Ferrari’s Messiah: First blunder from Saint Charles

Sunday evening, 7:50 p.m., Imola: Charles Leclerc jumps into his service Ferrari with Monegasque license plates and steams out of the paddock at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. With his head hanging low, his body language doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. But the waiting Ferrari fans cheer up their heroes: There is a slap on the back and a lot of encouragement – despite Leclerc’s mistake in the Emilia Romagna GP around three hours earlier.

The 24-year-old has long been Ferrari’s new messiah, chosen by the Tifosi as the savior who should finally end the dry spell of the Scuderia after 15 years without a world title. The chances have rarely been as good as in 2022: Ferrari made a big hit with the F1-75, Leclerc made a dream start to the new season with two wins from the first three races.

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The support for the world championship leader is correspondingly limitless at the weekend in Imola – but so is the associated pressure. And under this, the otherwise cool Leclerc slips up for the first time on Sunday. Already at the start he falls behind. When trying to at least save second place in the final phase and attacking Sergio Perez’s second Red Bull on fresh tires, Leclerc robs the curbs too wildly in the chicane and spins.

Charles Leclerc jumps into his service Ferrari with Monegasque license plates and steams out of the paddock.

“I gave everything, but in the end I overshot the mark,” Leclerc apologized to his fans via Twitter in the evening. “I’m sorry for the team and all the tifosi who support us. Instead of third place, it was only sixth place. But we’ll come back stronger!”

Despite a full house, red smoke in the grandstands and a squadron of pilots flying the Italian tricolor across the starting grid before the start of the race, the really big party atmosphere in Imola never really gets going. The cool temperatures and the heavy rain do the rest, but Red Bull is simply too strong on the traditional circuit in Emilia Romagna.

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Even in the sprint, last year’s winner Verstappen can still intercept Leclerc in the final phase despite a botched start. On Sunday, the Bulls will celebrate their first one-two since 2016. Verstappen has reduced the gap to Leclerc to 27 points. Ironically, on the territory of the big rival, Red Bull succeeds in hitting the target that doesn’t come as a complete surprise.

Because overall it was not Charles Leclerc’s week: the Ferrari star made headlines even before the race. In the Italian coastal town of Viareggio, where he is preparing for the race with his trainer, a watch worth 320,000 euros is stolen from him in a dark alley by sponsor Richard Mille.

The expectations of the Tifosi in Imola are disappointed.

Ex-Ferrari star Gerhard Berger can only smile about it. In an interview with the reporters, he remembers: “When I was in Imola, even my service Ferrari was stolen! When I came back from the parking lot to the motorhome, Jean Alesi (Ferrari teammate; d. Red.) and looked at me in amazement. The same thing happened to him, and his car was gone too.” When the team then made the case public and who owned the cars, they were back very quickly…

This is Italy too. Or, as a fan poster at the side of the first Rivazza curve aptly describes at the weekend: “Pizza, Pasta e Cavallino”: The leaping Ferrari horse is above everything, the Tifosi would do anything for their heroes in red. Even if Saint Charles cannot walk on water in Imola on Sunday and shows human features for the first time this season.

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