Did Ferrari really force Charles Leclerc to lie?

Charles Leclerc crashed out of the lead of the French Grand Prix last month.

Former Formula 1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck gave us all a bit of a surprise when he suggested that Ferrari told Charles Leclerc to lie about the cause of his crash at the French Grand Prix.

The Monegasque had started from pole in Le Castellet, and had fended off the early threat of Max Verstappen, before the Dutchman came into the pits.

This gave the Ferrari driver clear air to work with as he chased his third win of the season, and he had a healthy gap back to Sir Lewis Hamilton, who had inherited P2 after Verstappen’s stop.

READ: Mattia Binotto responds to Ferrari ‘bad luck’ claim as Charles Leclerc’s frustration grows

Both Leclerc and Hamilton were due to make their first stop of the race, but their tyres were doing well, so they were arguably considering going longer into the race to give themselves a tyre advantage towards the end.

Staying out would also be advantageous in the event that there was a Safety Car; they just needed to make sure they were not the ones who caused it.

Sadly for the 24-year-old, he lost control at Turn 11, and span off into the barrier, ending his race early and handing the win to Verstappen, who extended his championship lead.

On the radio, Leclerc mentioned that he could not activate the throttle when he put the car into reverse gear, but it was later cleared up that this was not the cause of the crash; it simply meant that he could not get out of the barrier after the damage had already been done.

With the throttle ruled out, it only came down to one thing: driver error.

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Indeed, Leclerc took full responsibility for the accident, and stated that it is “pointless” to be competing for a world title if he is making mistakes like that.

He would later affirm that he does not “understand” why drivers make excuses for their errors, reiterating that he much prefers to shoulder the responsibility and move on.

However, driver error has not been the only factor towards the capitulation of Ferrari’s title challenge this season; strategic blunders and reliability woes have also been costly.

Carlos Sainz was arguably denied a podium in France when the team could not figure out how to serve his five-second penalty, but they waited too long and he eventually finished fifth behind George Russell and Sergio Perez.

More mistakes on the pit wall had already cost Leclerc wins in Monaco and Silverstone, and the same occurred a week after the French Grand Prix in Hungary as the Scuderia turned P1 into P6.

Leclerc and Sainz have both suffered two reliability failures so far in 2022, Leclerc losing wins in Spain and Baku as a result, while Ferrari were denied a one-two in Austria when Sainz’s engine blew out as he was about to pass Verstappen for second.

The Spaniard also joined Leclerc on the list of non-finishers in Azerbaijan in what was a horrible day for Ferrari.

Team principal Mattia Binotto has come under intense scrutiny as a result of the numerous mistakes made by the team but, true to the loyal man that has been at Ferrari for over two decades, he has continued to stick by his team and try to protect them from public ridicule.

But Stuck believes that, in an attempt to save face in France, Binotto might have told Leclerc to take responsibility for a crash that was not actually his fault.

“I don’t know how much longer Ferrari will give him credit,” he told Eurosport.

“For me, however, something else is still a mystery: Charles Leclerc’s departure from Le Castellet.

“If you look at the accident a hundred times: the oversteering didn’t come from him. 

“I can imagine that he was instructed by the team to claim that he made a mistake even though there was a problem with the car.

“I wouldn’t rule that out, there is enormous pressure there.”

Is that a realistic claim? Could Leclerc have suffered a mechanical failure in France that the team quickly moved to cover up?

The immediate answer is who knows? We might never know for sure, but the signs, initially, point to a mistake by Leclerc.

In terms of the line he was taking, the Monegasque held more or less the same one through Le Bousset on lap 18 as he did on lap 17.

He turned in nice and early and met the first apex with his front right tyre, before letting the brakes go ever so slightly to prepare himself for the second part of the trick corner.

From there, on lap 17, Leclerc travelled further into the corner before meeting the white line mid-corner, but he ran wider much earlier on lap 18.

He was then asking more of the rear tyres to get the car round when he got back on the throttle, which might have worked on a qualifying lap, or even earlier on in the stint.

However, his tyres were aging, and they did not have the grip to sustain that load, so they caved, and round went Leclerc.

There is therefore an argument to suggest that the Ferrari driver was left out on track too long and his tyres had degraded too much, but it could also be seen that he was a few kph quicker on lap 18 than he was on 17.

This naturally would have led him to go out wide sooner than the lap before, which is a further indication that he simply made an innocent error.

Ferrari have covered up in the past, Felipe Massa’s cruel second place at the German Grand Prix in 2010 springing to mind, after which the Italian side were fined for using team order to allow Fernando Alonso to win.

The FIA also very quietly dealt with the team’s engine irregularity in 2019 when they magically showed up after the summer break with the fastest car having been lagging behind Mercedes, and sometimes even Red Bull, in the early part of the year.

But to say that Leclerc was forced to lie about his crash is a big jump.

Firstly, he is an extremely honest person that will readily own up to his errors; he does not need his team to tell him to do that.

And secondly, comparing laps 17 and 18 should tell you enough about the accident to know that Leclerc crashed by himself. 

READ: Ferrari accused of forcing Charles Leclerc to lie about crash

Maybe the tyres were a little too old, but that does not change the fact that the crash in Le Castellet looks very much like a driver error.

Therefore, it seems a little harsh on Ferrari to insinuate that they told their driver to lie; Leclerc simply did what we all do – he made a mistake, and he has since moved on. So should we all.