'I tried to push and it was too much': How Ferrari’s home race turned sour for Leclerc


The tifosi arrived at Imola in the hope of roaring Charles Leclerc to an even greater championship lead. But it all went wrong as he chased a fraction too hard in search of second place

Charles Leclerc looks thoughtful after the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Leclerc's error cost him a podium place in front of Ferrari's home crowd

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

What promised to be a huge weekend for Charles Leclerc and Scuderia Ferrari on home ground at Imola ended in huge disappointment for the team and its fans.

Leclerc arrived in Italy as world championship leader on the back of his win in Australia. However Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing had the upper hand on ultimate pace all weekend, although the Monégasque driver did at least lead most of the Saturday sprint before losing out as his tyres went off in the closing laps.

On Sunday he found himself outrun also by the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, and an attempt to beat the Mexican with a strategy gamble and an aggressive switch to new soft tyres for the last part of the race ended in disaster when Leclerc tripped over the chicane and spun into the barrier.

He was extremely fortunate to not only get going again but also be able to run to the flag with sufficient pace to recover sixth place. In the end the difference between third and his final result was just seven points – it could have been a much more expensive error.

Charles Leclerc with broken front wing on his Ferrari at the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Leclerc pits with damaged front wing


It’s easy to criticise not just Leclerc but also his team for putting him in a position where he had to be aggressive when a solid third place was there for the taking.

However all concerned know that this is going to be a very tight championship battle, and collecting the easy points might not be good enough.

“I think there will be never be regret to ask a driver to push,” said team boss Mattia Binotto. “It’s part of our job, it’s part of their job try to drive to the limit. Obviously mistakes may happen.

“I think these cars on the kerbs are a lot stiffer, and somehow if you make a small mistake you’re paying it quite a lot. So no regrets, I think we made the right choice, and that’s it.”

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Leclerc is not a driver prone to making mistakes, having learned and matured over his three years at Ferrari in 2019-2021. However being embroiled in a title battle is something else again, and any slip will inevitably be in the spotlight.

“I saw the opportunity that before I didn’t think was there,” he said after the race. “It was very clear to me that today third place was what was possible. But I saw the opportunity, and I still tried it. I went a bit quicker in Turn 14 and 15, took too much kerb, and spun.

“All points count, and today I’ve put away seven points, against the 15 that we had if we were finishing third. So every point is important, and I will learn from this for the future. And it’s the way it is now. I’ve analysed the data, I know what I’ve done, and I’ll move on.”

“I knew that there was an opportunity, so I tried to push a bit more, and it was too much”

Leclerc denied that he was taking any extra risks as he tried to find the pace with which to usurp Perez: “I don’t think I was taking particularly more risk. But, yeah I was quick there, and the car felt good there, especially in the race today.

“I felt like it was probably one of the corners where Checo was a bit less competitive than me, and obviously on that lap, I knew that there was an opportunity, so I tried to push a bit more, and it was too much.

“But apart from that, I don’t think I’ve taken any unnecessary risk on the other laps during the weekend or whatsoever. Everything was okay on that side.”

Charles Leclerc bounces over an Imola kerb at the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Leclerc attacks the kerbs: that approach would cost him later in the race


It’s easy to suggest that there was extra pressure on Leclerc’s shoulders last weekend, having come to Italy as championship leader, only to realise that at this track at least, Red Bull had a performance edge. But he denies that it contributed to the error.

“No, there wasn’t. I mean, that’s what I think, at least. Obviously we’ve had pressure, not only today, but for the whole weekend. And I don’t think I’ve done many mistakes before today. It was a dumb mistake that cost me a lot, and I’ll learn from it. But no, on my side there was no particularly added pressure whatsoever.”

Leclerc is an intelligent guy, and he’s not the sort of driver who makes the same mistake twice.

“Maybe this one is a bit different. I mean, it’s one of those mistakes where it’s a bit more the mental approach that you’ve had at that particular moment of the race. But I’ve always been strong in knowing exactly which particular feeling I felt at that moment of the race, and knowing how to correct it.

“I’ll learn from it, and won’t do it again. And actually I have been a bit lucky, because I’ve only lost seven points to what I could have scored. But it’s seven points that could be valuable at the end of the season, and every point counts when you’re driving for the titles. It won’t happen again.”

Red smoke from crowds of tifosi at Imola for the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Binotto says he tried to relieve the pressure of racing in front of the passionate home crowd

Lars Baron/F1 via Getty Images

Binotto insisted that Leclerc’s error was not related to the special circumstances of racing at home.

