Charles Leclerc must win Hungarian Grand Prix to keep World Championship dream alive

Ferrari driver trails Max Verstappen by 63 points but there is still a chance to turn things around - starting at the Hungaroring

Monaco's Formula One driver Charles Leclerc of Scuderia Ferrari reacts during the Formula One Grand Prix of France at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, 24 July 2022.   EPA / ERIC GAILLARD  /  POOL
Powered by automated translation

I stole on to the Hungaroring in some gutless eastern bloc hire ‘car’ years back and found myself thrashing up and down the gearbox as I careered around the track just before dark.

It was so tight and convoluted it felt more like a kart track than a racing circuit worthy of a world championship Grand Prix.

Ok, I’m no ace racer but if it’s like that in a road car that takes 15 seconds to get to 100 kph, what must it be like in a thoroughbred F1 machine that can do the same in about three seconds as it hurtles towards 291 kph?

It’s a credit to the designers that the Hungaroring made it’s debut when Russian tanks were still rolling around the USSR and yet the track layout has remained virtually unchanged for 20 years.

Five hairpins are crammed into 4.4 kilometres but with the tight bends are fast and flowing sections that require pin-sharp balance. It’s a street track without a city; Monaco without the soaring apartment blocks.

Put the climbing temperatures, the chances of rain, together with the claustrophobic design and likelihood of accidents and this race is one of the toughest of the year, mentally and physically.

There is only one clean overtaking spot, at the end of the main straight as the track drops away to the first bend, so pole position is crucial.

It’s here that Charles Leclerc comes on Sunday to rescue a season threatening to go completely off the rails before we are anywhere near the finish line.

It’s difficult to stress how important the Hungarian Grand Prix is to Ferrari’s beleaguered star driver.

They need, he needs, a morale-boosting victory to take into the three-week summer break.

French Grand Prix - in pictures

Trailing Max Verstappen by a cavernous 63 points some say Leclerc’s championship is over already.

Crashing out of the last round in France while leading was nothing short of catastrophic. His cry of agony on the radio said it all. But it doesn’t have to be the fatal blow. Just look at the topsy-turvy events of the season so far (never mind last year).

After two wins in three races everyone had him down as the nailed-on champion. Nine races later they are saying it is all over.

Who’s to say things couldn’t go full circle yet again in the next nine and he comes to Abu Dhabi still in with a chance?

Of course, the statistics do make bleak reading for the men in red. There are 10 races to go and they need to make up 63 points. It’s mathematically possible. If he wins every race, for example, he would become champion even if Verstappen was always second.

But 10 wins on the trot has never been done before. Sebastian Vettel came closest when he won nine in a row in 2013. Leclerc could do worse than look to that season for inspiration. Vettel came back from the summer break and won everything.

Then Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Alberto Ascari have won seven on the trot. Hamilton did it most recently with five wins on the bounce, twice.

Or Leclerc could look to 1994. Damon Hill left France 37 points down (ie nearly four wins when races scored 10 points each) on Michael Schumacher but it took the infamous crash at the last round in Adelaide to deprive him of the title by a single point.

After all there’s another rock-solid truth: Ferrari have the fastest car and a driver capable of beating Verstappen and Hamilton any day, anywhere.

Reflecting on his crash in Italy he thought had cost him the 1999 championship (it didn’t) Mika Hakkinen said: “What’s important is Charles recognises he has the talent and the car to win races, and just needs to focus on the positives, take each weekend as it comes. One race at a time. That’s all you can do, focus on doing everything right.”

The enormous gap may be entirely self-inflicted but the flip side of that is Ferrari also have it in their own hands to turn things around.

If they cut out the silly technical and strategic mistakes and up the reliability it will put the pressure on Red Bull.

Is Leclerc going to win 10 on the bounce? Almost certainly not. But a couple of wins and the odd Red Bull break down would make the world seem a very different place. Build some momentum at Maranello and who knows what might happen.

Updated: July 28, 2022, 4:47 AM