80 points! That's the deficit Ferrari faces after a double DNF turned its 2022 F1 Azerbaijan GP into a complete disaster. Charles Leclerc, who had a healthy lead in the championship, is now third in the standings while the team is on a 5-race losing spree. There are clear similarities between the Scuderia's 2022 campaign and its previous failed campaigns in the last decade, where the team gained an early advantage in the season, only to relinquish it and implode completely.
While this 5-race run is traumatic for the Italian squad, the doomsday thoughts when it comes to the team's title hopes need to be kept aside for now. This is because, in the first 8 races of the season, Ferrari has already shown that there is still a lot more to offer.
How did Ferrari end up in this mess?
It all started in the 2022 F1 Imola GP when Red Bull, still reeling from Max Verstappen's second DNF in 3 races, rocked up with a new set of upgrades. Consequently, the team was able to improve significantly on race pace, helping the reigning world champion edge out Charles Leclerc on track.
The superior race pace and long straights in Miami once again played a role in giving Verstappen the edge in the race as he secured his second win in a row. The subsequent Spanish GP featured Ferrari running a very strong car. Leclerc scored pole position and had a multiple-second lead on the field when his power unit (PU) failed. Verstappen then picked up the scraps and won the race comfortably to take over the championship lead.
Next up was Monaco and once again, Leclerc was in a league of his own. He scored a comfortable pole position and had the race in his grasp before the Italian squad messed up the strategy that dropped him out of podium contention. What happened in Baku is common knowledge as the Monegasque saw his engine blow up in smoke while engaged in an interesting battle with Verstappen for the win. With what has been a rather cruel turn of events, Leclerc finds himself 34 points behind his title rival Verstappen.
Ferrari could still be leading the championship with a few adjustments
While the last five race losses paint a very sad picture of Ferrari, if one looks at it closely, it appears that not everything is bad for the Italian squad in the championship.
Without Barcelona's power unit failure, Charles Leclerc would have won the race without a doubt. With the correct strategy at Monaco, Leclerc had the win in his grasp. Similarly in Baku, while it was still 50-50 for the win, it would have been an interesting battle between Leclerc and Max Verstappen, with the former bringing in a healthy haul of points.
Moreover, Leclerc has taken pole position in the last four races and that does not happen out of the blue. Intrinsically, the Ferrari is a very fast car. While some areas like reliability and the strategy unit's expertise need to be worked on, that doesn't mean these problems cannot be taken care of.
Fixing the reliability issues might take some time, maybe even a race or two. After that, though, Ferrari will still be in contention for wins, pole positions, and whatnot. If the team reaches a stage where it is reliable and almost always a threat for pole, that will build a lot of pressure on Red Bull, and no team likes that.
Red Bull is not bulletproof either
Despite the consensus that Ferrari has massive issues to solve, it cannot be disregarded that Red Bull is not bulletproof either. The team suffers from reliablility niggles in almost every race.
Max Verstappen suffered incredibly from DRS issues at the 2022 F1 Spanish GP. Even in Baku, there was extensive work done on the car's DRS to fix it. And lest we forget, the PU issues are not exclusive to the Scuderia. Red Bull too has had its fair share of PU issues this season. A PU failure or a DRS issue for Max Verstappen in the upcoming races can completely turn the momentum on its head in the championship!
With as many as 14 races left this season, it is almost laughable to eulogize the Prancing Horse's title challenge. The team has a strong foundation and will surely not be out of the title fight this early in the season.