F1: Where do Charles Leclerc’s title hopes stand after Austrian GP win?

Leclerc triumphed for the first time since April’s Australian Grand Prix
F1: Where do Charles Leclerc’s title hopes stand after Austrian GP win?

Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent

Charles Leclerc reignited his championship dreams with a return to the winner’s circle at Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Here's a closer look at Leclerc’s title ambitions...

What happened to Leclerc?

Charles Leclerc has endured an up-and-down campaign
Charles Leclerc has endured an up-and-down campaign (David Davies/PA)

Leclerc won two of the opening three rounds to lead Verstappen by 46 points. But following his triumph in Australia on April 10th, the Monegasque endured a torrid run of five races – largely through no fault of his own.

Leclerc’s retirements in Spain (May 22nd) and Azerbaijan (June 12th) with engine failures were sandwiched by a strategy faux pas from his Ferrari team in Monaco (May 29th) which denied him a probable win.

The Canadian GP (June 19th) was a race of damage limitation after he drove from the back to fifth following engine penalties. Ferrari’s questionable strategy reared its head again at Silverstone (July 3rd) when Leclerc was left out on old tyres following a late safety car.

He dropped from first to fourth and trailed Verstappen by 43 points heading into the Austrian Grand Prix.

Can he now haul himself back into the title fight?

Leclerc’s relief after taking his first win in three months following a commanding display at the Red Bull Ring was palpable.

“I definitely needed it,” said the 24-year-old. “Whenever I got to a new race I had a smile on my face, and I kept being optimistic, but then I had hard race after hard race and it just felt like everything was against me.

“So, finally we have had a breakthrough weekend, and it feels really good to win again.”

Leclerc might be 38 points behind Verstappen, but there is no question that the manner in which he won on Sunday – passing the world champion on three occasions at a track which has suited Red Bull in recent seasons – will re-energise both the Monegasque and his Ferrari team, and may prove to be a turning point in the season.

Might mechanical problems pose a threat to Ferrari?

Carlos Sainz’s engine failure with 14 laps remaining, and Leclerc’s stuck throttle in the closing stages, were both stark reminders of Ferrari’s fragile reliability.

The Scuderia must get on top of their mechanical problems if Leclerc is to stand any chance of taking the fight to Verstappen and Red Bull.

Is Lewis Hamilton any closer to getting in the championship mix?

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his third podium finish in as many races
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his third podium finish in as many races (Matthias Schrader/AP)

Hamilton looked primed for a poor weekend in Austria after he crashed out in qualifying, starting ninth in Saturday’s sprint race before making up just one place. But the 37-year-old clawed his way up to third in Sunday’s Grand Prix to secure his third podium in as many races.

Hamilton’s Mercedes machine remains slower than both the Red Bull and Ferrari. Hamilton crossed the line 40 seconds adrift of Leclerc and is 99 points behind Verstappen in the standings.

But the Silver Arrows are starting to close the gap, prompting Hamilton to say: “I truly believe we can win a race this year.”

What happens next?

The sport breaks off for a week before back-to-back races at France’s Paul Ricard on July 24th and the Hungaroring the following Sunday ahead of its traditional August shutdown.

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