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2022 Racing Season

99 Ways To Lose A Championship: The Charles Leclerc Story

With the F1 teams enjoying their much deserved summer break, I’m struggling to recall all the on track action and paddock drama that has taken place since FP1 in Bahrain, so in the name of posterity, I think it’s time for a quick recap.  Maybe it’s something about attempting to filter through thousands of bits of information on my phone daily, or aging into my 50’s, or contracting a nasty case of Covid that left me with a severe case of Mystery Brain in June, but man oh man, I’m feeling a little challenged upstairs these days.  

 

So with a little help from my friends Google and Wiki, let’s dive in.  

 

When I sat down and started thinking about the season to date, my intention wasn’t to write solely about the misery that Leclerc has suffered, but as you are about to see, it’s impossible to avoid.  Beating Max in a Red Bull is like defeating the computer in the final level of a video game, one mistake and you are toast! 

 

Bahrain: As the clock wound down to 0.00 to close out the first qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit, I was left sitting there in silence with my eyes as wide as saucers.  Finally, the mystery surrounding these new ground effect cars, multi years in the making, was laid bare to the rabid F1 public under the lights in the middle eastern desert.  Ferrari were quickest!  Leclerc was on pole with Sainz lining up 3rd.  Red Bull were right there with a P2 for Max and P4 for Checo.   Mercedes, the mighty 8-straight champion constructor, were 5th (HAM) and 9th (RUS) on the grid.  It was hard to believe that Toto’s Army weren’t sandbagging in testing, but the stopwatch never lies.  Valteri Bottas, dumped by Mercedes in favor of George Russell, was 6th for Alfa Romeo and lining up alongside his former teammate, Sir Lewis Hamilton. Kevin Magnussen, fresh off a year of banging around the USA in a 600hp Cadillac DPi, was 7th in a Haas.  Sadly, it was clear that Alpine, McLaren and Aston were still midfield teams.  No team had made the miracle leap like Brawn GP pulled off in 2009, when they discovered a genius loophole in the radical new regulations at the time.

 

The race the following day quickly proved that the new cars could follow each other more closely than the previous eight years without destroying their tires in the dirty air.  Hallelujah, the new regs worked!  And to prove this point, Max passed Leclerc three times for the lead into turn 1, only to be overtaken by Leclerc all three times with some beautiful DRS assisted moves in the next set of corners.  Somewhere Ross Brawn had a big smile on his face.  It was clean racing that didn’t have the same cutthroat sense of urgency that Max and Lewis exhibited just a few months prior.  As Leclerc cruised to an easy victory, he looked like his time was now and he was going to be the man to take the fight to Max for the ‘22 crown.  The Monagasque was feeling so good late in the race that he actually made a joke over the radio to the Ferrari pitwall that the engine was losing power!*  To help his cause even further, both Red Bulls ground to a halt in the final laps, handing Ferrari a 1-2 and a healthy head start in the championship races.  Mercedes, clearly suffering from a lack of pace, nevertheless finished 3-4, Magnussen was a brilliant 5th and Bottas brought it home in P6.  

 

*Could Leclerc’s multitude of issues be some sort of karmic retribution for his engine joke in Bahrain? 

 

Leclerc 26 – Max 0

(Leclerc 0 – Max -18)  I’m going to keep an approximate tally of points lost due to driver error, mechanical DNF, or team strategic blunders.  Sorry Ferrari! 

 

Saudi Arabia:  Oh Saudi Arabia.  Someone should make a full length movie about this weekend.  Where to start?  I know, how about terrorist missiles leveling a nearby Aaramco oil depot at some point during FP1.  Call me crazy, but if I’m a high profile athlete participating in an event where there are hostile missile strikes taking place 8 miles from the venue, I’m getting the F out of there.  Perhaps that’s just my narrow Western view of terrorism?  Are there subtle nuances when it comes to missile strikes? 

 

After that eventful Friday on track, the teams and drivers held a 4.5 hour meeting that went late into the night over whether the race weekend should be continued or not.  What I would have given to be a fly on the wall!  Hopefully Netflix got their cameras in there.  Here is my version of how it went down:

 

Saudi Race Security:  Gentlemen, I can assure you that you have nothing to fear.

