Charles Leclerc is hoping he won't be looking back at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix as the weekend where he lost the Formula One title.
A dominant victory from Max Verstappen on Sunday saw the reigning F1 champion almost halve the gap in the standings to Leclerc, who is the early leader after winning two of the other three races.
Leclerc could have minimized his losses but a rare mistake from the Ferrari driver cost him a chance for third place — behind Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez — and meant he ended up sixth.
“I was too greedy and I paid the price for it and lost seven potential points,” Leclerc said. “It is a shame, it is seven points that are valuable at the end of the championship for sure and this shouldn’t happen again.”
Verstappen also won the sprint race to pick up maximum points at Imola and cut his gap to Leclerc from 46 points to 27.
More ominously for Ferrari, the Red Bulls looked very fast indeed after making several upgrades going into the weekend in Italy.
“Only time will tell how much of a step they did but for sure they seem to be more competitive than the first three races, or similar to Jeddah,” Leclerc said. “We’ve had the upper hand in Bahrain and Australia, and they’ve had the upper hand in this weekend and in Jeddah.
“It is very, very close, and I think it will be that way for the rest of the season and that is why every small mistake … it’s a big mistake but actually the consequence considering the mistake could have been much bigger.”
Red Bull’s first one-two since 2016 was a big statement of intent from the team, especially after a frustrating start to the season. Verstappen had two DNFs in the opening three races, while Pérez also failed to finish the season opener.
“It’s just what we needed to rebound from Australia. It’s a long season and we’ll take a lot of confidence from this result and try to build on it in Miami in a couple of weeks’ time,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.
“To come here, we attacked the weekend, we brought a little upgrade — a lot of people said, ‘you shouldn’t do that with only one practice session.’ We believed in ourselves, and it paid off.”
Just how much it has paid off will have to be seen, especially with Ferrari set to bring in upgrades of their own. That adds to the excitement building ahead of the inaugural Miami GP on May 8, in what Verstappen conceded could be “very different” on a track designed to improve the racing spectacle.
“Of course we are disappointed as we wanted a better result than this in front of all our fans,” Ferrari team principal Matteo Binotto said. “It was a difficult race. Now we look forward to Miami and a new track, which makes it an even more compelling prospect.”
One person not excited about Miami is Lewis Hamilton after another terrible weekend for the seven-time world champion.
Hamilton conceded he is already out of the championship race after a 13th-place finish left him 58 points behind Leclerc.
“I’m not particularly looking forward to it at the moment,” he said about Miami. “I’m sure in the week I’ll get to a positive frame of mind. I will be at the factory tomorrow to see what we can improve.
“This weekend, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We live and we learn, and there’s not much else to say. I’ll keep working as hard as I can to try and pull it back together, somehow.”
Hamilton, F1’s record holder with 103 wins and 103 poles, lost out on a record eighth world title on the last lap of the last race of last season.
In a sign of how far he and Mercedes have fallen behind Verstappen, he was lapped by his archrival at Imola. Adding to the ignominy was that Verstappen didn’t even seem that fussed by the achievement.
“I mean, they’ve been slow all year so it’s not really a surprise, or I feel happy lapping Lewis compared to anyone else,” he said. “But it is what it is.”
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