The two-time Formula 1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi believes that the pressure from the home crowd reached Charles Leclerc after the Ferrari driver’s costly mistake at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Championship leader Leclerc had won two of the three preliminary races of the 2022 season and was expected to fully add his victories at the Imola Circuit in Italy on Sunday in front of the cheering Ferrari fans known as Tifosi.
However, Leclerc showed no match for the Red Bull duo, with Max Verstappen taking the win ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, with McLaren’s Lando Norris a surprising third place.
In a speech to VegasInsider, Fittipaldi said: ‘They are [Ferrari] race at home. Modena [where Ferrari’s headquarters are based] is half an hour away [Imola]. It’s their home ground.
‘Italy, a huge pressure – on the team, on the mechanics, the engineers, the team leaders, the drivers. I can imagine Ferrari was under what I call a huge pressure for racing. Incredible.
‘Everyone expected them to win – another extra pressure. Not just being there at their home, but everyone expecting them to win created that extra pressure. ‘
Leclerc was on course for at least third place, only to turn off the damp track towards the end of the race, to eventually recover and finish in sixth place.
His teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. managed even worse, however, when he crashed out on the initial lap after making contact with Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren.
“I think Carlos tried too hard and Leclerc tried too hard,” Fittipaldi added.
‘I think it was a mistake that anyone can make, but to be in Imola, to be in Italy, to be in the Ferrari team, as everyone you know does a great thing.
‘If it was a different track, the same situation, a different country, it would not be so big, the reaction from the media, the press, the team and the fans.’
However, Leclerc has made costly mistakes like this one before; after crashing during qualifying in Azerbaijan in 2019, he infamously remarked on the radio: ‘I am stupid.’
A number of critics believe that the 24-year-old’s lack of experience with title fights and struggles to deal with the pressure in the past may derail his chances of becoming Ferrari’s first world champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, but Fittipaldi disagrees.
He added: ‘Max and Checo Perez did a fantastic job. They won the race on track. Well done.
‘My opinion is still the same. Ferrari are fast and they have a better chance of winning the championship than Red Bull and we will see what happens in the next few races. ‘
Leclerc still leads the standings, 27 points ahead of Verstappen, and will aim to extend that advantage at the next race in Miami.
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