Every pre-season in Formula 1, there are two things that can be assured from the Ferrari Formula 1 team. One is that however and wherever they launch the new design, there'll be comments on social media that the car will be "red" but also there will be stories in the media about how internal preparations have been going. Either they are like 2020 when the team drastically got their SF1000 design wrong and spent the year in the midfield - or a more harmonious tune emerges from the good ship Maranello - as was the case with '22 F1-75 machine. Quick in testing, Ferrari claimed two victories in the first three races - with second in the other - to cement their place at the top of the standings through lead driver Charles Leclerc. After victory in Australia, he enjoyed a 34 point lead over George Russell with main title rival Max Verstappen 12 further back after Red Bull's early unreliability problems. This was as good as it got for Leclerc and Ferrari in 2022 - with a catalogue of strategic, reliability, operational and driver errors scuttling any chance of putting Verstappen under any threat. In Singapore - with the title all but gone for Leclerc after five straight Verstappen wins, he sat down with RacingNews365 to share his side of a promising yet fruitless year.
Leclerc not "over-compensating"
While Ferrari's strategic and reliability blunders were at in Leclerc's control - such as double-stacking behind teammate Carlos Sainz Jr in Monaco or engine blowups in Spain and Azerbaijan, what was in his control were spins at Imola and in France. Knowing he could not beat Verstappen on the day, Leclerc pitted from a secure third place to try and score the extra point for fastest lap. He spun at Variante Alta and third turned into sixth. Even more egregious was his spin at Beausset in France - crashing from the lead and handing Verstappen an easy win. His haunting scream of "NO" over the radio could arguably sum Ferrari's season up in one word. Despite being under pressure to deliver, he does believe the mistakes were caused by having to over-compensate for the car/team deficiencies. "I don't think when I did the mistakes, I had to compensate for anything," he says. "It was just obviously motivation to do in [Ferrari's home race at] Imola, and then in France, yes, I did the mistake. "But I think that could have happened anywhere in the season. "For me, it's not this. I try to push the limits all the time, and then there was this big mistake in France and smaller one in Imola. I cannot change it. "I feel like it is being talked [about] much more than it should be. "Obviously, looking at the points gap, it is huge and there has been consecutive points losses and at one point, everything we were doing was under the spotlights. "As a team, we just need to be better executing Sundays - and this is what we should work [towards.]
Leclerc always learning
No driver is perfect and they will always make mistakes, perhaps especially in their first real season fighting for regular wins and being in championship contention. Leclerc is no different and sees the setbacks as an opportunity for growth. "Honestly, I'm very happy with this season," he says when asked if he'd do anything different this term. "Of course we're always going to talk about my mistakes in Imola and in France, but in over 23 races - we have too many now - there's always going to be a mistake at one point or another, and especially [when you are] pushing for the limit. "So yes, I was probably too greedy in France when there was no need to be greedy at that moment of the race (when he still needed to make his pitstop and was 20 seconds ahead of Verstappen.) "Maybe also in Imola when the best I could [have done] was just staying in my position and I thought about doing better. "From a driver's point of view, it has given me many more things [to learn on and work from] that probably you don't see from the outside. "As a driver, you always try to work on the small details - not weaknesses - but every time you a race, you learn from it. "You try to bring it forward and be a better driver. There's not much I would have changed personally at the beginning of the season."
At ease fighting for the championship
Although he had a race-winning car in 2019, Leclerc's first taste of being in a championship challenge has come this year after being stuck in F1's midfield in '20 and '21, taking three podiums across those two seasons. Despite that, he argues he is far more comfortable fighting the likes of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the front of F1 rather than being mired in the pack. "Actually, I am much more at ease in a situation like this than I was last year when you are fighting for sixth or seventh," the five-time Grand Prix winner (at the time of writing) argues. "Whenever you are doing a great job, nobody really notices it. It is really frustrating. "But this year, whenever we did a great job, people were also noticing when we did a bad job - so it is a bit more exponential. "Everything [good or bad] is bigger in what you do [at the front compared to the midfield], but that is fine. "I prefer the sun being just in the shadow and working in it without anybody really noticing. 'It is a good situation to be in, but yes, it does come with more outside pressure [and expectation.] Ferrari's wait for an F1 title of any description will go to 15 years at least as it is not going to win the 2022 Constructors' Crown. That is getting dangerously close to the 16 it had to wait between Constructors' success in 1983 and 1999 - the longest dry spell in Maranello's F1 history. 2022 was a fresh sheet of paper for Ferrari and its lead driver. They started to sketch the outlines of a masterpiece, but got side-tracked as its more experienced rival was just slightly better. In a way, it was a free hit, but expectations will be high in 2023. Put simply, Leclerc and Ferrari must put up a real, sustained title fight or it'll be back to staring at that blank sheet of A4, wondering where on Earth to begin this time.