Another miserable day for Ferrari ended with a late penalty for Charles Leclerc that cost him fifth position in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Leclerc had taken a grid penalty for exceeding his quota of power-unit parts for the season and started 15th at Spa-Francorchamps – one place behind his World Championship rival Max Verstappen.
But while Verstappen made perfect headway in the Red Bull, cutting through the field and romping to an easy victory by 17 seconds from his team-mate Sergio Perez, Leclerc was unable to make such progress.
He made an early pit-stop during a Safety Car period following Lewis Hamilton’s retirement from the race and was unable to get higher than P5 – that being the stated target by Ferrari over the team radio.
However, it was a third pit-stop for the Monegasque that ultimately cost him two points in his increasingly forlorn title pursuit of Verstappen, rather than its intended aim of gaining him one point.
With two laps remaining, Leclerc was called into the pits for soft tyres to chase the fastest-lap point. Upon re-emerging, however, he was overtaken by Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.
On the final lap, Leclerc got back past Alonso – but as soon as the race ended, he found himself demoted back behind the former double World Champion.
It transpired Leclerc had been speeding in the pit lane – although only by 1kmh – and therefore incurred a five-second penalty, putting him below Alonso into sixth position in the final classification. Leclerc also failed to achieve the fastest lap, that also going to Verstappen.
That means Leclerc is now 98 points behind Verstappen in the Drivers’ standings and has also fallen five adrift of Perez.
It also has to go down as another decision that backfired on Ferrari during a season full of strategical mistakes – although they also lacked anything like the pace of Red Bull as Sainz, who had started on pole position, could not live with Verstappen or Perez and was under pressure from George Russell in the Mercedes before hanging on for third place.
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Leclerc admitted to Sky F1 after the race he had only himself to blame for the pit-lane speeding offence.
“The pit lane [incident] is not bad luck, it’s just my fault,” said the typically honest 24-year-old. “It’s a mistake and that’s it.
“On the other hand, we were just not quick enough this weekend and this is the big problem more than anything so we need to work on that.”