SportF1What does history say about Leclerc's leadership in F1...

What does history say about Leclerc's leadership in F1 2022?

This year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix will be the first Formula 1 event at Imola since 2006 to allow spectators to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions in the last two years.

An electrifying atmosphere is expected as Ferrari look to continue their winning streak at this start to the season, especially thanks to two wins and a second place finish for Leclerc .

Max Verstappen’s late retirement in Australia contributed to Leclerc’s championship lead of 34 points after just three races, with George Russell a surprising second for Mercedes.

Leclerc ‘s start to the season is, according to statistics, one of the strongest in F1 history. He has only given up a total of seven points from those at stake, all of them lost in Saudi Arabia, when he finished second behind Verstappen, as he has also taken the extra point for doing the fastest lap in all three races.

His total of 71 points after three races is the second-highest haul in history, behind only Nico Rosberg, who achieved a full 75 points in 2016, although changes in the number of points awarded have to be taken into account. throughout the seasons.

But what can history tell us about Leclerc’s early 34-point lead in the championship? With 20 races still to go this year, it’s obviously too early to think the title race is settled, but come the end of the season, how decisive will Leclerc’s near-perfect start have been?

We look back to see what happened on other occasions with starts to the year as strong as that of the Monegasque.

Nico Rosberg – 2016

Podium: race winner Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1, second place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1

Point difference after three races: 36 points
Final position: Champion

Rosberg ‘s dominant start to 2016 made him one of only five drivers to have managed to win the first three races of a season, and laid the foundation for what would be his only Formula 1 title.

Rosberg finished the 2015 campaign well, taking three wins to close out the season after his defeat by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was confirmed. The German driver kept the momentum going in the first part of 2016, winning in Australia ahead of Hamilton after overtaking him at the start.

He then capitalized on Hamilton’s clash with future teammate Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain to win there, before completing the treble with victory in China, as Hamilton could only climb back to seventh after starting last, due to a problem with the power unit.

Rosberg’s advantage, after three rounds, was 36 points, which would increase to 43 after his seventh consecutive victory, including the three at the end of 2015, which he achieved in Russia. The streak would end in Spain, when the Mercedes cars were involved in an accident on the first lap, which aggravated the growing tensions within the team.

Rosberg won the title by just three points , as he was unable to match his strong start all season. By race seven in Canada, Hamilton had already narrowed the margin to just nine points and moved into the lead in Hungary. But Rosberg’s consistent end of the year and Hamilton’s devastating retirement in Malaysia turned the tables in his favor.

Fernando Alonso – 2006

Fernando Alonso gana el GP de Bahrein de 2006 por delante de Michael Schumacher

Point difference after three races: 14 points (33 points under the current system)
Final position: Champion

Fernando Alonso had one of the most convincing starts in F1 history in defending a first title as he started the 2006 season in style. Interestingly, like Leclerc this year, he won the first race in Bahrain, finished second in the second round which, that year, was held in Malaysia , and then went on to win the third race of the year in Australia.

Alonso managed to fend off the renewed threat of Ferrari in the opening round, beating Michael Schumacher by just 1.2 seconds, before following Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella for a one-two finish in Malaysia. The victory in Australia put Alonso 14 points clear of Fisichella, after Schumacher had retired in Australia, which would become 33 points under the current system.

Alonso’s supremacy would be maintained during the first half of the season, giving up only six points from the first 90 available. However, Schumacher recovered in the second half. Helped by Alonso’s retirements in Hungary and Italy, the Kaiser equalized with two races to go, but engine failure at Suzuka ended any hope of an eighth world title.

Michael Schumacher – 2000

Race winner Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1 2000

Point difference after three races: 21 points (47 points under the current system)
Final position: Champion

Although Schumacher managed to win all three races at the start of the 2004 season, his lead was only nine points (22.5 today) over Rubens Barrichello, his new Ferrari teammate.

Despite defending champion at the time, Mika Hakkinen, taking pole in each of the first three races, Schumacher was able to secure a hat-trick to start the year due to the frailty of the McLaren. Hakkinen retired in both Australia and Brazil while leading, narrowly losing to Schumacher at Imola, earning him just six points from the 30 available to start the year.

