After needing to win the Belgian Grand Prix to remain within 80 points of championship leader Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc endured a terrible weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, where Ferrari’s strategy once again was left to be questioned.
Leclerc qualified fourth for the race but started P15 due to yet another grid penalty for an engine change.
The only positive of this was that Verstappen also took a grid penalty and started P14, giving the Monegasque driver somebody to follow.
The duo both made strong starts, after managing to avoid all the opening lap carnage; however, Leclerc’s race was then massively impacted when Verstappen opted to play Mario Kart!
Due to so much dirt and gravel having been kicked-up onto the circuit on the first lap, Verstappen ripped-off a tear-off after being unable to see.
The Dutchman as per usual, dropped it over his right shoulder, which again just like normal, then fell onto the circuit.
It just so happened, though, that it was a ‘red shell’ for Leclerc, as Verstappen’s tear-off landed in his front-right brake duct, causing it to overheat.
This resulted in Ferrari having to pit the 24-year-old to remove Verstappen’s tear-off, with the Dutchman later revealing that it’s his “worst nightmare” when one of his tear-offs gets caught in another car.
You couldn’t even make the situation up, that out of every driver it could’ve affected it just so happened to be his title rival!
The incident has led to many believing a better solution is needed to where to put tear-offs, with it being unfair for it to “ruin” another driver’s race.
Ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle believes there used to be a solution for this, with the current Sky F1 pundit labelling it as “not fair” to throw them out of the car.
“Somewhere in my memory bank, these used to have to be put in a pocket or retained with Velcro inside the cockpit, as it’s not fair to discard them and ruin somebody else’s race,” said Brundle in his Sky Sports F1 column.
With Leclerc having dropped to the back of the field after pitting for tyres and for the tear-off to be removed, the Ferrari driver began to work his way through the field.
Leclerc was dealing with multiple things during the race, after being questioned by Ferrari countless times over when he wanted to pit, and what strategy he preferred.
It was bizarre to listen to, especially given that the Ferrari strategists have all the available data, unlike Leclerc.
With a few laps remaining Leclerc found himself in fifth place; however, the team decided to pit him for a set of fresh tyres, so that on the final lap he could push for the fastest lap point.
This proved to be yet another strategic error for Ferrari, after the Monegasque came out of the pits right behind Fernando Alonso.
Whilst Leclerc got past the Spaniard, the Ferrari driver not only failed to claim the fastest lap, but he was also awarded a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane by 1 kph.
It turned out that the speed sensor had been affected by the tear-off at the start of the race, which caused Leclerc to speed in the pit-lane.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the penalty dropped Leclerc back behind Alonso into P6, rounding-off yet another strategic error for Ferrari to add to their endless list.
Brundle didn’t understand why Leclerc was being questioned so much during the race, with the pundit now fully believing the title is over.
“It was painful to watch,” Brundle continued.
“Ferrari claim they need to change nothing on the pit wall calls but if you keep doing the same thing don’t be surprised when you get the same result.
“Fully respecting that we only hear selected radio calls on the TV, but the Ferrari team appears to want Leclerc to make the final decisions on tyres when he doesn’t have the full set of data because he’s rather busy driving.
“He can’t possibly make the final call on the hard compound tyre without knowing who’s already using them, if anybody, and how they are performing.
“Leclerc is now third in the championship and 98 points behind, with eight races to go. All things being equal, I think we all know which way this championship is heading,” Brundle concluded.