Seb Vettel:  How can you be so sure?  We are talking about missiles 8 miles from the track.

Saudi Race Security:  In our part of the world, these are what we call friendly reminder missiles from the Houthi rebels.  They are not meant to harm people.

Lewis Hamilton:  What makes you think they won’t decide to launch an unfriendly attack?

Saudi Race Security:  Well Mr Hamilton, for one, the Houthi Rebels are actually big F1 fans after watching Drive to Survive.

Max:  That’s a bunch of BS and we all know it!

Saudi Race Security:  If you don’t believe me Mr Verstappen, would a cell phone call to rebels base make you feel more at ease?

Max:  Sure whatever

 

The phone rings 4 times and is answered on speaker:

 

Houthi Rebels Secret Base:  Hello?

Saudi Race Security:  Hi this is Eman at the grand prix circuit.  I have all of the teams and drivers on speaker.  They want reassurances that there will be no more missile strikes.

Houthi Rebels Secret Base:  Yes of course.  The strike earlier today was just a run of the mill friendly reminder missile.  We can’t wait to watch the GP on Sunday.  Is Estaban Ocon there?  He is my favorite driver.

Esteban Ocon: Hi Rebel Commander.  (grins all around)  I will have my people get you guys some signed hats.

Houthi Rebels Secret Base:  That would be much appreciated Mr Ocon.  

Saudi Race Security:  Any other questions?

Stefano Domenicalli:  Grazie Mille.  How do you say in English – The show must always take place! The race is on and I want to thank our promoters and the Houthi Rebels.

Saudi Race Security:  That is a most wise decision indeed Mr Domenicalli.

 

On Saturday, Sergio Perez drove an inch perfect lap around the blindingly quick street circuit to beat the Ferrari’s and claim his first ever pole position.  It was clear that with the new regs, Sergio had closed the gap to team leader Max.  

 

The following day produced one of the most entertaining GP’s I’ve ever watched in 41 years.  Checo converted his pole into the lead and looked to be controlling the race until he was Latified on lap 15.  Due to stopping just before the pace car came out, he was hosed and came out in 4th.  This set up a duel for the ages between Leclerc and Max that involved actually slowing down into the final corner to let the other car pass on purpose before the DRS detection line to thus gain the DRS advantage down the long front straight.  Lewis and Max very clumsily attempted this game a few months earlier during the inaugural Saudi race, but Leclerc and Max made it an art form.  I never thought I’d see an F1 race where the car in front moves over to let another pass (without silly team orders of course), but this game of “No, After You” played out multiple times over the final quarter of the race.   It was great stuff and in the end, Max came out victorious by just half a second over Leclerc. 

 

Leclerc 45 – Max 25

(Leclerc 0 – Max -18)

 

Australia:  F1 returned to Melbourne after a two year absence to a massive sold out crowd on a slightly revamped circuit.  Leclerc put in a masterful performance while his teammate took himself out on lap 1 with an out braking move reminiscent of a Skip Barber debutante fresh out of karting.  More importantly, Max suffered another mechanical DNF.  After 3 rounds, it was already looking like a Leclerc runaway.

 

Leclerc 71 – Max 25

(Leclerc 0 – Max -36)

 

Before I continue on with this recap, I need to bring up the early season buzzword for 2022:  Porpoising.  No, it’s not a dance move or a kinky sex act, but rather the word used to describe F1 cars bouncing up and down, sometimes violently, as the air directed underneath the floor builds up pressure and suddenly releases it.  Every team was suffering from porpoising to some degree with the new aero regulations, but none worse than Mercedes.  The Mercedes W13 looked downright miserable to drive.  How Hamilton and Russell could keep the car on the road while riding a bucking horse was a testament to their skill.  The Ferrari looked like a porpoise gone wild at Sea World on the straights, but seemed to settle when the drivers came off the throttle into the braking zones and remained calm for a smooth application of power mid corner.  The Red Bull, designed by that Newey character, looked to be the best of the field in the porpoising game.

