A New Breed: Will Ferrari’s 2019 Changes Really Be A Benefit?
Two months away until the first race of 2019 gets underway in Melbourne and team wise, the sport of Formula 1 looks like quite a different place since last season concluded in Abu Dhabi in November. This is no exception at Ferrari, where perhaps this statement is a lot more accurate than anywhere else. Not only has the legendary Italian team decided to replace long time driver and the last Ferrari champion Kimi Raikkonen with the young hotshot rookie Charles Leclerc for this season, but just yesterday they announced that they would be replacing Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene with Technical Director Mattia Binotto for 2019. The question is, is such vast change for this season, rather than keeping the familiar staff the positive step to title success?
Shortly after Raikkonen’s pole and eventual second to Lewis Hamilton at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix in September last it was announced that Sauber driver and Ferrari Academy member Charles Leclerc would replace Raikkonen for 2019, with Raikkonen supposedly swapping his place for Leclerc’s seat at Sauber. An unsurprising move, given Leclerc’s phenomenal talent and Ferrari’s desire not to let him go, but immediately eyebrows were raised at how he would cope alongside Vettel in 2019. Leclerc, a driver who dominated the feeder GP3 and F2 championships in 2016 and 2017 respectively will not be one to sit back and support Vettel as Raikkonen was sometimes made to do during his time as the four time champion’s teammate, and you can count on it that he will push not only Vettel, but other favourites for the 2019 crown.
Charles Leclerc will partner Sebastian Vettel in 2019.
The point was instantly made that the move goes completely against how Ferrari usually operates with their driver line-up, the team unofficially known to favourite one driver over another. However this isn’t always the way. For example, when Raikkonen partnered Felipe Massa at the time of their title challenging seasons in 2007 and 2008, the so-called favourited driver role only came in at the end of those seasons when it was clear which driver had a shot at the title. Massa let Raikkonen through to win at the season finale and the eventual title at Brazil in 2007, whilst Raikkonen returned the favour to give Massa second in China in 2008 to keep him in the fight with Hamilton for the title, again finishing in Brazil. I have a feeling that Vettel and Leclerc might be the same if this scenario plays out again, but what about for the rest of the season? Don’t forget the Austrian Grand Prix scandals in 2001 and 2002 with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, and Hockenheim in 2010 when Massa was forced to relinquish the lead and eventual victory to new teammate Fernando Alonso. They aren’t afraid to choose favourites if they need to.
Vettel will be aware of how good Leclerc is and that his own game will need to be brought up to stay on guard. Remember 2014 when a rather unknown Daniel Ricciardo stepped into the territory of the then reigning champion and completely showed him up? Of course, many problems and failures with the car on Vettel’s behalf did plague him across the season, but on normal days it seemed as if Ricciardo had the upper hand and definitely Vettel himself took a mental and emotional blow from it, after all it was the first time he was bested by a teammate in Formula 1. We even seen last year at Monza and the USA when he was bet to the pole and win respectively by Raikkonen, Vettel was not at all impressed at the matter. Ferrari will need to do all they can to ensure equal status between both drivers throughout this year to ensure the best results or may face enduring their own Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry within the team.
Vettel will need to stop silly mistakes like this one last year when he slid off the track at Hockenheim whilst leading.
Looking at the sudden swap in the Team Principal role announced by the team just yesterday, like the Leclerc switch, it was one that didn’t come at a surprise. Maurizio Arrivabene was constantly been linked to vacating the top spot, one he required from Marco Mattiacci in 2015, even been constantly linked to a Chief Executive move to Italian soccer team Juventus since 2017. For sure, Ferrari have improved leaps and bounds since Arrivabene’s arrival to the team, but recent strategy calls and race moves have constantly questioned Arrivabene’s right in the head role. Incidents such as the tyre blunder in qualifying at last season’s Japanese Grand Prix and the poor strategy call contributing to Vettel losing second place to Max Verstappen and a possible fight for victory in Singapore seen even himself intervene and question the calls of the team, not forgetting the many disastrous and questionable calls during the 2016 season. This in turn also strained relationships between Arrivabene and Vettel, the one relationship never good to let slip inside a team.
Mattia Binotto however, is a star of his own accord within the Scarlet team. Success with development from their terrible start of the V6 Hybrid era currently regulated in Formula 1 in both the Power Unit and the Technical department on Binotto’s behalf as well as being an employee of the team since 1995 had earned Binotto a great deal of recognition within the hierarchy of the Ferrari team, especially with none other than the late Fiat/Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne, a company which Ferrari is a subsidiary of. It is widely believed that prior to Marchionne’s sudden and untimely death last July he had already made the decision on both Binotto and Leclerc for 2019, and is thus regarded why tensions were clearly flaring between Binotto and Arrivabene, as it’s understood Arrivabene was against both decisions for 2019.
Changes all round for 2019 then it would seem for Ferrari, but are they the right changes? Of course, Vettel himself will also have to work hard to ensure such silly mistakes by his own accord like we saw in Japan, the US and Germany are quickly stamped out to also make a proper run at title success in 2019. In recent year, the untouchable driver from the glorious Red Bull days seem only like a shadow in the red suit, but he needs to work hard to find that talent once again, especially against somebody like Leclerc. As Formula1.com journalist Lawrence Barretto very brilliantly pointed out in his recent feature for the official site, Ferrari, in so many ways, are exactly the F1 equivalent of soccer’s Manchester United, who are amazingly back to form after the loss of manager Jose Mourinho, and Ferrari will be hoping the very same. Change is good it would seem, so let’s hope for Vettel, and indeed the team’s sake, 2019 is the year that pays handsomely…