In what was shaping up to be a pivotal season for the Scuderia, there is a Ferrari crisis brewing that could derail all of the positives from this season.
After falling short after the German GP in 2018, with arguably the best car, Ferrari came into 2019 expecting to offer genuine competition to Mercedes dominance. In what was a tricky first half, it seemed like they had actually fallen further behind. However, the last couple of races have shown both the good and bad faces of Ferrari and threaten to tear this team apart.
2018: A Brief Recap Of A Ferrari Meltdown
Heading into the German GP on the 22nd July 2018, Sebastian Vettel held an 8 point lead over main title rival Lewis Hamilton. In his home Grand Prix, in a Ferrari that was now seemingly quicker than the Mercedes, the expectation was that Vettel would come away from Hockenheim with an extended lead.
With Hamilton struggling with gearbox issues in qualifying, Vettel stormed to pole, with a time two-tenths of a second ahead of Mercedes number two driver Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton would start the race from the seventh row, handing Vettel a huge advantage.
However, all did not go to plan as the rain came down, and Sebastian Vettel plunked his car in the wall at the low-speed Sachs corner on lap 52. After a chaotic race, and assistance from the weather, and the safety car, Hamilton would claim victory and retake the lead of the World Championship.
A further mistake from Vettel at the Italian GP 3 races later, and numerous tactical, and mechanical issues, saw Ferrari turn a 20 point lead in the constructors’ championship after the 10th race of the season in Britain, into an 84-point deficit come the end of the season.
Having won four of the opening 10 races, Sebastian Vettel would go on to claim just one victory in the final eleven races and fail to even make the podium four times.
2019: A New Hope And A New Ferrari Crisis
The new season saw Ferrari bring in exciting up and comer Charles Leclerc to replace Kimi Räikkönen. Brought in as the explicit number two driver, it seemed like a relationship that was destined to course issues from the outset, but the speed with which it deteriorated has shocked everyone.
In just the second race of the season in Bahrain, Leclerc qualified on pole and was leading the race comfortably when he lost one of the cylinders in his engine. Despite finishing with significantly reduced power, Leclerc held on to a podium finish and completed the race nearly 30 seconds ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
With the temperature clearly rising between the two, Leclerc consistently showed he was the quicker of the two drivers. As Vettel made uncharacteristic mistakes, it seemed only a matter of time before a major blowup.
Did It All Fall Apart In Sochi?
Having shown to have potentially the faster car again since the middle of this season, Ferrari should be mounting a serious challenge to Lewis Hamilton’s charge for a sixth world championship. Admittedly facing a mountain after a poor start to the season, Ferrari’s refusal to acknowledge what is clear from the outside is threatening to derail all the positives.
Despite having out-qualified Vettel a staggering 10-6 heading to race day in Sochi, Ferrari made the apparent decision to have Leclerc slipstream Vettel off the start to get him ahead of Hamilton. It is a fine strategy, especially for the team with the fastest car, to try and ensure a one-two classification. However, after the situation played out perfectly for them, Vettel seemingly refused to comply with the team order to let Leclerc back through for the race lead.
This lead to the bizarre decision for Ferrari to use the undercut to get Leclerc back ahead of Vettel.
While there was no way to foresee the ensuing mechanical failure for Vettel that brought out the safety car and saw Hamilton take over the lead of the race for good, it was an absolutely staggering turn of events. A race that should have seen a Ferrari one-two ended with a Mercedes one-two, which is unthinkable for a team with the fastest car all weekend.
The team’s number one driver, and four-time world champion refused to take team orders and the team then imposed them on him by enforcing a clearly much weaker strategy on him. It was bizarre, to say the least, and probably has caused irreparable damage to the relationships at Ferrari.
While this is not the first time Vettel has refused team orders, we all remember the multi-21 incident at Red Bull with Vettel and Mark Webber, it is likely to be the most significant. At Red Bull, Vettel was the faster driver, the drive who great things were expected from. Red Bull were backing him 100% despite the obvious public altercation.
Leclerc is continuing to show growth off the track as well, stating that ‘The trust in Vettel is unchanged.’ While towing the company line is important in Formula 1 it’s a fairly transparent attempt to take the attention off of the incident.
However, it feels different at Ferrari. And it really shouldn’t, which is why this is such a seismic event. For a team that has made some horrific tactical and strategic decisions over the years, this reeks of another self-generated Ferrari crisis.
Sebastian Vettel is the teams’ number one driver and Charles Leclerc is the number two driver. This isn’t just speculation, it’s in their contracts. So for the team to use strategy to enforce an order for him to cede to Leclerc is very significant.
This season already had a feeling of the changing of the guard at Ferrari. Vettel has put in countless hours helping to improve the Ferrari over the last few years, and it does seem slightly obscene for him to be moved over at the time when that work is about to bear fruit. But Leclerc is just plain quicker at this point.
Is This Just Another Ferrari Crisis
And Vettel’s refusal to give the place back to Leclerc, as seemingly discussed pre-race, shows that he knows it as well. If Vettel believed he was quicker, he could’ve obeyed team orders, and moved into second place and overtaken Leclerc on the track.
But that’s not the world we live in. Leclerc is quicker. Vettel knows it. Ferrari know it.
The only question left to be answered is will Ferrari make the decision to back Leclerc, or will their whole season, and all the work they’ve put in go to waste? They do not need to remove Vettel from the team or do anything too drastic. But unless they make the drivers equal, and make them understand that, then this will only get worse.