I must say I was really happy for Carlos Sainz when, on his 150th attempt, he finally took his first Grand Prix win. In our industry, it’s always a gratifying sight, when a young pilot finally savors not only the breakthrough to victory, but savors that warm flood of inner knowing that all his faith and self-belief was truly justified. .
But there was an element of irony in this success, given that without the failure of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon on lap 38, the result could have been very different. Or even with her there was another pilot who could have been the winner.
Let’s deal with the latter first.
Despite losing five support points after Sergio Perez rubbed it a bit too tenderly on the run down the Wellington straight just after the restart (damaging his own car and almost writing himself out of the script), Charles Leclerc was once again a star around Silverstone.
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Carlos lost the lead on the first start, but regained it in the second following Zhou Guanyu’s heavy crash, as the regulations required that the starting order of the grid be maintained as not all cars had crossed the SC2 line.
But it soon became clear, after Max Verstappen ruled himself out by inadvertently going over a piece of Pierre Gasly’s rear wing endplate on lap 12, that the Spaniard was lacking pace at this stage of his teammate or Lewis Hamilton, who was closing in quickly in a Mercedes W13 who loved the slick surface of Silverstone.
By lap 16, Charles had asked Ferrari what to do, as he was held back behind his team-mate as Lewis closed in ever closer, with Carlos missing his target lap time of 1m 32.9s by several tenths. A lap later, Charles pleaded with his team to “do something, please!” and make a decision on the order of the team.
But it took them until lap 30, by which time Lewis was leading after both Ferraris made their first pit stops to move from the average Pirellis to the tough ones, Carlos on lap 20, Charles on 25th. When Lewis hadn’t stopped on lap 31, the order finally came out for the Ferraris to switch places. Carlos, being a team player, complied immediately.
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So when Lewis finally went hard on lap 33 and immediately started closing in on the two red cars again, Charles was in the lead. Then came the disappearance of Esteban and the inevitable deployment of the safety car on lap 39. But rather than bringing Charles in for softs, like Mercedes did with Lewis, like Red Bull did with Sergio A recovering Perez – who had suddenly been thrown an unexpected lifeline – and like Alpine did with Fernando Alonso, Ferrari kept their leader out and brought Carlos in instead.
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It’s the decision I just don’t understand, because in my opinion, it left Charles like a sitting duck. Had they brought Charles, Mercedes would have pitted Lewis for the softs as well, as keeping him out of the hards wouldn’t have made sense either.
“I can certainly understand his frustration,” team manager Mattia Binotto said of Charles on Monday. “When you’re comfortably leading a race with only a few laps to go and you don’t win, it’s natural to be disappointed. But Charles’ disappointment is also our disappointment: we win together and we lose together.
“We are as frustrated as he is with his result because the way he drove yesterday was amazing and showed once again what a strong driver he is. Charles fully deserved to win the race, if he there had been no security. Auto.”
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The rationale Mattia later gave was that at that time it made sense to prioritize the lead car protecting track position, since Charles was on cooler tires at that time. , and that if he had stopped, the rivals would have done the exact opposite and won the track position on almost new hard tires.
At the same time, they decided to put Carlos on the opposite strategy in order to cover all opportunities, and he argued that if they hadn’t split the strategy, they would have risked losing the race and giving away the victory over their opponents.
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That’s what I don’t understand, because the safety car inevitably closed everything, so there was no gap for the stoppers to close. Charles was immediately at a disadvantage running on rubber that was two compounds harder than that of his immediate competitors, and they were all breathing down his neck by the time the race resumed on lap 43. He never stood a chance .
And this other result? On race day, I had a sneaky suspicion that Lewis would win. And I firmly believe that if it hadn’t been necessary to start the race again and if he had kept this third place that he had snatched the first time, he would have been a very good competitor. And, despite that delay when he dropped to sixth on the restart, I still think he could have won if not for the Alpine problem.
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Okay, if Martha was Arthur, your uncle would be your aunt, as the old expression goes. But at the start, he was still as fast, if not faster than the Ferraris. At this point, a Mercedes victory still looked possible, given that Charles in his injured machine and Lewis were running in the 1m 31s while Carlos looked stuck in the 1m 32s.
On lap 38, when Esteban stopped, Charles did 1m 31.347s, Carlos 1m 32.072s and Lewis 1m 31.302s, and while Charles was 4.2s ahead of Carlos, Lewis was within 1.8s of the latter with 14 laps to go. And once he cleared Carlos, surely he would have been faster than Charles on eight laps of older rubber and minus those five fulcrums…
Of course it didn’t work out that way because of the safety car, but after leading a race for the first time this year (from laps 26 to 33) and setting the fastest lap of 1m 30.510s in of the final round, Lewis indicated that it might not be quite the time to hang up his helmet, as some in the paddock are suggesting a little too often lately…
And Carlos? Well he got a new life on the softs, and whatever the good or bad sides of Ferrari’s pit stop strategy, he stuck his elbows out on the final restart and just checked, leaving Charles to have that huge piece with Sergio and Lewis that was another hallmark of a great race.
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And while he may have lacked pace earlier, he now had it in spades and was making full use of it, even setting the fastest lap of 1m 30.886s on lap 43 before Lewis won. The Safety Car favored him and Sergio, as it put Charles and Lewis at a disadvantage, but in life you play the hands you’re dealt, and Carlos won the Royal Flush in the end.
There were very few people in the paddock who blamed him for his success. He is a very popular man, just like his illustrious father, and after a rather difficult season littered with incidents which were not always his fault and this brave near miss recently in Canada, he deserved a break.
But I can’t help but wonder if this race could affect the relationship between Charles and Mattia, after previous technical disappointments cost the pair at least two races. Charles was as gracious as ever publicly, but he can’t be happy.
And he, more than anyone, will appreciate that with a different strategy, he could have gotten 25 or 26 points on a day when Max only took six. And that their respective scores could have read 183 and 152 rather than 183 and 138.
Ferrari still won the race, of course, but losing the chance for your lead driver to score 14 more points doesn’t strike me as the best way to fight tough opponents like Max and Red Bull.