September 26, 2022

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Red Bull celebrate but title rivals buoyed by Spanish Grand Prix improvements as F1 heads to Monaco

3 min read

(AP)

Looking simply at the results, Max Verstappen is in danger of running away with the Formula One Drivers’ World Championship. He has won every grand prix he has finished this season and his victory in Spain on Sunday was his third in a row.

Yet, his rivals still turn their attention to Monaco this weekend with a degree of positivity.

Charles Leclerc may not have finished the race in Barcelona — denied by an engine problem — but left boosted that the Ferrari upgrades had clearly worked. Before the power in the Ferrari deserted him, he was streets ahead of the rest of the field.

But now he has slipped behind Verstappen in the drivers’ championship for the first time this season, while Red Bull have leapfrogged Ferrari in the constructors’ table.

“Let’s say that I feel better after this weekend than I felt after the last two weekends,” said Leclerc.

“The new package worked as expected, which is not always a given, and everything was working well.

“Our race pace and tyre management, which in the last two races we have been struggling quite a bit with compared to Red Bull, was strong.”

But there are still gremlins. The engine failure is a concern and, despite Leclerc’s positivity regarding the tyres, that also remains a question mark.

Ferrari’s tyre degradation has been far worse than that of Red Bull. In qualifying, they held back a set of softs for the race, just to be safe, while there was talk of a split rear tyre in one of the earlier practice sessions.

Red Bull have not been unblemished, either. A fuel pump issue provided a double DNF at the season opener in Bahrain, while an unrelated fuel leak also meant Verstappen failed to make it to the finish in Australia.

Charles Leclerc (AP)

Charles Leclerc (AP)

In Spain, there were imperfections, too, with DRS, which the defending world champion did little to disguise his frustration about, as he repeatedly lambasted his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase. Team principal Christian Horner suggested it was down to the team having made the rear wing too lightweight amid the slimming-down process of the Red Bull.

In the end, the issue did not cost Verstappen but, for lap after lap, it cost him the chance of passing George Russell’s Mercedes.

At one point, it looked like Russell, for all his hard work, might not even make the chequered flag. A water leak on the penultimate lap, a problem also encountered by team-mate Lewis Hamilton, meant both drivers were under strict instructions to ease off.

For Russell, it did not affect his podium place; for Hamilton, he had to concede his fourth position to Carlos Sainz, having worked so hard to claw his way up from the back of the grid. Both Mercedes men were forced to flick their foot on and off the throttle down the straights and bring on board as much fresh air as possible to help address the issue.

Mercedes are no longer so strong in slow-speed corners — and Monaco has no shortage of slow corners.

On the slower corners of Monaco, and with temperatures expected to be well below the freak reading of 37°C in Spain, the team are not expected to encounter a repeat. And, yet, they are still expecting to struggle.

The floor and wing upgrades in Spain have addressed much of their pace and other problems, but the one negative is that they are no longer so strong when it comes to the slow-speed corners — and there are no shortage of slow corners at Monaco.

Of the three frontrunners, now that Mercedes are near enough in the mix, who comes out on top this weekend?

Much still depends on reliability issues and also pole position, even more crucial there than at Barcelona. On the evidence of the Spanish Grand Prix and its slow corners, Leclerc and Ferrari should be strong, although the Monegasque has the ignominy of never having finished his home race in three attempts.

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