Leclerc offers grim assessment of title chances as Verstappen surges clear

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Charles Leclerc struggled to remain upbeat after throwing away yet more points to Formula 1 title rival Max Verstappen in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Both Verstappen and Leclerc took engine grid penalties at Spa, lining up 14th and 15th on the grid, respectively – although the Red Bull had set the outright quickest time in qualifying, nearly seven-tenths quicker than Carlos Sainz Jr in P2.

However, while Verstappen crushed the field on his way to a ninth victory from 14 races in 2022, Leclerc floundered on his way to a penalised sixth – having copped a pitlane speeding penalty when attempting to snatch the bonus point for fastest lap – which he failed to do.

It meant Verstappen walked away with the maximum 26 points while Leclerc only added eight to his tally.

The current gap is 98 points, as runner-up Sergio Perez leapfrogged the Ferrari into second place in the Drivers’ standings.

“Extremely difficult” for Ferrari

Leclerc’s race was hampered when, at the end of lap three, he was forced to pit under the safety car and switch from Soft to Medium tyres.

The reason for this was ironically down to Verstappen – whose visor tear-off became lodged in the Ferrari’s front right brake – causing temperatures to rocket.

Leclerc mounted a comeback to fifth, before the penultimate lap attempt for the fastest lap – which even though on soft tyres, low fuel, DRS, and a slipstream from Fernando Alonso, he fell 0.6s short of taking from the imperious Dutchman.

Speaking after the race, Leclerc admitted that the championship in 2022 was all but over.

“It is definitely looking extremely difficult now, especially after the pace they’ve shown,” he explained to media including RacingNews365.com.

“I can’t wait to get [to Zandvoort] and get back into the car and hopefully see some progress, but before thinking about progress we need to understand from where it [Red Bull’s pace advantage is] coming from.

“Now it’s a big question mark because if you look the midfield also the gap is more or less the same as it’s been for the first part of the season.

[It’s] just Red Bull is so much quicker than everybody.”

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