Leclerc had managed to win those races, with Verstappen losing out on points in front, he would be only 14 points behind the Dutchman, rather than the 54 he currently finds himself trailing by. Not only did Leclerc miss out on race wins on both occasions, he missed out on the podium entirely.
Verstappen has finished on the podium seven times this season to Leclerc's four (Leclerc's last was in early May in Miami). Verstappen was won six races to Leclerc's two. At this stage, Ferrari cannot afford to be throwing away these opportunities.
Purists will understandably say that Sunday's race was a victory for Formula 1, given that Ferrari did not cave in to team orders, and allowed Sainz to take a fully deserved first race victory. Though that is all well and good, and commendable to a certain extent, it has left the team trailing behind Red Bull far more than they should be.
Leclerc is not the only one suffering from these blunders - they are also significantly harming the team's chances of beating Red Bull to P1 in the constructors' championship. Both Monaco and Silverstone should have been Ferrari 1-2 finishes, but ultimately ended up being a 2-4 and a 1-4 finish respectively.
It is a tricky debate, especially when Sainz is now not too far behind his teammate in the championship standings. But, given we knew at the start of the season that Charles Leclerc was the man most likely to be able to challenge Max Verstappen for the world title, it is baffling that Ferrari did not make the tough call to swap their cars around and give Leclerc the optimal strategy on Sunday.
It is hard, for example, to imagine Mercedes having allowed Valtteri Bottas to win a race in that manner while Lewis Hamilton was locked in a title battle in 2021. We saw the ruthlessness of Red Bull in Spain when they swapped Perez and Verstappen around - that is the ruthlessness that is required in a tight title battle. As admirable as Ferrari's decision to allow Sainz to win the race is, it is not the kind of decision-making that will ultimately win them the world championship.
Charles Leclerc looked down and out after the race, despite outscoring Max Verstappen. His demeanour in his interview with Sky Sports F1 spoke volumes, as he seemed deflated by the result. In comparison to his buoyant mood after beating out Verstappen in the season opener in Bahrain, he looked lost after a race in which all of the crucial moments and swings went against him.
🗣️ 'Let's focus on Sainz'
Leclerc finished off the podium and gives his full reflections on the race 👇 pic.twitter.com/mPO1urIiDD
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) July 3, 2022
Explaining where things had gone wrong for him at Silverstone, Leclerc said:
It was nice, but 0n the other hand...I had old hard tyres and everyone around me was on softs, so I was struggling massively. In the end I gave my absolute best but it wasn't enough. It's obviously disappointing.
We'll have to look at the global picture. On my side, I only have my picture of my race. In the car sometimes you don't have the full picture. On my side I feel like I've lost a little bit too much time in the first stint and the first part of the second stint. This is only my view and it might change once I see the full picture.
For a man who started on cloud nine in Bahrain, it's looking increasingly miserable for Charles Leclerc in 2022. He certainly hasn't given up the fight - but it may well be over already.
Wrapping up from the British Grand Prix
|1st||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||181||6 (+1 sprint win)|
|2nd||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||147||1|
|3rd||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari||138||2|
|4th||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Ferrari||127||1|
|5th||George Russell||Mercedes AMG F1||111||0|
- Driver of the day: There were some seriously strong contenders for this gong, but Sergio Perez's remarkable drive from P17 after his contact with Charles Leclerc at the restart all the way up to P2 at the conclusion of the day was one of the best drives so far this season. Honourable mentions to Carlos Sainz for his maiden win and Sebastian Vettel for sealing P9 from a P18 start.
- Day to forget: It's a miracle that Zhou Guanyu was unhurt after the terrifying incident at turn one, and he will likely want to forget the Silverstone weekend in a hurry. Thankfully, it seems as though he will be fit to race again in Austria next weekend.
- The big question ahead of round #11: Can anyone come close to beating Max Verstappen? The Red Bull man was imperious in Austria last year and, given his current form, it's hard to see anyone stopping him.