Miami Grand Prix: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc adamant Mercedes will win races in 2022

Mercedes have been on the podium twice this season - both times in third spot. Everything else has been forgettable. F1 leader Charles Leclerc says something big is coming.

World championship leader Charles Leclerc believes Mercedes will bounce back and beat his Ferrari team in some races this year, but are unlikely to do enough to retain their constructors’ world title.

Speaking to CNN ahead of this weekend’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix, the Monegasque driver said he expected Ferrari and Red Bull to provide a four-way tussle for the drivers’ title and be the main protagonists in the teams’ title race.

But, as he made clear with a smile, he would not allow the battle for glory to spoil his enjoyment of what has, so far, been the happiest season of his career.

“I love my job, I love driving, this was what I always dreamt to do,” he said. “And now I am in Formula One with the best team in the world, in my opinion, Ferrari -- and fighting for wins. So, life is great.

“I am definitely going to the track with a big smile on my face because I am obviously in a much happier place than last year. Going to the track, knowing you have the opportunity to win... it feels amazing.”

Charles Leclerc is not writing Mercedes off this season
Charles Leclerc is not writing Mercedes off this season

Asked about fallen champions Mercedes, who have struggled with their car under the new regulations introduced this year, he said they would recover.

“I am pretty sure they will win races at some time this season,” he said. “I never write them off because they are such a strong team and they have shown it in the past.

“But it is true that they are struggling and have since the beginning of this season -- they seem to have... issues that require a bit of time before they fix them.

“So, maybe not for the championship this year.”

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- ‘UNLUCKY’ CARLOS SAINZ -

Leclerc leads the drivers’ championship with 86 points ahead of defending champion Max Verstappen on 59 and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez on 54.

Mercedes’ George Russell is fourth on 49 ahead of Carlos Sainz, in the second Ferrari, while his team-mate, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, is down in seventh on 28 points.

In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes -- who last year reeled off an unprecedented eighth consecutive triumph -- are third on 77 behind Ferrari on 124 and Red Bull on 113.

Leclerc said he did not see the drivers’ championship as a straight battle between him and Verstappen.

“No, because Checo (Perez) is extremely close,” he said. “Carlos has been a bit unlucky and maybe now he is getting there too, but I think it will be between us four.” He added that he felt more secure in his position as leader this year than he had in the past.

“In 2019, every time I found myself in the lead, to be completely honest I don’t think I was completely in control of the situation,” he said.

“Obviously (there were) a lot of emotions. I was leading the first laps of my career, something I had dreamt of doing since I was child -- and being a Ferrari driver in the first year...

“This year everything is a lot more controlled. I know why we are here. I know everything we have done to arrive at this point of fighting for the championship. I know what to do to win races.”

F1 CHAMP IGNORING RAZZMATAZZ AS ‘SUPERBOWL RACE’ HITS MIAMI

World champion Max Verstappen will seek to ignore all the hype and razzmatazz this weekend when he bids to trim Charles Leclerc’s lead with a third win of the season at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.

Fresh from victory at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix where he led Sergio Perez home in a resounding Red Bull one-two, the 24-year-old Dutchman arrives in Florida trailing championship leader Leclerc of Ferrari by 27 points.

After four races, both drivers know there is a long way to go in the title race and will be aware that their long-awaited Formula One duel has captured the imagination ahead of Sunday’s keenly-anticipated contest.

Round five of the new era battle between a younger generation of racers takes place at the self-styled Miami International Autodrome, a fast street track built around car parks at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

F1 PODCAST: CAN MIAMI LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?

The stadium is, by rich irony, home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins whose name serves to remind F1’s bruised drivers of the pain generated by their new ground effect cars this season as they bump up and down, ‘porpoising’ at high speeds on the straights.

“It is an exciting new challenge and a step into the unknown,” said Toto Wolff, team boss of champions Mercedes whose cars have suffered extreme porpoising this year.

“The track looks demanding, with a real mix of low and high-speed corners, and it’s set to be a spectacular showcase for the sport to a growing US fan-base. We’re set for a fantastic event.”

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing is ignoring the razzmatazz
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing is ignoring the razzmatazz

The race will be the first of two in America this year, adding to the successful United States Grand Prix held in Austin, Texas, and pre-event hype has drawn suggestions that it will be F1’s answer to the Super Bowl, complete with A-list celebrities and vast crowded hospitality areas.

A third American race in Las Vegas is scheduled to join the calendar next year. “I think this weekend is going to be pretty crazy,” said Verstappen. “I’m looking forward to the racing -- I’ve driven the track on the simulator and we’ve practiced and prepared as much as we can without visiting in real life.

“I love racing in Austin, so it’s fun that we get to go to another state exciting to see F1 getting so much bigger in the US.”

“It looks positive,” said Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, when asked about the track layout and prospects for good racing. “Let’s see how it goes in real life. To me, on paper, it looked good. As an event, I’m sure it will be amazing.”

