There are nine rounds to go in the 2022 Formula 1 season, a year which should have a much closer title fight if it wasn’t for Ferrari’s mistakes and unreliability woes.
Instead, Max Verstappen leads the F1 driver standings by 80 points from Charles Leclerc, with Sergio Perez a further five points behind.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull head the way with an advantage of 97 points after Verstappen‘s eighth victory of the season in Hungary.
The next three weeks will see the only triple-header of the year, with Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza playing host to an iconic part of the season, where Ferrari must win at least two of the races or else it will be game over.
The comeback must start now
Team principal Mattia Binotto said following the French Grand Prix, where Leclerc crashed out from the lead, that Ferrari would aim to win the next 10 races.
That comment didn’t age well when another strategic blunder meant, what should have been a victory for Leclerc, ended with a sixth place and another Verstappen win in Budapest.
Everyone has had time to relax a little, the factories have been shut for two weeks as per FIA regulations, and Ferrari must bring a level of intensity and concentration to the final nine events that we didn’t see enough of in the first half of the season.
Execute, execute, execute. That’s what it comes down to and if Ferrari have the fastest car, they can win every race because they have two star drivers at the wheel.
Spa-Francorchamps is where Leclerc had his maiden F1 victory in 2019, a day after the death of his friend Anthoine Hubert, and it’s a track where the drivers can make the difference.
Other than two costly errors, at Imola and Paul Ricard, Leclerc has been performing brilliantly. Yes, not quite at the level of Verstappen but it’s still excellent nevertheless.
The Monegasque driver hasn’t had a below average weekend in terms of raw pace and he knows he cannot afford any more let-ups.
One problem he has is, due to his deficit to Verstappen, he may have to push harder than he wants which may lead to another mistake or two whereas his Dutch rival doesn’t have to take any risks.
Zandvoort should suit Ferrari
Ferrari have built a car which is an absolute weapon in the corners which should suit the demands of Zandvoort which follows the week after the Belgian GP.
Track position is king at Zandvoort, as we saw last year when Verstappen resisted the pressure of Hamilton.
Of course, Verstappen will be roared on by a raucous home crowd but Ferrari should use that to their advantage as the attention will not be on them as much compared to other events.
We don’t know if upgrades will bring Red Bull closer to Ferrari in the corners, as every team will bring big developments to the next 2-3 races, but from what we have seen so far, Zandvoort is a track made for the Scuderia F1-75.
There’s no doubt Verstappen is a master when it comes to handling the pressure and that’s where Ferrari will find it difficult to crack the championship leader.
They will need an edge in car performance to chip away at Verstappen‘s points lead and hope for Red Bull to have some reliability problems of their own, which we will find out about over the next few weeks, since you would think any issues will be dialled out in the closing rounds.
A little bit of luck needed
Even if Ferrari come flying out of the blocks after the summer break, they still have a 97-point gap to bridge to Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, a margin which is unlikely to be made up looking back at F1 history.
They will need to rely on Red Bull and Verstappen getting caught up in some incidents or making mistakes in wet conditions this weekend at Spa for example.
Above all, Ferrari must focus on themselves and have to execute a near-perfect final nine rounds with no more retirements, no more throwing away victories through strategy and no more mistakes.
Can all of that be changed after a four week break? Probably not, but there is still a glimmer of hope and a couple of wins could transform the team.