(Motorsport) A disappointing crash by Charles Leclerc gifted Red Bull and Max Verstappen the victory at the French Grand Prix. Ferrari and Leclerc desperately needed a win to keep their title hopes alive and looked to be in good position heading into the race as Leclerc started from pole, having posted the fastest time in qualifying. The Monegasque driver did an excellent job of keeping Verstappen at bay during the initial stages of the race, denying the reigning champion despite Red Bull’s arguably superior straight line speed.
However, the 24 year old crashed on the 18th lap, spinning across the run-off area before crashing nose first into the barrier. As per Red Bull’s strategy, Verstappen went into the pits on lap 16 and it looked like there would be an intense battle between the two drivers but Leclerc’s crash meant that the Dutchman had a clear run to the podium finish. Ferrari and Leclerc only have themselves to blame as the Monegasque driver had a 46 point lead over Verstappen after the first three races of the season but the tables have turned and the Ferrari driver is now 63 points behind his rival.
As for Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard began the race from the back, incurring a grid penalty for using too many new engine components but did an excellent job of climbing the ladder during the race. The 27 year old was also given a 5 second penalty for an infraction during his first pit stop and he expertly overtook Sergio Perez, attempting to extend his lead to over 5 seconds in order to get a podium finish. However, Ferrari called Sainz into the pits during the battle between the two drivers, resulting in some debate between Sainz and his team. Eventually, the Spaniard went into the pits 2 laps later, resulting in a fifth place finish at the chequered flag.
Speaking after the race, a disappointed Leclerc said “A mistake, a mistake. I've been saying I think I'm performing at my highest level in my career but if I keep making those mistakes then it's pointless to perform at a very high level. I'm losing too many points – seven in Imola, 25 here – because honestly we probably were the strongest car on track today. So, if we lose the championship by 32 points, at the end of the season I will know where they are coming from. It's unacceptable, I just need to get on top of those things. It's just trying to push too much and I lost the rear. It's been a very difficult weekend for me, I've struggled a lot with the balance of the car. When it's warm like this it's very difficult to be consistent, it's been very difficult to put laps together and I made a mistake at the wrong moment."
Meanwhile, reigning champion Max Verstappen offered his sympathy to Leclerc by saying “It would have been a really good battle to the end, unfortunately we never got to that, but luckily Charles is okay.” When asked if his experience gives him an advantage over Leclerc, the Dutchman said “It's difficult to tell, mistakes are easily made. So, I don't know. I feel sorry for him of course. It's not nice and he knows that. We've still got a lot of races to go and there will be a few tough weekends for us as well."
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz defended his team's strategy by saying “I think the team is doing a very good job on strategy this year. At Ferrari we get super criticised for things that other teams might be going through also in their pit stop windows. Every time there is a tricky moment in strategy, we are discussing things, but we are not a disaster like people seem to say we are. We like to discuss things, we are open about them, yes, I was in the middle of an overtake but the team believed that was the right lap to stop and come back through the field.
"I believed at the time that maybe it was better to risk it and stay out and see what happens with the tyres, even if it was the medium tyre on the limit of its life, but I had just made it to P3 and I saw a podium position. I thought, 'if I make these tyres last, maybe I can finish on the podium', but we will never know. The team has a lot more data on the computer, they have a lot more numbers to go through, and if they took that decision, I'm 100 per cent convinced that they did it with the best of intentions and the best spirit. We need to keep progressing and we need to analyse everything and see how we can be better, but I'm convinced the team is doing a good job,” concluded Sainz.