- HORNER BACKS STRUGGLING HAMILTON -

While Leclerc and Verstappen are the main attractions, there will also be much interest in the ongoing struggles of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes after a poor start to the season.

Without a win in four races, he is already 58 points behind Leclerc and has written off his own hopes of a title challenge, but he has been contradicted unexpectedly by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

F1 driver Max Verstappen laughs prior to the game between the Miami Marlins and the Arizona Diamond
F1 driver Max Verstappen laughs prior to the game between the Miami Marlins and the Arizona Diamond

Horner told the respected F1Nation podcast: “Lewis had a horrible weekend, but he hasn’t forgotten how to drive. Only five races ago, they were fighting for a world championship.

“They’ll get that car sorted out and he can still be a factor in this championship. We don’t underestimate any of our opponents.” Hamilton finished 13th at Imola where team-mate George Russell endured acute spinal pain on his way to fourth and both have been in the Mercedes simulator since to help fix and develop their troublesome car.

“Since then, we have learned as much as we can,” said Wolff. “In the wind tunnel and in simulations and found several directions for improving the car.

“We will be conducting experiments in Miami to correlate those simulations and hopefully confirm a development path for the coming races. Both drivers have been in the simulator and the factories have been producing updates.” In front of a sold-out weekend crowd of around 420,000, Mercedes will be desperate to end their early-season agonies and rediscover competitive pace and performance in a key market for car sales for all the big brands.

But Ferrari and Red Bull, like McLaren, Renault and home favourites Haas, are unlikely to make it easy.

‘F1’S SUPERBOWL’: SPORTING ROYALTY HITS MIAMI

The cheapest tickets were $900, the event sold out in 40 minutes and word is some big name celebrities are struggling to get in. F1 has reached Superbowl levels as it makes it returns to Miami after a 22 year hiatus.

It’s the hottest sporting ticket on the planet right now as the sport’s exploding popularity in the USA - thanks to Drive to Survive - continues to reach unimaginable levels.

Whispers around the paddock suggest the likes of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Pharrell, Dan Marino, David Beckham and the Williams Sisters Venus and Serena are among the A-listers expected at the track.

A couple of them already rubbing shoulders with the drivers as seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton went for a round of golf alongside NFL god Brady while Pierre Gasly has been snapped at dinner with Jordan.

After claiming he’d not played for three years, Hamilton watched one of his efforts and joked he’d be sticking to ‘driving on the track’.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with the Miami Marlins.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with the Miami Marlins.

Hamilton, who has endured significant issues this season and has openly said his car is not good enough, said:”finally, I’m going to win something this year,” after landing a pitch shot close to the hole.

Having never staged a race at the brand new track, this weekend’s race could produce some of the most exciting wheel-to-wheel action of the season as drivers continue to learn all the track nuances.

All eyes will be on FP1 as the cars and drivers get their first real taste of the track.

The track design - rumoured to have been re-done more that 35 times - is specifically catered to increase overtaking and be high speed.

“I think the way the track has been planned, from my side, it looks positive. It should be good racing,” Valtteri Bottas said. “(It has) pretty long straights. And a couple of really good overtaking opportunities.”“Let’s see how it is in real life, but to me, on paper, it looks good, and I’m sure as an event it’s going to be pretty amazing.”

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton and NFL quarterback Tom Brady
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton and NFL quarterback Tom Brady
Esteban Ocon with Inter Miami MLS
Esteban Ocon with Inter Miami MLS

F1 EXPANSION WILL IT HAPPEN?

Formula One is expanding at a rapid rate.

New fans, new races, but what about new teams?

Current rules limit the number of cars on a Formula One grid to 26 cars, or 13 teams.

At the moment, there are 10 teams. With the Drive to Survive era resulting in an explosion of F1 interest, and new races like this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix, could there be a day when the world’s biggest motor racing category has a system like football, with promotion and relegation?

The question was raised on Code Sports’ Track Torque Podcast, and the answer, pardon the pun, is ‘not so fast’.

“The (existing) ten teams have to vote to allow you in, which they are not going to, and dilute their share of the revenue,” Rebecca Clancy, The Times motor racing correspondent, says.

“It’s one of the only sports in the world in which teams have so much power in the running of the sport.”

Another factor is finance. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff recently estimated the cost of a new team would tip towards an eye-watering US$1 billion.“It’s incredibly expensive to start a brand-new team,” Clancy says.

“Not least because in the first two years you (wouldn’t) get a share of the revenue. Then you have to spend hundreds of millions building facilities and the factory. It’s almost an unrealistic task. “

Still, some of the biggest brands in car manufacturing want in, with German giants Volkswagen this week stating intention to jump into F1.

Just don’t expect to see hotted up VW Beetles on the grid. They’ll use other famous brands in their stable to partner up with existing teams and provide engines.

Originally published as Miami Grand Prix: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc adamant Mercedes will win races in 2022