Except for Schumacher, few had done particularly well. Hakkinen’s teammate David Coulthard retired in Australia and was disqualified in Brazil, while Barrichello, Schumacher’s closest rival on nine points, retired from his home race and only managed to finish fourth at Imola, which gave him only three points, due to the pre-2003 system.

Adjusting the results to the current points system, Schumacher’s advantage would be 47 points , one more than the current difference between Leclerc and Verstappen, who is not even second in the 2022 standings.

And yet the tables soon turned. In Hungary, the Kaiser was already behind Hakkinen in the championship, and under the current system the title would have come to the last race in Malaysia, but Schumacher would still have won the championship. In the days of more fragile reliability, when scores achieved were often all victory points or zero, larger swings were more likely.

Damon Hill – 1996

Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill y Eddie Irvine en el podio del GP de Australia

Point difference after three races: 18 points (39 points under the current system)
Final position: Champion

With two-time champion and main rival Michael Schumacher now at Ferrari, Damon Hill entered the 1996 season intending to finally clinch an elusive world title, but had to contend with his new Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve.

Despite losing pole to Villeneuve on the Canadian’s F1 debut, Hill won a close battle in Australia before dominating in wet conditions at Interlagos, taking advantage of a spin by Villeneuve to extend his lead.

In Argentina, Hill overcame pressure from Schumacher before the Ferrari driver retired with a rear wing failure, moving Villeneuve up to second.

Hill left South America with 30 points, 18 more than Villeneuve, who was second. The gap between the two never narrowed too much, remaining at 21 points after Hill’s win at Hockenheim.

Although Villeneuve made it to the last race at Suzuka alive, the nine-point deficit was difficult to overcome, and his poor start and subsequent retirement resolved the situation. Hill took his eighth win of the season and finished the year 19 points clear in the standings.

Michael Schumacher – 1994

Ayrton Senna y Michael Schumacher en el GP de Brasil de 1994

Point difference after three races: 23 points (50 points under the current system)
Final position: Champion

The first big battle between Schumacher and Hill for the title would come in 1994, albeit after a brilliant start to the year by the German driver, who had a perfect score in the first three tests.

Ayrton Senna had started each of the three races from pole, but had to retire at Interlagos and Aida, before the accident at Imola that cost him his life. Schumacher was victorious on all three occasions, leaving Hill second in the standings, 23 points behind and tasked with leading Williams for the remainder of a shadowed season.

Six wins from the first seven races put Schumacher 37 points clear of Hill going into the season’s half, but his disqualifications at Silverstone and Spa, coupled with the penalty of not being able to start two races due to his black flag at Silverstone, they brought Hill back into the fray.

A single point separated them heading into Adelaide, where their controversial clash saw Schumacher win the title. Had the current point system been used, he would have lost the championship to Hill by 14 points.

Ayrton Senna – 1991

Ayrton Senna celebra su victoria en el GP de Brasil de 1991

Point difference after three races: 20 points (41 points under the current system)
Final position: Champion

Ayrton Senna became the first driver to win the first three races of the F1 world championship season (since Alberto Ascari did not participate in the 1953 Indianapolis 500), in preparation for winning his third and final title.

Senna converted pole positions at Phoenix, Interlagos and Imola into race wins, opening a 20-point lead over McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger.

A trio of DNFs from Nigel Mansell meant that although he closed with Senna at points over the rest of the year, managing to cut the gap to eight points after Hockenheim, he was never able to get past the Brazilian, finishing 24 points adrift.

Charles Leclerc celebra su victoria en el GP de Australia de 2022

What does this mean for Leclerc?

The odds seem to be on Leclerc ‘s side already if we look at the drivers who also opened up a huge lead at the start of the season. However, with the exception of Rosberg and Alonso, they all did so at times when reliability meant there would be bigger swings in points, with both Rosberg and Alonso only managing to clinch the title at the very last round.

However, as long as Ferrari can maintain its current level of performance relative to Red Bull and Mercedes, Leclerc’s early lead will always be beneficial to his title bid.

The fight between Verstappen and Hamilton last year showed that differences of between seven and nine points (depending on who gets the fastest lap) between the top two positions in a race can make it difficult to make big gains at once, barring surprises on track. or unexpected incidents.

However, with so much to play for this season, Leclerc or Ferrari are unlikely to think much of history on their side as they look to write their own in 2022.

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