Taking on and beating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes is a daunting task. But now, Ferrari also has a civil war between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc after they took each other out in Brazil.
The team started the season full of optimism...
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): SEBASTIAN VETTEL, 4 TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION: “Obviously there’s been a lot of change this season with a new team principal and a new driver alongside me, but in both cases people that I know from the past, so I’m looking forward to the future. It won’t be a problem because I know them, I’m sure, and I’m looking forward to it.”
But, after Brazil, there is a problem.
Team principal Mattia Binotto has a long history with the team. Throughout it, Ferrari fielded a clear No1 driver and a supporting act.
Michael Schumacer and Eddie Irvine. Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher and Felipe Massa. Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
It’s a philosophy Binotto underlined recently when Bernie Ecclestone, no less, talked about a possible future Leclerc / Max Verstappen pairing.
“They are two completely different characters who win their races in different ways,” Ecclestone said. “You could only really compare them in the same car, and that would be good to see.”
Binotto, however, thinks that Ferrari should have a great first driver and another driver who can win races and score points. Something like Mercedes has with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen and Leclerc, he said, would create management difficulties.
But Binotto’s immediate problem is Vettel and Leclerc.
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): CHARLES LECLERC, WINNER BELGIAN & ITALIAN GRANDS PRIX: “It’s a good opportunity for me to have Sebastian as my team mate. Obviously he has a lot of experience in the sport and I can definitely learn a lot from him. It will be a big challenge for me but most important is that we work together and achieve the best possible results for the team.”
That might be the PR line but Leclerc, clearly, is not a number two driver.
He has more 2019 wins, points and pole positions than 53-time race winner Vettel. In just his second season in F1 and his first at Ferrari. There are two number ones in the same team.
And Formula 1 history is littered with examples of two number ones winning the most battles, but losing the war.
In 1973 reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi won three races for Lotus. Team mate Ronnie Peterson won four. Their rivalry let in Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart to win the championship.
In 1986, Williams-Honda drivers Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet shared nine wins, five to four, allowing McLaren’s Alain Prost to steal the title at the final race.
More recently, the rivalry between Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull almost saw Fernando Alonso crowned champion for Ferrari.
Binotto has called his Vettel/Leclerc problem a ‘luxury.’ Others feel it will only be solved when Vettel leaves.
Ross Brawn, who oversaw Ferrari’s Schumacher era, says that if the team is to challenge Mercedes, it has to give its drivers a more competitive car and ensure that incidents like Brazil are not repeated.
Binotto, once more was left looking for a positive...
“What happened may not help but I don’t think there’s a drama,” he said, “I see it more as an opportunity in view of next year, to clarify what is needed.”
One thing is clear: it will test his management skills to the limit.