Ex-Ferrari driver comments on ‘politics’ as Sainz at risk of becoming Leclerc’s number two

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have won seven of the opening nine rounds of the season between them in 2022.

Former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello does not wish to rule the Italian side out of the title race after their turbulent recent run of form.

Charles Leclerc won in Bahrain and Australia as Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both suffered reliability failures in the season opener, before the same fate befell the Dutchman again in Melbourne.

Those successes for the Italian team came either side of a Verstappen win in Jeddah, but upgrades introduced at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix by the Austrian side have turned the title race on its head.

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Verstappen and Perez have won all of the last six races between them, overturning four pole positions from Leclerc, while the Scuderia have begun to encounter reliability troubles themselves.

Carlos Sainz, who continues to wait for his maiden win, pushed the reigning champion hard in Canada as he narrowly lost out on the win, but having seen the picture change so quickly already this year, there is little to suggest that cannot happen in the final 13 rounds of the 2022 season.

“I would say yes,” Barrichello said in conversation with La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“The team still has everything in its own hands. A few races ago they were still at the top of the championship, so I don’t see why that can’t happen again.

“You only have to blink a few times and the situation is reversed and there are still many races to go.”

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Red Bull and Ferrari have suffered seven reliability failures between them this season, with Leclerc and Verstappen receiving four of them between them.

In the space of six races, the Monegasque has gone from being 46 points ahead of Verstappen to 49 points adrift, so longevity of the powertrain will continue to be an important aspect this season.

“Reliability will be the most important factors, the past has already proven that,” added Barrichello, who won 11 races with Ferrari and Brawn GP.

“The key for the teams will be to do their homework and improve the car well. Red Bull looks really fast and they seem to have reliability too, and you need both to win the title.”

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Schumacher spent much of his career with the Prancing Horses playing a back-up role to team-mate Michael Schumacher, who won five of his seven titles with the Maranello outfit.

Sainz has stood on the podium five times in 2022, and has been out-qualified eight times this year by Leclerc.

The Spaniard trails the 24-year-old by 24 points in the Drivers’ Standings, but Barrichello does not want to say that he is a number two driver yet.

“I’ll just be targeted in Brazil because of what I say,” he said.

“All I can say about it is that Ferrari has two great drivers, the rest has to do with politics and I don’t care about that.”

Sainz topped FP2 on Friday ahead of the British Grand Prix, with Leclerc in fifth as the teams struggled to put an awful lot of running together in a rain-disrupted day.