F1

Vettel in danger of becoming Ferrari’s No 2 driver behind Leclerc

Sebastian Vettel is in danger of becoming Ferrari’s No 2 behind Charles Leclerc… the Italian giants face an awkward mess as they trail Mercedes again

  • Sebastian Vettel is at risk of becoming Ferrari’s No 2 behind Charles Leclerc 
  • The German would struggle to face the embarrassment given his £36m salary
  • Twenty-one year old Leclerc has shown rich potential in the opening races 
  • Ferrari have to decide their strategy given how relentless Lewis Hamilton is 

Sebastian Vettel’s nightmare scenario, the one that would end his career in grand prix racing, is to carry No 1 status at Ferrari in nothing but name.

The embarrassment factor would be too much for him to bear, even for £36million a year. Or especially with such a massive salary.

There is no rush here, however, to suggest indignity will definitely be Vettel’s fate, despite the opening rounds of the season hinting that the 21-year-old Monegasque Charles Leclerc possesses potential rich enough to threaten the German’s primacy. 

Sebastian Vettel is at risk of falling down the order and becoming Ferrari's No 2 driver

Sebastian Vettel is at risk of falling down the order and becoming Ferrari’s No 2 driver

In China, team orders were in play and Charles Leclerc was forced to move aside for Vettel (R)

In China, team orders were in play and Charles Leclerc was forced to move aside for Vettel (R)

Leclerc, at just 21, is impressing and Ferrari have a decision if he continues to be quicker

Leclerc, at just 21, is impressing and Ferrari have a decision if he continues to be quicker

Leclerc’s form is an extension of the talent he demonstrated in his sterling rise through the ranks.

All this is in sharp focus after Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, where Vettel was let through by Leclerc under orders despite the younger man having passed his senior off the start. 

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto insisted afterwards that favouring Vettel, who finished third to Leclerc’s fifth, was the right call.

For now, Vettel deserves Ferrari’s favour – if we accept they run a clear No 1, No 2 policy – as the four-time world champion and winner of 52 races. Leclerc still has it all to prove at the highest level. 

He has not won a Formula One race, though he would have done in Bahrain at the beginning of the month but for the ill-luck of an engine problem.

Victories will surely come Leclerc’s way but for now we cannot know how he would handle the heightened pressure of fighting for a championship with Ferrari hoping and the world watching.

But if by the middle of the season – the summer break, say – Leclerc is clearly the quicker driver then Ferrari should make the switch: Leclerc must be elevated to be the main man. 

He may, after all, be less vulnerable to twitching when Lewis Hamilton, the commanding winner in China, turns the screw than is the error-prone Vettel.

I suspect the Ferrari pair may be comparably good and that they will take points off each. 

With a car that for the moment trails the Mercedes, Ferrari cannot afford such a division of scoring, especially with the five-time champion Hamilton being such a brilliantly relentless opponent.

Four-time world champion Vettel still has priority but is being pushed by his young team-mate

Four-time world champion Vettel still has priority but is being pushed by his young team-mate

Leclerc is yet to win a Formula One race - he should have in Bahrain - but has rich potential

Leclerc is yet to win a Formula One race – he should have in Bahrain – but has rich potential

Ironically, the recent situation most similar to the predicament facing Ferrari now involved Hamilton back in 2007 with McLaren. He was a rising star, the Leclerc. Fernando Alonso was a multiple champion, the Vettel. 

They stole points off each other and Kimi Raikkonen, in the Ferrari, snatched the title by the slimmest of margins. Alonso left, the air toxic.

Ferrari have not won a drivers’ crown since then and I doubt they will again this year. 

What they should have done was stuck with Raikkonen, a good No 2 in the late autumn of his career, for this season. They could then have continued with Vettel, or indeed axed him and plumped for Leclerc – a gamble, admittedly.

What they have instead is a fudge of their own making and it is likely to get much stickier before the year’s out.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has plenty to ponder on drivers as the season rolls on

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has plenty to ponder on drivers as the season rolls on 

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