Ferrari made another strategic error on Saturday when they sent their leading title contender Charles Leclerc out on the wrong set of tyres in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.
“Wait! What are these tyres?” exclaimed Leclerc as he started the final phase of the hour-long session on new soft tyres instead of a used set. “Sorry, it’s a mistake,” his engineer replied over the radio.
The error ultimately had little impact with the Monegasque lining up 16th, one place behind Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen, on a grid reshuffled by engine and gearbox penalties. That was as much as he could have hoped for with Verstappen in a league of his own and setting by far the fastest lap of the qualifying hour.
“Probably wasn’t planned that way,” Leclerc said about the tyre confusion. “But we’ll discuss and see what went wrong.”
Leclerc started off the season as the early championship favourite but is 80 points behind Verstappen with nine races to go. The Dutchman does not need to win another race to clinch a second successive title.
Leclerc, whose season has been hobbled by reliability woes, driver errors and strategic mis-steps, has not given up but cannot afford any more slip-ups. The 24-year-old, who has started from pole seven times this season to Verstappen’s three, was stunned by Ferrari’s speed deficit to Red Bull.
“In race pace it seems like our cars are much closer, at least it was the case yesterday,” he said of Friday practice runs. “But let’s wait and see because a gap like this in qualifying, it will be strange if we are as fast as them in the race.” (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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