“The expectation level was very high here in Italy,” said the team boss. “And we did try to calm them down, and I think we did whatever we could internally in the team to try to relieve the pressure, and make sure that we stay concentrated and focused during the weekend.

“While they are driving, I don’t think that’s the case. While they’re driving, they’re trying to do their best.

“Obviously he’s fighting for the best positions, he knows that he’s leading the championship. But when I was hearing him on the radio during the race he was very calm, and I think the way he was managing was certainly not feeling the pressure itself.

“So I think it has been a genuine mistake, it may always happen, a small mistake which cost him some positions. And I’m pretty sure that he’s aware of that, and that’s good enough.”

Charles Leclerc drives past stranded Carlos Sainz in the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Leclerc passes the stranded Sainz in the opening laps

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Ferrari’s bad day was made worse by another first lap retirement for Carlos Sainz, although Daniel Ricciardo accepted responsibility for punting the Spaniard off.

However the fact that it came after Sainz spun out on the opening lap in Melbourne, and had a costly crash in Q2 at Imola, made it that much harder to take.

It’s been a tough start to the season for a man who, in the latter half of last year, was very evenly matched with Leclerc and now finds himself in danger of slipping into a supporting role.

“It’s very simple,” said Sainz. “In Australia, I was completely at fault. And here after reviewing the footage, I think I couldn’t have done anything more to give Daniel more space.

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“So two completely different incidents, with very similar outcomes, which means you end up not doing any of the 60 laps of the race, which at the moment for me would be very useful.

“So actually, the result doesn’t even hurt that much, if you compare it to losing so much track time, and losing so many laps on this car. The last two races I haven’t been able to race.

“Unfortunate, and the tough thing is that they come in a consecutive manner. Because over the season, there’s always going to be one race where you do a mistake. And there’s always going to be one race where you get bumped out. And for me unfortunately it has happened consecutively.

“And it’s why it hurts more and it’s tougher. But hopefully we get them done nice and early in the season, and now we can start focusing on the rest of the year.”

Daniel Ricciardo hits Carlos Sainz in the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP

Sainz reverses into retirement

Florent Gooden / DPPI

The fact that Ricciardo took responsibility made it easier for Sainz to accept: “You could see he’s had a tough one, but the first thing that he did he was come to the Ferrari box, and apologise to me. There were the whole mechanics there with me, and we all thanked him for the gesture.

“So that’s why there’s no hard feeling with Daniel, because what happened could happen to anyone out there today, but unfortunately, it had to happen to me, and I’m coming from the crash in Melbourne. So yeah, it’s how it is. This incident has really no mystery to it. I think if you see the on board and what happened, it’s very clear to everyone.”

Imola came just after Ferrari confirmed Sainz until the end of 2024, so that has taken some pressure off. Nevertheless he’s well aware that he has to get results.

“I think both years in McLaren I had a very tough start to the season,” he noted. “And then I had a very good three-quarters after that, if you want to put a fraction to it. I think is part of life, it’s part of the sport, you’re always going to be in nicer periods, and you’re always gonna be in periods where things don’t go your way. I’m confident that it can turn around very quickly.

“These last two weekends in Australia and here in Imola, the speed has been there, and I’ve been feeling fairly confident, or a step more confident in the car and quicker. I think as soon as this stream maybe of bad luck finishes, or bad run you call it whatever, the good moments are about to come.

“And history has proven to me many times that this is the case in this sport, and I just need to stay patient and calm in my head, and it will come.”

Max Verstappen passes Charles Leclerc in 2022 Emilioa Romagna GP sprint race

Championship battle is much closer after Verstappen secured maximum points

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The Imola weekend closed up the championship battle, although Verstappen still has some way to go to make up for his expensive retirements in Bahrain and Australia. Four races in it’s apparent that the two teams are very evenly matched, with circuit characteristics marginally favouring one or the other.

“I think honestly, with Red Bull, it’s either one weekend they are stronger, another we are stronger,” said Leclerc.

“And it’s been the case from the beginning of the season where it’s like this. In Bahrain, we were stronger, in Australia we were stronger, and in the other two they were stronger.

“I still feel like we are there more or less, and it’s track dependent, who of the two is coming out on top. I don’t think there are any significant differences yet. But yes, they were a bit stronger than we were this weekend.”