Who would be Mattia Binotto? He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t – and the worst bit for the poor man is that all of this is being enacted within the emotional and political milieu of Maranello.
It’s one thing to come into the season as a strong favourite, only to lose the first three races; quite another to do this as Ferrari, in search of its first world championship in more than 10 years and promising great things during the pre-season test.
As mentioned last week, Binotto’s calm openness is refreshing but such honesty regarding the prioritising of Sebastian Vettel is now threatening to give the team principal an even bigger headache going into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Baku is not exactly a happy place for Vettel, given his dodgem car routine with Lewis Hamilton in 2017, and the costly mistake last year. Throw in the spin while fighting with Hamilton in Bahrain last month to add to the rest of the 2018 catalogue of errors and you have a driver under the sort of pressure Binotto’s charitable preference is actually trying to avoid.
And now that self-inflicted stress is starting to show itself away from the cockpit as Vettel feels the need to pass unprompted comments on media behaviour that may seem unfair at times like this but which Seb, after more than 200 Grands Prix, ought to know comes with the territory. It’s certainly a far cry and a long time since the eulogies that accompanied Vettel’s hugely impressive maiden win in the wet at Monza 11 years ago.
It’s strange how things work out. Gerhard Berger was running the Toro Rosso team with Franz Tost in 2008 and they were thrilled to bits with the intelligence and maturity of their 21-year-old charger on that emotive afternoon. Now Berger has come out and criticised Ferrari for not favouring Charles Leclerc when he’s obviously as fast, if not quicker. than the teammate 10 years his senior.
It’s not the sort of thing Binotto needs to hear, particularly with team orders continuing to trend strongly on F1 social media. Berger never had that problem with priorities at Toro Rosso since, according to Gerhard, one of his drivers from the previous year ‘was the stupidest I’ve ever seen’.
It’s also interesting to reflect that Berger speaks from the experience of being allowed to race freely against Ayrton Senna when they drove for McLaren. With the greatest of respect – and I doubt Gerhard would argue with this in the light of what happened – McLaren boss Ron Dennis knew it would not be an issue thanks to Ayrton’s speed. Never having had a problem with a teammate before, and genuinely confident he could give Senna a run for his money, Gerhard was left wondering where the Brazilian’s consistent and dazzling superiority was coming from.
After telling me with genuine sincerity in an interview in September 2011 that Vettel is ‘really special, a driver who can deliver under pressure’, Berger’s latest comment should be construed as a tribute to Leclerc.
The problem Mattia Binotto has is recognising that same sea change in the talent pecking order before it comes too late and another season of Ferrari failure is heaped upon him.