Does Leclerc's Imola GP Collapse Change the 2022 Championship Narrative??
It all went so wrong for Leclerc and Ferrari in Imola, but does that change the 2022 outlook??
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Charles Leclerc and Ferrari looked near bullet proof through the first 3 races of 2022, taking two victories and a commanding 46 point lead in the Driver's Championship heading to Imola. With the Tifosi cheering them on, the Scuderia were looking set to take a strangle hold on the championship but it all unraveled horribly on Sunday for the race. Leclerc's late spin while chasing Sergio Perez saw him lose a comfortable podium and slide down the order to only finish 6th. Verstappen's easy victory at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix saw him bag 34 points and cut the championship lead down to 27 after four rounds. Verstappen now leapfrogs into second in the championship and Red Bull now sits only 11 points back of Ferrari in the Constructor's. After looking calmly unstoppable to start 2022, has the narrative of the 2022 championship shifted after the events in Imola?
A Learning Weekend for Ferrari
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Ferrari's weekend in Imola was far from a disaster and not a cause for panic for the Tifosi. But the mistakes made by Leclerc, Sainz and company is a good learning experience early on in this 2022 season. Ferrari will breakdown their pit-wall decisions and assess whether it was worth bringing in Leclerc late in the race to grab the fastest lap point. He was on for a comfortable P3 and there is always a risk of a botched pit stop or malfunction when brining a driver into the pits. But the biggest learning experience will come for Charles Leclerc who is solely to blame for his P6 finish. Leclerc was pushing far too hard and risked too much at this early stage of the championship in his bid to grab second place. "Why I took risks, that’s a good question. I’ll ask myself that when I am a bit more calm." Leclerc said post race. "I can’t allow myself to do such mistakes on a day like that when Red Bull was clearly faster than us." Leclerc and Ferrari will need to learn from this and not throw away their tremendous winter efforts by getting too greedy. Besides the loss of points, the team will be more concerned with the performance leap made by Red Bull. The Emilia Romagna GP was Red Bull's first 1-2 finish in 2,030 days and the upgrades they introduced in Imola seemed to have cut the gap to Ferrari. Coupled with Sainz's early season struggles and a strong start by Sergio Perez, Ferrari's early points gap could disappear quickly if they are not careful. Ferrari will be slightly concerned by the strength of both Red Bull drivers as Sergio Perez has made a clear step forward in 2022. The Scuderia will need Carlos Sainz to start bringing in the consistent performances to help his teammate and split the quick Red Bull's. Leclerc's shaky weekend in Imola has opened the door just slightly for Red Bull but with the reigning World Champion in his rear view, a little gap is all he needs to blow this title race wide open.
The Narrative Changes... But How Much?
A poor start, questionable strategy call, and a spin from the championship leader. No doubt it was an uncertain performance from Ferrari all round this weekend. Was it the expectation from the home crowd now that they are title favorites? Or was it just tricky conditions and a little mistake that plenty have made it the past? There is no cause for panic on Leclerc and Ferrari's part as despite the mistakes, they still lead both championships by a decent margin. Leclerc's spin wasn't as costly as it could've been as he only lost a net seven points to Verstappen. It was a simple mistake albeit a big one that even Verstappen acknowledged as one that any driver could make. “The mistake is easily done because he was pushing hard to try and fight Checo but it is painful [for him],” Verstappen said. “I think he knows that himself, he doesn’t need to hear it from anyone in here."
But the narrative of the 2022 championship has definitely shifted nonetheless. Ferrari no longer look unstoppable, and if Red Bull can solve their reliability issues, they are well within a chance to even steal both championships if everything goes right. Whether this narrative holds for the rest of this year or just another few races, it's rejuvenated the title fight after it looked like Leclerc would run away with it. The race victories in 2022 now stand at 2 a piece for Leclerc and Verstappen with the gap at 27 points. The results in Imola might tempt Ferrari to bring forth their Barcelona upgrade package but they are planning some smaller updates for the next race in Miami. But how costly will Leclerc's spin in Imola be for the championship as a whole? It's such a long season with 19 races to go that we'll have to wait and see whether Imola was a blip on the radar or a massive lost opportunity.