Red Bull expecting grid penalties for Leclerc

Jamie Woodhouse
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, peers over balaclava. Azerbaijan, June 2022.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, peering over his his head gear. Azerbaijan, June 2022.

After further engine troubles for Charles Leclerc in Baku, Red Bull’s Helmut Marko believes grid penalties for the Ferrari driver are inevitable.

It is remarkable how the title picture has made a complete U-turn during the opening eight rounds of 2022.

Initially it was Ferrari in control, with Red Bull struggling to finish as a double DNF in Bahrain was followed by another for Max Verstappen in Australia, both coming when he was running P2.

All of that allowed Leclerc to create a comfortable gap at the top of the Drivers’ Championship.

But now it is Ferrari struggling to get the job done, the Spanish and Azerbaijan Grands Prix both bringing engine failures for Leclerc, sandwiching a Monaco Grand Prix in which Ferrari strategy blunders cost Leclerc the win.

The picture now is that after four wins in his last five races, Verstappen leads the Drivers’ Championship with a buffer of 21 points but not over Leclerc, instead his lead being over his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

Leclerc has slipped to third in the standings, 34 points behind Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc last minute preparations. Baku June 2022
Charles Leclerc tightens his shoes in his last minute preparations. Baku June 2022

Now Leclerc is facing moving on to his third allowed power unit of the season, although having already used three turbos – another new one of those would trigger a 10-place grid penalty.

Considering Leclerc’s precarious position after only eight races of a 22-race campaign, Red Bull’s driver programme boss Marko does not see how Leclerc can see out the season without picking up penalties.

And while he wants a “fair fight” with Ferrari, he does not see how Leclerc could fight his way back to the very front after a grid drop.

“We want a fair fight,” Marko told ServusTV.

“Leclerc will now tap into a third engine and will have to change engines at least once or twice after that, with grid penalties being insurmountable.”

Baku was a disaster for Ferrari, Leclerc’s retirement coming after Carlos Sainz had earlier dropped out of the race with a hydraulic problem, while Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu retired also in the Ferrari-powered Haas and Alfa Romeo cars respectively.

That said, Leclerc explained after qualifying that Red Bull were confident in their race pace, and Marko indeed felt Red Bull were the faster team on Sunday regardless of Ferrari’s misfortune.

Verstappen took the chequered flag ahead of Perez, marking a one-two finish for Red Bull.

“In terms of pure speed, it was unfortunate Leclerc managed to find a slipstream behind Perez in the first few laps so Max was unable to overtake him immediately,” Marko explained.

“After that, however, we saw the picture we expected, namely the one in which we were really the fastest in race trim after all.”