 

San Marino:  Max took an unpopular slick track race win in front of the Tifosi while Leclerc made an unforced spin across the grass, but recovered to 6th.  The points deficit was still quite large, but maybe we were seeing a chink in Leclerc’s highly emotional psyche?

 

Leclerc 86 – Max 59

(Leclerc -7 – Max -36)

Miami:  The track that Netflix built hosted the inaugural Miami GP in the Dolphins stadium parking lot 30 mins from Miami.  Tickets sold out in minutes and folks were shelling out obscene dollars for the hospitality packages.  ESPN was covering the race like it was a Jan 1 Bowl Game and I think the drivers were honestly shocked with the love they were receiving in the states with the likes of LeBron James and Michael Jordan clamoring to be part of the scene.  The track itself was decent for a parking lot design, but it’s still a parking lot track with the turn 14-15 chicane ranking right up there with the worst corners ever created by man. (cool idea for a future coffee table book – Lamest street track corners ever, with big photos and comments from drivers and fans alike)  Road America anyone?  Max and Leclerc put on another entertaining battle for the sun drenched buzzards, with Max prevailing over the Ferrari ace.  Game on for the title.

 

Leclerc 104 – Max 85

(Leclerc -7 – Max -36)

 

Spain:  Leclerc had the race well in hand until the Ferrari suffered an engine failure.  Max took advantage of the Ferrari DNF to take the win.  This was only the first mechanical for Leclerc, but the alarm bells were now ringing full time in Maranello.  Max had already clawed back out of a deep hole to lead the drivers race, Red Bull were in the lead in the constructors battle, and the pressure was squarely on the Scuderia to capitalize on having the quickest car.  Behind this race at the front, George Russell was driving the wheels off that porpoise happy W13.  Over the first six races he had six top-5’s and two podiums, while his more decorated teammate was struggling to come to terms with a car not capable of winning. 

 

Leclerc 104 – Max 110

(Leclerc -32 – Max -36) 

 

Monaco:  Leclerc had his home GP under control on a wet track until Ferrari made a horrible tire strategy call, turning a win into a 4th place.  For once, someone other than Max was able to capitalize on the Ferrari blunder and Checo took a well deserved victory around the Principality.  I love Monaco, but this circuit looks like a kart track with these current F1 cars.  

 

Leclerc 116 – Max 125

(Leclerc -45 – Max -36)

 

Baku:  Leclerc was leading when, you guessed it, more engine failure and misery for Ferrari.  Max led home a RBR 1-2.  Russell beat Hamilton across the line in a Merc 3-4.  

 

Leclerc 116 – Max 150

(Leclerc -63 – Max -36)

 

Canada:  It was great to see Montreal back after a two year absence.  After a few too many power unit failures, Ferrari elected to replace Leclerc’s engine and he started at the back.  Sainz took up the lead Ferrari challenge and seemed to regain his lost form, but couldn’t find a way by the Red Bull in the long DRS zones and shaded the Dutchman across the line by just .9 of a second.  On the subject of back on form, Lewis Hamilton looked like Lewis Hamilton again and brought the W13 home in 3rd ahead of Russell in 4th.  Maybe he was finally getting fed up with the social media world having a field day with the 7 timer taking a beating from his younger teammate?   Leclerc may have had a shot at the podium but a slow tire stop cost him crucial track position as he was fighting through the field, and he had to settle for P5.  Long Live Circuit Gilles Villeneuve!

