Ferrari are undoubtedly one of, if not, the largest car brands in the world. Widely recognized by the prancing horse and their trademark colour of rosso corsa, or ‘racing red’ to you and I. Their iconic vehicles, always combining style and performance, are instantly recognizable across the globe.
Their global status, isn’t just down to their commercial vehicles they produce. They have a long, rich and fruitful history in the world of motorsport also, in the guise of Scuderia Ferrari. They hold they accolade of being the longest serving team in Formula 1, having entered every championship since 1950. Not only this, but they are the most decorated team also. With 16 constructor titles and fifteen driver championships, the name Ferrari is synonymous with Formula 1.
With the aforementioned championships obtained by Ferrari, none of these however, have come in recent years. Their most recent was in 2008, when they won the constructors championship for that year. Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen would take second and third respectively that year, with Lewis Hamilton claiming the drivers championship by one point.
Since then, the emergence and dominance of teams such as Mercedes and Red Bull, have left Ferrari as an ‘almost’ team. Owing to suspicions of a performance advantage from other teams toward the end of the 2019 season, Ferrari reached a secret agreement with the FIA. There was a distinct drop in performance during the 2020 season and Ferrari suffered their worst season in 40 years and finished 6th in the constructor standings.
It would be clear to most then, that Ferrari are long overdue some form of accolade in the Formula 1 world.
But Ferrari made a decent comeback in the 2021 season, to put to bed their performance in the previous year. Finishing third in the constructors championship was a huge achievement and tees up Ferrari very nicely for the upcoming season.
This was largely in part to their current driver roster. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Both of these drivers have had their fair share of plaudits. Sainz has had a very strong career. Following on from his performance at McLaren, he instantly carried on that form with his new team at Ferrari. Leclerc has long been touted as a future world champion from a very young age and was Ferrari’s youngest driver since 1961, at 21 years of age.
Certainly a formidable pairing, but are we right to praise Charles Leclerc so highly? Is he world champion material? Or is there something missing from the young Monegasque?
Charles Leclerc certainly experienced a fast-tracked career to Formula 1. From 2014 racing in Formula Renualt 2.0, a mere four years later he was employed as an F1 driver for Alfa Romeo in 2018, alongside Marcus Ericsson. In that same year, Kimi Räikkönen was announcing he was leaving the Ferrari outfit and joining Alfa Romeo. It was then announced Leclerc would be going in the opposite direction and taking one of the most highly coveted seats in Formula one.
Leclerc looked to make an instant return on investment, by just his second race. In Bahrain, Leclerc secured his first ever pole position. This was almost converted in to a maiden win, but engine troubles with 10 laps to go, ruined his chances and heartbreakingly had to settle for third place.
Leclerc would go on to secure 2 wins in the 2019 season, with his most notable being in Monza, in front of a home crowd. He would also finish 4th in the driver standings, rounding off a rather impressive debut season for Ferrari. Managing to also finish 24 points ahead of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, sent a statement out to the world. Charles Leclerc was very competent in a Ferrari.
However, was it purely down to his abilities?
As mentioned previously, suspicions grew amongst other teams, that Ferrari were gaining questionable straight line speed in 2018 and 2019. Rumours have grown that Ferrari were ‘tricking’ the Fuel Flow Meter, to gain the extra speed over it’s rivals. However, the secret agreement reached between Ferrari and the FIA, will never bring the truth to surface.
Irrespective of the cause, the truth is the 2019 Ferrari was overperforming against the current regulations at the time.
Fast forward to the 2020 season, Ferrari and Leclerc were left with the sobering aftermath of the secret agreement. However, the opening race of the season in Austria, may have well proved this wasn’t necessarily as bad as expected. With a 7th place qualifying position for Charles, he worked his way up to finishing 2nd. A rather welcome, opening-race podium for Leclerc.
However, that level of form would certainly fade away for the remainder of the season. The true impact of the loss in Ferrari’s performance was evident. Charles failed to score points in 7 of the 17 races. Admittedly, Sebastian Vettel did a lot worse, failing to score in 10 out of the 17 races.
Come the end of the season, Leclerc would finish the season 8th, five places above his teammate. It was a damage control season for Ferrari, with Leclerc seemingly making the most out of the underpowered prancing horse.
But lest we forget. The 2020 season was when four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel would announce he was leaving Ferrari at the end of that year. It was apparent the relationship between Vettel and Ferrari had broken down quite considerably. Vettel had a string of pit-stop blunders and certainly didn’t appear to show any care or desire to the Maranello outfit anymore. Could Ferrari have been showing favour to the young Monegasque over Vettel? It may have well been part of the reason he outscored his teammate so highly.
Hello Barrier, Meet Leclerc
Ferrari improved a lot since their 2020 campaign, achieving a third place constructors finish. But that wasn’t down to Leclerc, at least not in part. Ferrari welcomed Carlos Sainz Jnr to their team, having shown excellent performance in his two seasons with McLaren. It didn’t take long for Carlos to showcase his talents in the Ferrari either.
With the race in Monaco, Carlos Sainz managed to finish second, proving how capable the Ferrari looked around low-speed corners. Charles Leclerc meanwhile, could have gone a step further. He put his car in pole position during qualifying, only to collide with the barrier coming out of turn 15 on his in-lap. The qualifying session was subsequently red flagged and his position in the qualifying standings would cement a pole position. Disaster struck however come race day. Leclerc had suffered gearbox damage as a result of the crash and would not start the race.
This wouldn’t be Leclerc’s only crash of the season either. In fact, Leclerc would go on to be the second highest driver in terms of monetary damage caused to Formula 1 cars in the 2021 season.
Charles would finish 5.5 points behind Sainz and two places below him in the championship, in 7th position. This would amount to somewhat of a problem for both Leclerc and Ferrari. With all their faith seemingly put in to the young driver from Monaco for the last two seasons, but Sainz now coming in on an equal-to-slightly-better than fairing, where will Ferrari divert their attention?
Ferrari may well admit they have no pecking order when it comes to drivers, but Leclerc might just be feeling the same emotions as Vettel did, when Charles was signed from Alfa Romeo in 2019.
Twist Of Fate
It seemed like a fairytale story for Ferrari, in signing a young, fearless and talented driver for their future campaign. However, they may be a victim of their own success in signing Carlos Sainz to partner him for the forthcoming seasons. Carlos is undoubtedly a talented driver and on the face of it, certainly looking at the 2021 season, edges Leclerc in results gained.
Young Charles has a problem in his midst. A fast gaining reputation as someone repeatedly crashing his car, will win him no favours. This wasn’t so much of a problem with an aging Sebastian Vettel as a teammate. Ferrari will have accepted this as little more than a learning curve and Leclerc was very much for the future. However, failing to outscore his teammate in a season, with a damage cost of €4m, won’t be generally accepted amongst the powers-that-be. The likes of Verstappen can generally ‘get away’ with this level of damage cost as he will likely out-perform most on the grid.
If a repeat of the 2021 season happens again this year, Leclerc will be sleeping with one eye open. Ferrari have a history of being bored with their new play toy and if Leclerc can’t command performances at the expense of writing off his car, they may be looking at the next, best, young prospect who can deliver.