BBC Sport editor Andrew Benson believes that Ferrari will have had a moment of clarity after Carlos Sainz’s reliability failure at last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard had been following team-mate Charles Leclerc in the Ferraris’ pursuit of Max Verstappen in Spielberg amid an engrossing strategical battle between themselves and Red Bull.
After Leclerc made the decisive move for the win, Sainz looked set to follow suit, but he encountered his second reliability failure of the season as he pulled off to the side and had to jump away from the inferno that was developing in the back of the car.
The Scuderia had worked themselves into a mess the week prior when they took an age to allow Leclerc to pass Sainz in Silverstone and, because of the delay, the 24-year-old was left out under a late Safety Car as the team brought Sainz in, worried that they did not have time to double stack due to the proximity of their drivers.
Leclerc fell from first to fourth after the team’s latest howler, and Sainz took his maiden victory, closing the gap to 11 points between himself and his team-mate.
Ferrari entered the weekend without a clear number one anymore following a series of team errors and issues for Leclerc, but they might just have one now.
Benson suggested that, now Sainz is likely due a penalty soon – as Leclerc suffered in Canada after his Baku failure – and there is a 36-point gap between the Scuderia pair in the standings, Ferrari might be advised to back Leclerc from here.
“Sainz has already used his allocated three engines this season,” he explained on the Chequered Flag Podcast.
“So we are now at the halfway point of the season and he’s certainly got one engine penalty looming pretty soon.
“It looks like both he and Leclerc will have another engine penalty beyond that, given their engine usage at the moment.
“I’ve not heard Ferrari have a fix for this problem yet – they are managing their engines.
“So I think Sainz could even have an engine penalty at the next race in France. That’s a real blow for his title hopes, which he thought he was in with a shot at after winning at Silverstone.
“But actually, paradoxically, in terms of the championship, it actually gives them a clearer picture from now on at the halfway point in the season.
“Leclerc now has quite a decisive advantage over Sainz, it might make their life a bit easier in terms of making Leclerc their definitive number one.”
W series champion and current championship leader Jamie Chadwick does not see the 27-year-old taking number two status laying down though.
“Maybe from a team point of view but from Carlos’ point of view, it will probably have the opposite effect,” she added.
“He will be even more frustrated by the situation and even more out for himself, especially off the back of that win at Silverstone, which I think he would have felt was overdue.
“He will be very frustrated, he wants to prove he isn’t number two to Leclerc because in his mind, he isn’t.
“But of course the facts and race results and qualifying results and what-have-you show he has been second fiddle in pace, generally speaking.
“But if you try to tell him that, he won’t take it for a second.”
Even though Ferrari have ended their seven-race winless run by winning the last couple of rounds, Mattia Binotto still finds himself under criticism for the reliability and strategical errors that are coming into play for the Italian side.
The 52-year-old’s reaction was indicative of the fact that, as well as being understandably gutted about losing what looked a certain one-two – the cumulating engine problems are going to hurt Ferrari later on down the line as well.
“One of the most striking things for me after Sainz’s retirement was Mattia Binotto on the pit wall – the camera showed him with his head in his hands,” said BBC commentator Jack Nicholls.
“He’s got black curly hair and his fingernails were scraping through it in that frustrated manner, and when he lifted his head up again, the colour was indistinguishable from his T-shirt, like it was really a pained situation for Binotto.
“Because not only has this happened and cost them second place and a one-two, this will hurt Sainz further down the road.
“Leclerc has already had to take an engine penalty, surely this will affect Sainz on that front too.”
Sainz’s failure in Styria cost Ferrari the chance to close the gap to Red Bull to as few as 33 points in the Constructors’ Standings, but the gap remains at 56.
On a lighter note, the Scuderia have won two consecutive races for the first time since 2019, and Leclerc’s victory was his first since Melbourne in the third round of the season.