After all the debate in the opening three races, and now that the score reads 2-2 in the winning stakes for Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, can it be said that the Red Bull RB18 is the fastest F1 car of 2022? I like the fact that there is still no definite answer. That tells you just how good the start of F1’s second turbo-hybrid formula has been so far.
Yes, there are signs that the blue, red and yellow car is finding plenty of pace, and after the Milton Keynes team’s first one-two since Malaysia 2016 on a perfect weekend when Max scooped the first 2022 Sprint, the Emilia Romagna GP and set fastest lap, he slashed his 46-point deficit to Charles to 27. By any standard, that was mighty work, rendered all the sweeter because Maranello is just up the road, and Imola’s autodromo is named after Enzo and Dino Ferrari.
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But I tend to agree with both Max and Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto. After taking that dramatic 22nd win, the world champion said that since every track poses different conditions and creates different situations, it’s still very difficult to say one way or the other which car is quicker.
Charles narrowly lost out on pole for the Sprint Race, but he swept comfortably into the lead at the start and stayed there until his right-front soft compound Pirelli tyre began graining and losing its edge. Max, who may have been leaning back to see what was going to happen, then closed in and slipped ahead on the 20th of the 21 laps. That was irksome for Ferrari.
But under the new eight-down-to-one points-scoring system from first to eighth places, he only surrendered one point of his advantage. Thus, overnight he was still a healthy 45 ahead. And Ferrari could see that by pushing just a little bit too hard early on to establish a gap – something thwarted by the Safety Car deployment – and then to open another when racing resumed, Charles had ever so slightly over-taxed the softest-compound Pirellis.