Former Ferrari and McLaren driver Gerhard Berger has suggested that Ferrari supporters should take the positives from the improvements they have made this season.
The Scuderia went 45 races without a victory as they failed to stand on the top step in either 2020 or 2021, and they had developed a particularly woeful package two years ago that saw Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel struggle to score points at times.
Now though, they are a front-running team capable of winning every race so, while Charles Leclerc’s title challenge has ben affected by reliability and strategy, the fact that they are as quick as they are right now should be a source of excitement for the Tifosi.
“I think Verstappen is even better than last year,” Berger told the F1 Nation Podcast.
“I think winning the championship takes a lot of pressure away from you.
“People say to me ‘Ferrari are doing so many mistakes’ and I say ‘well, last year, nobody would believe Ferrari would make such a big step forward on the technical side’.
“As a Ferrari fan, if you had the possibility to say ‘Ferrari are going to be second next year with such a car’, everybody would say ‘great’.”
However, Red Bull have won seven of the opening 11 rounds of the season between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, and the Dutchman leads Leclerc by 38 points in the Drivers’ Standings.
As it is, Red Bull just have a bit too much for Ferrari in the eyes of Berger.
“But, now, they are trying to fight a championship but didn’t fight for a championship for years,” he added.
“So, they are not ready yet to fight in the championship like Red Bull, who fought until the last race last year [and know] very small detail and what it means for the championship.”
Leclerc has taken three victories this season as the Scuderia appeared to improve their race pace in recent weeks following the introduction of a new rear wing.
The 24-year-old has stayed calm as things have gone wrong around him, and he has been a thorn in the side of Verstappen in the reigning champion’s quest to retain his crown.
“Leclerc has impressed me with his talent, with his speed on one lap in qualifying – he’s doing very, very well,” explained Berger.
“In the race craft, I have seen a little bit of advantage to Max, he is brilliant over the whole race, to use every possibility, he is very strong on overtaking, very strong in wheel-to-wheel fighting, he is very strong at reading the race.”
But the combination of Verstappen and the Austrian side, who have won 19 of the last 34 races, is proving an almost unassailable benchmark at the moment.
“Combined with the strategy of Red Bull, who are extremely good, the good pitstops, I think it’s nearly an unbeatable package,” stated Berger.
“In saying this, maybe the Ferrari has, in certain circumstances, a little bit of advantage and Leclerc is using it very well. He’s a super quick driver, super good.”
Ferrari continue to be affected by issues with their cars after Leclerc laboured to victory in Austria last time out due to throttle issues.
Carlos Sainz had won the British Grand Prix following an awful Safety Car call on his team-mate’s side of the garage, but the Spaniard was unable to take second – or maybe even win – in Spielberg due to his engine issues.
It is moments like this that are difficult to expel, so Berger reckons it will be a couple of years yet before the Italian side can realistically challenge for the title.
“But, with the technical reliability issues they are having sometimes, you will see Sainz maybe taking points away as could have happened in the last race with the throttle issue,” he affirmed.
“Sainz would have had the chance to win the race, and then this starts hurting them very much for the championship.
“So, with the position they’re in at the moment, I think they can take one or two years until the team is ready again to win the championship, that’s a normal procedure.
“[Anything] can happen and maybe the car is so good, they could win the championship already this year but, if they really have to fight, Red Bull has an advantage from last year’s fighting for the championship.”
Sainz has been guilty of some big mistakes in races such as Melbourne, Imola and Spain this season, and he was perhaps fortunate that his error in Silverstone did not cost him the win there.
But Leclerc himself has shown some inexperience when it comes to challenging for the title too in Berger’s eyes.
“He did one or two mistakes this year, which shouldn’t happen if you’re really serious for the championship,” he said.
“Imola, for instance, just finish in third and take the points.
“This is where [Sir] Lewis [Hamilton] impressed me so much, Lewis is just always there.
“Whenever the door is open, he’s on the podium and takes the points as much as he can.
“Leclerc still needs a little bit of experience but, in general, is absolutely a guy that can win championships.”
Red Bull lead Ferrari by 56 points in the Constructors’ Standings heading into the French Grand Prix this weekend.