Charles Leclerc says he knew he wouldn't be winning the 2022 F1 title after seeing Max Verstappen’s dominant win at the Belgian Grand Prix.
After starting 14th at Spa following an engine change, Verstappen had taken the lead by lap 12, and duly won the race by 17 seconds from teammate Sergio Perez.
By contrast, though Leclerc also started down in 15th place, the Monegasque wasn't able to make the same headway as Verstappen and could only finish sixth.
In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365, Leclerc said his and Verstappen's contrasting performances at Spa made him realise that he would not win the 2022 F1 World Championship.
"I came back from the [summer] break where you obviously think about the first part of the season," said Leclerc.
"I still believed in [winning the title], then obviously, you arrive in Spa, and you see the performance gap [to Verstappen] that we didn't really see for the first part of the season, and that started to become difficult."
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Leclerc's title hopes extinguished
Having won two of the season's first three races, hopes were high at Maranello that Leclerc could give Ferrari their first F1 Drivers' Championship since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed in 2007.
However, Leclerc's title bid unravelled over the following races thanks to a combination of poor reliability, questionable strategy calls and driver error, not to mention a series of clinical performances from Verstappen and Red Bull.
Such is Verstappen's championship lead over Leclerc that the Dutchman can conceivably wrap up the 2022 title at this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix, despite five more races still remaining this year.
But despite having won just one race in the last 13, during which time Verstappen has won ten Grands Prix, Leclerc is adamant that only a small gap exists between Ferrari and Red Bull.
"I don't think the performance gap is huge," said Leclerc.
"If you look the whole season, we've been very competitive. The problem is that we didn't do the perfect execution on every Grand Prix.
"For that reason, we've lost loads of points, whether it was for one thing or another, but things didn't go our way on the Sunday.
"On that, we need to work as a team to be better to have more solid results at the end of the weekend."
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With confusion reigning for several hours over Max Verstappen's starting position for the Italian Grand Prix, does F1's grid penalty system need revising, and should there be a rule preventing races from ending under the Safety Car?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken and Michael Butterworth discuss the key issues from the Italian Grand Prix.