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Leclerc’s perfect weekend in Spain ruined by faulty Ferrari
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Charles Leclerc envisioned a perfect weekend in Spain. He dominated practice and qualifying and looked only an easy distance on Sunday from winning the Spanish Grand Prix.

With just one open track ahead of him, Leclerc was close to extending his lead in the Formula 1 standings over reigning world champion Max Verstappen and winning his third race of the season.

And then his engine suddenly failed.

As Leclerc’s once-hot Ferrari began to slow, slow, slow, he shouted “No!” Nope! Nope!’ on his team’s radio.

Once the shiny Ferrari returned to the garage, it was over for the day. A sorry Leclerc took off his helmet and his mechanics patted his back.

His race was over and his points lead was gone.

Verstappen is back at the top of the F1 standings after his third straight win, while Leclerc failed to finish and now trails Verstappen by six points.

“I lost engine power and had to stop. I don’t know what the problem is yet, but it hurts,” said Leclerc. “We showed that we were very fast, but we will have to address this engine problem so that it does not happen again this year.”

Ferrari said Leclerc’s car suffered an “unidentified” power unit “problem”. The Italian team tweeted that the race result was “heartbreaking”.

“The car felt good, its pace was good,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. “We had this reliability problem which we will have to analyze and solve, but the season is long and we have a car which is very solid.

Verstappen’s hat-trick of back-to-back wins at Imola, Miami and Barcelona helped him erase a 46-point deficit to Leclerc following Leclerc’s win in Australia, his second victory in the first three races of the season.

Ferrari have been better than Red Bull this year at keeping their cars on track; Verstappen’s Red Bull have dropped him twice this season and he failed to finish in Bahrain or Australia, both races won by Leclerc.

On Sunday, Verstappen’s chances of victory appeared to be scuttled after another malfunction. This time it was with its DRS flap, which should open on the straights when a driver attempts to overtake. Verstappen has been cantankerous all weekend – the same issue prevented him from challenging Leclerc for pole in qualifying – and that held him back on Sunday as he recovered from a track crash.

Leclerc’s collapse gave Verstappen the chance to pull off a win that seemed sure to elude him. Verstappen led a Red Bull brace after team-mate Sergio Pérez obeyed team orders to let him through and take the win.

Leclerc had taken pole position after pulling off a superb final lap in qualifying on Saturday. His main concern for the race was the high temperatures of 36 Celsius (96 Fahrenheit) which would make the track even harder on the tires.

Before the race, he gave his recipe for victory: “good start, good tire management and finishing first”.

Two out of three were not enough.

Next weekend, the title fight moves to Leclerc’s home race in Monaco with its iconic street circuit in the Mediterranean principality.

“Monaco (next weekend) is important, but so was this race and every race too,” said Leclerc. “We are fighting for the championship.

Ferrari is in the hunt for its first drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen won it in 2007.

Leclerc has been his best bet in years – if he can get a reliable car.

More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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