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F1 Midweek: Ferrari Strikes Back & Mick Gets Quick

With Charles Leclerc’s victory in the Austrian Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari has now won two consecutive Formula 1 races for the first time in 2022 and Leclerc has narrowed Max Verstappen’s championship lead to 38 points. We’ve got a fight on our hands. 

Frankly, I’ll only believe Ferrari can retake the points lead when I see it. Red Bull Racing has a narrow advantage on reliability — four mechanical DNFs to six — and does not have the reputation for strategic error that the team in scarlet has lived up to this season (cough, cough, Monaco). 

I’m not ready to declare Ferrari world champions just yet, but I am willing to predict that the Constructors’ race will at least get closer, for one reason: Carlos Sainz.

Not pictured in F1’s tweet, Ferrari’s No. 2 driver sits fourth in the standings, 18 points back of Sergio Perez in third and a distant 75 behind leader Verstappen. I’m not claiming Sainz will suddenly be World Championship leader, but he was a whopping 46 back of Perez after Azerbaijan. In the subsequent three grands prix, Sainz has come home second, first, and … on the back of a scooter after his engine exploded as he set up a pass on Max Verstappen for second in Austria. Still, Sainz was right up there with Verstappen and Leclerc all weekend.

Remember, Sainz outscored Leclerc last season, one of the more understated surprises of a wacky year. However, he seems to have been a step behind his teammate, let alone the Red Bulls, ever since Bahrain. 

See also
F1 Review: Charles Leclerc Earns 3rd Win at Red Bullʻs Home Track

Canada was the tipping point. With Leclerc starting from the back, Sainz was de facto team leader, and after fading early he took advantage of a late safety car to push Verstappen for the win in the closing laps, ending up second in the closest margin of victory since Saudi Arabia. I’m not sure what it was — whether losing by that little lit a fire under him, getting a taste of the lead motivated him to find it again or if he and the team discovered something for more pace — but Sainz backed it up with his first career pole position next time out in Silverstone and pushed back against Ferrari team orders, passing Leclerc late and taking his first-ever race win.

The moment we knew for sure there’s a new Sainz in town was during sprint qualifying in Austria, where not only was he able to keep up with his teammate, but he got his elbows out and passed him. 

It may have been to the detriment of the team’s chances, slowing down both cars in their pursuit of Verstappen and proving ultimately fruitless as his Monegasque teammate soon got back in front, but once again it was the new, feistier Sainz that showed up to the Red Bull Ring. If Ferrari’s No. 2 driver is able to outpace Red Bull’s own No. 2 with some regularity, that could turn the Constructors’ more in favor of the Scuderia, as well as giving the Ferrari pitwall more strategy options with which to attack Verstappen’s lone Red Bull, much like Mercedes could in 2020 (to the result of endless HAM-BOT-VER podiums). 

Another driver to turn the corner in the last few races is Haas F1’s Mick Schumacher, who finally closed out a race in the points, coming home eighth in Silverstone before besting that result last Sunday with a sixth place in Spielberg. 

With 12 points in two grands prix for the young German, he has moved up to 15th place in the World Championship.

Having finally broken his duck and leading his teammate home for double points in two consecutive races, I expect to see Schumacher score points more regularly in the second half of this season. But why did it take him so long? 

Schumacher took two years to win the F2 title. In his F2 rookie season in 2019, he won only the sprint race in Hungary on his way to 12th in the standings. Although he won just twice in 2020, consistency netted him the title, a marked improvement over the year before. His F3 results look similar: 12th place in his first season, but the title the second time out.

So, Schumacher seems to be a driver who takes a year and a half to warm up to a new style of car. It may be just as simple as that. 

However, it is worth reconsidering just how much Schumacher was able to learn last year, if anything at all. Saddled with a Haas that was clearly the worst car on the grid by a wide margin, and a rookie teammate in Nikita Mazepin (remember him?) from whom he couldn’t rely for guidance, and for whom Haas felt pressure from title sponsor Uralkali to prioritize, it’s almost like Schumacher wasn’t in F1 at all in 2021. He was basically stranded in “F1.5” as Haas completely checked out of 2021 to prepare the new car, a gamble that seems to have paid off as the American outfit has jumped up the standings.

Now, with a points-competitive car and an experienced teammate in Kevin Magnussen, Schumacher can finally start to live up to some of the high expectations that go with his name (and face). He’s not exactly going to win the title in year two like he did in the junior formulae, but we haven’t yet seen the best the young Schumacher has to offer.

Schumacher, Sainz and the rest of the F1 paddock will be heading next to Circuit Paul Ricard, where Verstappen will attempt to defend his 2021 victory in the French Grand Prix, Sunday July 24 at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.

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