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The impending implosion at Ferrari

How will Seb Vettel manage his rivalry with Charles Leclerc? (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Roar Guru
3rd October, 2019
5

Formula One is no stranger to controversial teammate rivalries.

The higher profile the drivers, the more intriguing the rivalry becomes, providing great entertainment and a fascinating narrative for fans.

And just such a rivalry is brewing inside the stables of the Prancing Horse after a potential fourth Ferrari win in a row went begging despite Charles Leclerc starting from pole position at the Russian Grand Prix.

While Leclerc started at the front of the grid, his four-time championship-winning teammate, Sebastian Vettel, started third and used the tow off the line to catapult himself ahead of Lewis Hamilton and into the lead and put Ferrari into one-two position.

But according to a pre-race agreement between the team and its drivers, the German was to swap places with his junior teammate.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari celebrates during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

(Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Vettel appeared to have the pace to stay in the lead, while Leclerc was left in a fit of disappointment on the team radio – one week prior in Singapore Vettel had undercut him to win the race, even though the 22-year-old oed from pole and thought he should’ve been the first to pit.

The way the rest of the Russian Grand Prix panned out meant it amounted to nothing. Vettel succumbed to an MGU-K failure after both his and Leclerc’s first stops, and with Mercedes yet have pit either driver, both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas capitalised on the ensuring virtual safety car deployed for the stranded Ferrari to make a cheap pit stop.

Leclerc was wedged between the two Mercedes drivers and made an extra stop for soft tyres in a last-ditch attempt to chase the Silver Arrows down on fresh rubber, but to no avail.

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Had the positions been swapped, would the outcome of the race have been different? Probably not if either Vettel’s MGU-K failure still triggered the virtual safety car or George Russell still crashed his Williams to deploy the full safety car not long after – Mercedes would have still got that cheap stop.

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Where the bone of contention lies in the matter of Vettel and Leclerc is that not long after the Singapore debacle the team have once again been put in a situation where one driver is unhappy with the other’s actions and the team decision.

As far back as the Italian Grand Prix, where there was shambles at the end of qualifying partly triggered by Leclerc not returning the favour of giving Vettel a slipstream in the final run, there was a clear statement of intent from the Monegasque.

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Given that Vettel’s form throughout 2019 has left something to be desired, it’s not surprising that Leclerc might see this as an opportunity to overthrow the long-time Ferrari team leader. After all, he has scored the most points of any driver since returning from the mid-season break at the start of September.

Hypothetically, if Ferrari were going to challenge for the championship in 2020, where would the line be drawn between the two drivers if both found themselves in contention?

Ferrari typically has been one-sided in their past title tilts, whether it be Michael Schumacher over Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso over Felipe Massa or even Vettel over Kimi Raikkonen. This, though, with a young charger in Leclerc and a former world champion who’s showing signs of unwillingness to lie down could be the biggest challenge yet for Ferrari management.

Team principal Mattia Binotto has been quite measured throughout this most difficult first season at the helm of the Scuderia, though it remains to be seen whether he can draw that line between his drivers without completely chastising them.

Ideally for all those watching a repeat of the fierce battle in 2016 between Hamilton and eventual champion and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg would make for entertaining viewing. However, for those sitting on the Ferrari pit wall, it may not be so enthralling – just ask Toto Wolff.

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What transpired in the early laps in Russia was shades of the infamous ‘multi 21’ controversy, where back in 2013 Vettel ignored team orders to leave Mark Webber in the lead of the Malaysian Grand Prix. So with the German unwilling to play ball in Russia and Leclerc not being a team player in Italy, this rivalry is a team implosion waiting to happen if a championship were on the line.

Whether it would be good or bad is totally subjective. Though fierce teammate rivalries in motorsport make great narratives – such as those between Hamilton and Rosberg, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, or even Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP – many will be hoping for this implosion to set off Formula One’s championship race for 2020.