Max Verstappen has gained a comfortable lead, but 4 drivers still have a legit shot to win the F1 championship
Max Verstappenhas overcome early struggles to take a comfortable lead in the 2022 F1 drivers championship.
- Three others are chasing Verstappen, including
George Russell, who has quietly become a contender.
- Nearly two-thirds of the season remains, and we have already seen top teams have reliability issues and different times.
The heavy favorite
After the second race of the season in Saudi Arabia, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he would "rather fix a fast car than try and make a reliable, slow one fast," and they have done just that.
Verstappen failed to finish two of the first three races and fell 46 points behind
It is now Verstappen with a 34-point lead over Leclerc.
The legit contenders
Ferrari came out of the gates, proving it had plenty of speed this season to compete in both the driver and constructor championships. However, like Red Bull's early-season struggles, Ferrari has hit its own rough patch.
Leclerc has been the fastest driver all season, taking pole in six rounds and starting on the front row in all eight. But after winning two of the first three races, he has failed to win since: He had to retire his car twice and has only finished on the podium once (P2 in Miami).
There is still plenty of season left to catch Verstappen, but first Ferrari must fix its reliability issues. Unfortunately for Leclerc, he will soon have to start taking grid penalties for exceeding the number of turbochargers allowed in a season. Each engine failure going forward could result in a 10-place grid penalty for Leclerc.
Perez has moved past Leclerc and into second in the standings after a strong three-race run that included a win in Monaco, an easy P2 in Baku, and a controversial P2 in Spain, where he was ordered not to challenge Verstappen for the win.
Now the question is whether Red Bull will allow Perez to compete for the championship. Publicly, they are saying all the right things.
While everybody knows Verstappen is still the No. 1 driver, Perez is only one win away from making the title race a teammate soap opera.
Despite Mercedes' struggles, Russell has quietly positioned himself to make a run if his team can improve the car's performance and get the porpoising that left teammate Lewis Hamilton with an injured back in Baku under control .
Russell's consistency has been key. He is the only driver to score points in every race and has finished in the top five in all eight, with two podiums in the last three rounds.
Russell is 51 points behind Verstappen but only 17 behind Leclerc. With 14 races left, Russell has an outside chance if Mercedes can find just a little more speed and a little less bouncing.
Still alive, barely
While Perez is within a shot of making Red Bull rethink their pairing, Sainz has not shown anything to indicate he is ready to challenge for the top spot in The Prancing Horse cars.
Both Ferrari drivers have struggled at times in races this season. However, Sainz has been outpaced in qualifying by his teammate in every race and has yet to pick up the slack or a win when Leclerc has run into trouble.
Sainz would need a shocking turnaround to the season to enter the championship picture, but his car is still one of the fastest on the grid.
Hamilton had a strong fourth-place showing in Baku, tied for his best finish all season (he was also P4 in Australia). However, his season hit a new low when the bouncing in his car got so bad he struggled to get out of his car after the race.
While Russell is the stronger contender at this point in the season, if Mercedes can fix its cars' problems, nobody would be shocked if Hamilton moved ahead of Russell and challenged for more wins. But until that happens, the hole he is in now feels too big.
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