Charles Leclerc admitted his chances of winning a maiden world championship are “looking difficult” after he was outclassed by Max Verstappen in the Dutch Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver started second and while he kept in touch with home favourite Verstappen in the first stint on the soft tyres, he fell away and dropped to fourth – before a late stop for fresh rubber helped him jump Merecedes’ Lewis Hamilton for the final podium spot.
But with Verstappen winning – his 10th victory in 15 events this season – Leclerc now finds himself 109 points behind the Red Bull driver with just seven races remaining. Verstappen could mathematically defend his title in two races’ time in Japan if results go his way next time out in Italy.
“Red Bull is the faster car at the moment, especially in race pace,” said Leclerc, who took his second podium in 10 races. “In qualifying, I think we are very close. Mercedes seemed to have gained a bit of performance in race pace too so it’s (the title) looking difficult.”
Mercedes’ pace on the hard-compound tyre – which early predictions suggested would be more than a second off the pace – was rapid and that hauled them into a window that made them quicker than Ferrari on pure performance around Zandvoort.
Without the late Safety Car, brought out to clear the stricken Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, Ferrari would have finished without a car on the podium despite having started second and third on the grid.
“I think we are [disappointed] as a team,” said Leclerc. “On the soft, I think we were strong, because considering we had used tyres compared to Max is new tyres, we were relatively quick.
“But then on the medium for some reason it didn’t feel as good, and the hards neither. But the surprise is mostly Mercedes on the hard tyres, they were extremely quick today. Maybe we can learn something from it.”
Next up is Monza, the final race in a triple header and Ferrari’s home event. Leclerc has won there in the past, but he knows that the circuit – known as the Temple of Speed – has a layout that is unlikely to suit the F1-75.
“On paper, it is not our best track unfortunately, but I’m looking forward to going,” he said. “The performance on paper will be a bit more difficult.”