After yet another all-round Ferrari defeat, Charles Leclerc has reiterated his claim that winning the world championship this year will be “tough”.
His points deficit to Max Verstappen after another victory for Red Bull at Zandvoort now stands at 109, meaning the Dutchman no longer has to realistically target a constant flow of wins over the remaining 7 grands prix.
“The Red Bull is the fastest car at the moment, especially in terms of race pace,” Leclerc said late on Sunday.
“Mercedes also seems to have gained in race-pace performance, so this title looks tough.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner, however, is not celebrating yet.
“We’re in a great position and we’d probably have to work hard to lose the lead,” he said. “But nothing is resolved until it is mathematically impossible.”
But the situation does not look likely to improve for Ferrari this weekend at Monza – the concluding round of an arduous triple-header.
“On paper, it’s not our best track, unfortunately,” Leclerc said. “I think the performance on paper will be a bit more difficult than here.”
The most galling aspect for Ferrari is that an increasingly farcical streak of strategy and pitstop errors is also continuing, whilst Leclerc admits that his car has been “struggling a bit more in race pace” over the most recent string of races.
“Now Mercedes is also in the fight and they are very quick,” he said.
Verstappen is also surprised at the latest trend, admitting after his home Dutch GP win that he “expected Ferrari to be a little bit faster”.
Leclerc agrees: “This is the main focus at the moment – to try to bring back the speed that we had at the beginning of the season as we seem to have lost it.”
It is a sentiment backed by his Ferrari boss, Mattia Binotto.
“We weren’t fast enough in Hungary, Spa and here either,” he told Viaplay. “If you’re not fast enough, you can’t fight for the best possible result.
“Is it the speed, the setup or the confidence of the drivers?” he wondered.
Former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher, however, wonders if Binotto is reacting properly to the stream of team errors.
“It wasn’t just the pitstop with the missing tyre or the wheel gun in the way – I just don’t understand it anymore,” he told Sky Deutschland.
“Even if it’s a great team, too many mistakes are made and there are no consequences for that. Nothing seems to have changed in Maranello.”
But for the 2022 title, Binotto admits the 109-point deficit is “huge if you look at how many races are left”.
“Last time I said we can no longer rely only on ourselves, and that applies now even more than before,” said the Italian.
“From now until the end of the season, the mood is also important because we have to focus to improve next season.”
Binotto denies that the FIA’s recent clampdown against porpoising could be a simple explanation for the loss of pace.
“No, that’s not the reason, although there have been some rumours,” he said. “We have to look at the overall package.”