The first half of the season has been one of highs and lows for Charles Leclerc and Scuderia Ferrari.
The Monegasque driver started the season in the best way possible, by winning two of the first three races of the season.
The F1-75 was mighty fast right out of the blocks; however, things quickly began to spiral out of control for the Italian team.
With Red Bull Racing finding their form after suffering from reliability problems in the first few rounds, Ferrari quickly dropped behind their Austrian rivals.
Things soon became even worse for the Scuderia, who began to suffer from a number of reliability problems, most commonly power unit failures.
Whilst Leclerc returned to winning ways at the Austrian Grand Prix, his championship has been ridiculed by reliability issues.
Strategic errors have also played havoc to Leclerc’s hopes of becoming a World Champion, after losing the race lead three times this season due to poor calls by his team.
The gap between Leclerc and Max Verstappen currently sits at 80 points, with the Ferrari driver having a mountain to climb.
The 24-year-old knows that the team haven’t “maximised all the potential” of the F1-75 but has loved returning to winnings ways.
“First of all,” Leclerc said to BBC Sport, “it was amazing to see that we finally got back to fighting for wins.
“On the other hand, we haven’t managed to maximise all the potential we had. And this is not great. We still have the second part of the season to catch up, I hope, and I will push at the maximum. But the last few races have been a bit difficult.
“Whether it was in highs or lows, there was no race with no emotions.
“It’s either win, or leading and then some problems occur or whatever. So it’s been a first part of the season with quite a few things happening.”
Reliability problems and strategic errors have been the key reason as to why Leclerc has fallen so far behind Verstappen.
The Monegasque has only retired from his own doing once this season, after spinning off at the French Grand Prix.
Leclerc was set for victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, before his engine gave way, and was leading the Azerbaijan Grand Prix when the very same happened again.
To add to his woes, he lost the race lead and arguably the victory at the Monaco, British and Hungarian Grand Prix’s all through strategic errors from Ferrari.
For those watching, Ferrari’s strategies have been comical, to say the least; for Leclerc they’ve been infuriating.
Leclerc has been heard shouting down the radio demanding an explanation from the team, as to why they’ve set him up on a strategy set for failure.
A prime example was last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, where Ferrari fitted Leclerc with the Hard tyres.
Pirelli had advised all the teams against using the hardest rubber, as the cool track temperatures would make it impossible to warm-up.
Ferrari went against what Pirelli advised, and quickly felt the repercussions of their poor decision.
Leclerc was forced into an additional stop after having no grip on the Hard compound; it saw the Monegasque slip from first, to sixth.
Leclerc shared that Ferrari are working “extremely hard” to fix both their strategy and reliability problems, which have put the team at threat of dropping to P3 in the Constructors’ Championship.
“Let’s say that we know we need to work on that,” he said.
“We want to do absolutely everything to get better in every single thing we do, and obviously looking at the first part of this season, there have been some strategy problems, there have been some reliability problems and there have been driving mistakes.
“On reliability and strategy, we are working extremely hard to get better.
“And after a mistake, we always go through exactly the same process, which is to try and analyse from where the mistakes come, why did we take the wrong decision at a certain point of the race, in order to go forwards. As soon as we understand a mistake, then we can move on.”
When things have gone wrong for Leclerc, he hasn’t been afraid of sharing his anger.
After spinning out of the French GP he was heard screaming down the team radio, after being furious with his own mistake.
Whilst most drivers fail to admit their own errors at first, Leclerc is the complete opposite.
At times when he’s been at fault this season, he’s immediately apologised to the team, usually followed by him screaming and shouting at himself.
It’s been refreshing to hear a driver be so brutally honest, especially when there is so much at stake.
Leclerc believes there is no point “hiding” his emotions, after revealing that he is always “honest”.
“Every individual will react in a different way,” Leclerc continued.
“This is my way of reacting to it. And I’ve always felt the benefit of being honest with yourself and just grow from it.”
“I really don’t see the point of hiding it.
“And sometimes it is so obvious to everybody that the mistake comes from driver, I just don’t understand the drivers that are trying to have excuses with the wind or whatsoever.
“I mean, sometimes it can happen. One out of 200 crashes, you’ll get something very strange happen. But I just don’t like to lose time with finding excuses, because that’s exactly when you start to lose time, and you just don’t go forward.
“This is also good for the people that are working around me because they know that whenever I’m going to do a mistake, I’m gonna be very honest and I hope that is going to be the same for them. So then everybody can just learn quicker and it is the case in Ferrari.
“The way that we work, because I know how tough it’s been the last few years to get back to where we are. And I know that we arrived to that level because for two years we have been working on those weaknesses of the car.
“So, we still have weaknesses and we need to work on them. But if we work as well as we did in the last two years on other weaknesses, I am confident we will overcome them.”
Losing so many victories has played its toll on the Monegasque this season, who would be in a drastically different position had the strategy and reliability problems not occurred.
Losing a victory at Monaco was particularly painful for Leclerc, who was leading his home race when Ferrari got their strategy all wrong.
His own mistake cost him victory in France and a podium at Imola, with the latter having been incredibly important to Ferrari as a manufacturer.
Leclerc admitted that he is “extremely tough” on himself, in response to being asked how he deals with failures.
“It depends which one,” he said.
“I’m extremely tough with myself. So it is much more difficult to deal with my own errors than whenever it is the team, even though we are obviously one team and we lose and we win together.
“I’m always harsher whenever it’s me who does the mistake, and obviously France was one of those which which hurt quite a bit. Imola also a little bit, even though there weren’t many points involved because I could go back on track.
“But whenever I go through this tough time, I go through the same process as I was saying before, trying to analyse what was wrong. And it’s mostly mentally.
“You know, what is the mindset that I had at that particular moment of the race that pushed me to go over the limit and do a mistake?
“To speak about it seems quite easy, but it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what was going on in your head at that moment. But I think this is a strength of mine and helps me to improve as a driver every time I make a mistake.”
The championship battle this season between Leclerc and Verstappen has been completely different to last season, where Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton regularly left each other with no room.
So far this season, the duo have raced respectfully and cleanly, despite having clashed with each other a number of times whilst karting as youngsters.
Leclerc predicts that the pair’s fights will become tighter towards the end of the season, should the gap in the championship reduce considerably.
“It depends on the situation, on the person you’re facing, your opponent,” he says. “How far is he willing to go?
“This year, either I had a big advantage in the championship and then you are not really willing to take those risks. Or he had a big advantage in the championship and he is not really willing to risk. Or I am not really willing to risk because I need to catch up points.
“So, I feel like the championship of last year was probably much more prone to see these type of things because it was so close until the very end.
“I would have expected us to be much more like this if the championship will be extremely close towards the end. [If] it’s not finished, then we might see that at the end of the year.”
Whilst the first half of the season could’ve been better, Leclerc truly believes that the 2022 has so far been his “strongest” season in Formula 1.
The Ferrari driver is proud of the way himself and the team have worked, and that despite all the problems, there is “no need” to change his “approach”.
“I really feel like this first part of the season has been my strongest in F1 and I think the way I have worked,” Leclerc added, “and the way we have worked as a team – in terms of finding the right set-up, in terms of building up to the qualifying lap in Q3, or just preparing the race – has been the best I have ever done in F1.
“So there is no need for me to change that approach. Again, try and grow from the mistakes of the first half, but try and perform as well as the first half because the performance I’ve given, I’m extremely happy about. And this I want to keep.
“So there won’t be any significant change. We just need to try and work as a team to put a weekend together for the nine remaining races and see where we end up,” he concluded.