Charles Leclerc has called for Ferrari to ensure its double DNF in Azerbaijan isn’t repeated this season after taking a massive hit to his title campaign.
Leclerc’s power unit blew in a plume of smoke on the front straight on lap 20, forcing his retirement. Teammate Carlos Sainz had stopped with an engine hydraulics leak just 11 laps early, cementing a shocking day at the office for the Italian team.
The double retirement facilitated an easy Red Bull Racing one-two finish with Max Verstappen in the lead, consolidating a 21-point title lead ahead of teammate Sergio Perez. Red Bull Racing also widened its lead over Ferrari in the constructors standings to 80 points.
It’s an extraordinary turnaround in Leclerc’s championship fortunes. Just five races ago he led the drivers standings by 46 points; he leaves Azerbaijan 34 points down, having lost an average of 16 points per race since winning the Australian Grand Prix.
But it’s also a dramatic change in fortunes for Ferrari, which held the upper hand in the reliability stakes early in the campaign while Red Bull Racing appeared to be imploding with a series of unrelated engine and other problems. The team has now suffered three power unit failures in the last three races, not including problems emerging in customer cars, painting a dire picture of the health of Ferrari’s campaign.
“It hurts,” a gutted Leclerc told Sky Sports. “We really need to look into that, for it to not happen again.
“I don’t really find the right words to describe. Obviously it’s very, very disappointing. We’ve been fast and we didn’t have any big problems in the first part off the season. Now it seems like we have a bit more compared to the start of the season, but we haven’t changed many things — if anything we made things better.
“It’s difficult to understand for now. We’ll have to analyze. Obviously I don’t have the full picture of what happened today. But personally, again, it hurts. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Concerning for Ferrari beyond the bitter result of Baku is that unreliability has become an increasingly common theme for its engine, and team principal Mattia Binotto has been open in recent weeks in acknowledging the Scuderia’s problems.
“Certainly it’s a concern,” he told Sky Sports. “We said it even before coming here to Baku. Reliability is always as key a factor in the battle as the performance.
“As a team we pushed certainly a lot through the winter last year to develop the car. We are not yet fully reliable. There is still work to be done.”
The Ferrari-powered Haas of Kevin Magnussen and Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu also suffered apparent power unit problems — four of six Ferrari-engined machines failed to make the flag — and Binotto suggested diagnosing these failures could be key to an ultimate fix.
“Overall, whatever is happening [customers are] always useful,” he said. “The reason why first we are supplying customer teams … is more to have technical feedback, so whatever is happening is certainly useful.
“Just as we didn’t get euphoric at the start of the season, we will not be devastated right now. I think the team will stay focused, working hard to address those issues to make us simply stronger for the future.”