Former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa says Ferrari need to be scoring one-two finishes in several races if they are to wrest the 2022 Drivers' Championship away from runaway points leader Max Verstappen.
With 12 rounds of the 2022 season gone, Verstappen has a commanding 63-point lead over Charles Leclerc, aided by a combination of poor reliability, questionable strategy calls and driver errors from Ferrari's duo of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, de la Rosa said the only way Verstappen would now not win the title would be if Ferrari could string together a series of perfect races.
"Ferrari have to be aggressive from now on," said de la Rosa, who drove in 104 Grands Prix between 1999 and 2012.
"The only way to stop Max is for Charles and Carlos to finish one-two in the next few races, otherwise the title is lost.
"It's not just about the 63-point deficit, but also that they are fighting Verstappen and Red Bull. They have a similar package to Ferrari, but are more reliable, and therefore it will be very difficult for Ferrari to make up those points."
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Red Bull can play it safe on strategy
The Spaniard added that, conversely, Red Bull and Verstappen could afford to play it safe and concentrate on scoring consistent points, rather than having to win every race.
De la Rosa also suggested that Red Bull's points lead means the Milton Keynes-based squad can afford to be more conservative with component usage, and not take any risks with high-mileage power unit or drivetrain elements.
"With a lead of 63 points, Red Bull can also play it safe," said de la Rosa.
"Then there comes a point where you look at the engine and change it one race earlier.
"You don't want to go to the extreme. It's better to take a grid penalty and have a fresh engine than not finish a race.
De la Rosa reckons the pace advantage Red Bull and Ferrari have over the field means that places lost due to a grid penalty can easily be made up during the course of a race.
"You also know that with a grid penalty you can easily finish in the top five again," he said.
"Red Bull can only lose the title by retiring from races. The gap between Red Bull, Ferrari and the rest of the field is huge in terms of speed.
"With Mercedes, the gap is a little smaller, but they can still score great points after a grid penalty.
"In addition, Red Bull also has Sergio Perez [driving the other car]. He is a good team player who will definitely be there for them and fulfil his role perfectly."
A title battle for the ages
De la Rosa made his F1 debut in 1999, when the championship battle between McLaren's Mika Hakkinen and Ferrari's Eddie Irvine went down to the final race.
While Verstappen has a sizeable lead in the 2022 standings thanks to Ferrari's various troubles, the performance differential between Red Bull and Ferrari has been fairly even, with different cars being faster on different circuits and in different conditions, and de la Rosa talked up the quality of this season's title fight.
"I think it's been a fantastic season in terms of on-track battles," said de la Rosa.
"There's nothing better in F1 than having at least two teams fighting for the wins.
"That's been the case this season and there's really not a single Grand Prix where you could designate the winner in advance."
De la Rosa lamented, however, that Ferrari's travails are in danger of bringing this season's title race to an early conclusion, with Verstappen having won seven Grands Prix to just three for Leclerc and one for Sainz.
"The fight for victory is always between these two teams and usually between two drivers, but due to various circumstances, it is almost always Verstappen who wins," said the Spaniard.
"We are now just over halfway through the season, and the gap is very large.
"Max is dominating and it will be difficult for him to lose the title, which is a shame, because everyone wants to see the title decided again at the last race of the season.
"Ferrari and Leclerc have dropped a lot of points due to unreliability, strategic mistakes or driver errors.
"That has been the story of this season so far: it could potentially be a great season, but the gap between Max and Charles is so big."
Red Bull and Verstappen – the perfect match
In contrast to Ferrari's failings, Red Bull have shown themselves to be a quick, well-run and reliable outfit, according to de la Rosa, who noted that the drinks-backed squad had largely ironed out the reliability issues that caused Verstappen to retire in Bahrain and Melbourne.
"Red Bull have proven to be a very strong team in all areas. They are reliable and have learned quickly from their mistakes in the first races," said de la Rosa, who also reserved praise for Verstappen and the quality of his recent drives.
"When do you ever see Max lock a wheel? He used to spin in free practice when he looked for the limit.
“But Max now drives differently than in the past. Not that he made many mistakes in the past, but he's even more mature now. Max drives like a true champion.
"He knows when to push and his fights with Leclerc have been great.
“Max always played it safe, he didn't put a foot wrong. With that 2021 title in his pocket, I think he was able to take the next step in his development."
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