 

Leclerc 126 – Max 175

(Leclerc -63 – Max -36)

 

Silverstone:  After watching 6 of the first 9 races being run on temporary circuits, it was nice to see the cars back on a proper track in front of a sold out hard core crowd.  The race got off to an inauspicious start after Russell and Zhou tangled in the braking zone for the first corner and Zhou was launched into a barrel roll, miraculously coming to rest in the small gap between the tire barrier and the fence.  After a few tense minutes waiting, it was a big relief to see the Chinese rookie emerge unscathed.   When the race resumed Max found his way past pole-man Sainz and looked to have everything under control until a piece of Yuki Tsunoda’s bodywork got lodged in his floor, causing him to lose about a second per lap.  Suddenly, remarkably, it looked like Leclerc’s day, until it didn’t.   It’s almost hard to believe that I’m writing this, but yet again, Leclerc had control of the race until Ocon ground to halt on lap 39 of 52.  Inexplicably, Ferrari kept their lead man out while all behind him came in for fresh rubber for the final 13 lap shootout.  As expected, Leclerc was a sitting duck when they went green and was quickly pushed into second by Sainz.  Leclerc then engaged in an epic 3-way battle with Hamilton and Perez that was as good as F1 racing gets, highlighted by going side by side with Lewis around the outside of Copse flat out on old rubber.  Seeing three different makes fighting for the podium was my dream come true.  At the flag, it was cool to see Carlos Sainz become the 112th GP winner in his 150th start.  

 

Leclerc 138 – Max 181

(Leclerc -76 – Max -36)  note- I’m not docking points from Max for the bodywork in the floor job as I’m calling it just plain old bad luck, not human or machine error.  

 

Austria:  Leclerc passed Max three times in the race to take the victory.  Hamilton led home Russell in a Merc 3-4, the 3rd podium on the trot for the 7 timer.  Ferrari being Ferrari, Sainz ground to a halt while in contention for second place late in the race and Leclerc had a throttle issue in the closing stages that left everyone holding their breath and waiting for the worst.  It almost felt like a movie where the pilot is forced to land a hobbled plane while the control tower can only sit there and offer encouragement.  They don’t do things easily in Maranello.  

 

Leclerc 170 – Max 208

(Leclerc -76 – Max -36)

 

France:  I’m now becoming angry as I write this, but yes, Leclerc had the race under control until he flat out lost the rear end and spun into the tires.  Game and championship over!  Max led home a Mercedes 2-3 with the runner-up Hamilton earning a 4th straight podium.  After Leclerc offed himself, the Ferrari pitwall decided that Sainz needed a dose of shit strategy and magically turned a podium into 5th place.

 

Leclerc  170 – Max 233

(Leclerc -101 – Max -36)

 

Hungary:  Somebody make this stop!  Why Ferrari???  Leclerc was leading when Ferrari made the wrong tire choice, sending him out there on the hards when it was abundantly clear, even to people sitting in their living rooms, that the hards were the wrong choice.  Did they see the damn Alpines?  No surprise then that Leclerc dropped like a rock to finish 6th.  Max started 10th, did a 360 spin and still won.  Lewis yet again led Russell home in a Merc 2-3.  Somebody should really piss Lewis off and refer to him as Mr Podium when they resume racing at Spa next week.  

 

Leclerc 178 – Max 258

(Leclerc -118 – Max -36)

 

So here we are, sitting on the beach, sipping Corona’s and just livin’ the fine life.  If you do the math, in a perfect world we would be looking at approximately Leclerc 296 to Max 294 with nine rounds still to run.  Instead, Max will now have one long Orange Army victory parade before officially being crowned champion after the Abu Dhabi finale in November.  But there is still hope for intrigue and excitement.   With the pressure off, maybe Leclerc will rip off a nice win streak while Max encounters more reliability issues?  Maybe Mercedes finds the final few tenths needed to make this a mega three way fight?  We are bound to have one wet shocker.  One can hope.

 

I had initially planned to segue to the silly season right about now,  but I feel like I’ve taken up enough of your time.  You have links to click on and a buddy going on a political text rant.  I’m sure there is a fresh Paige Spirinac link begging for your attention.  That said, I’m already looking forward to the season ending recap to touch on Vettel, Alonso, Zak Brown, Piastri, Danny Ric, Vegas, Porsche, Audi, Andretti Autosport, and anything else that can and will happen between now and then.  This is F1 after all.  

 

Remember to support your local Indycar series.  We’re down to 3 races left with the 40+ year old duo of Will Power and Scott Dixon fighting to hold off these young whippersnappers.  Old guys rule!  Just don’t ask this old guy to recall the name of a person, place or thing.