Going into the 2019 season, anticipation for the new teammate rivalry at Ferrari was high. It was clear that young gun Charles Leclerc was likely to pose a great challenge to the established order of four-time-champion Sebastian Vettel - at least in terms of outright speed.
However, in just over the first half of his debut season with the Scuderia, Leclerc has arguably shown both the speed and the consistency to replace Seb as Maranello's Golden Boy - as he has noticeably outperformed his veteran teammate so far.
Source: The Checkered Flag
Now look. I understand there may be some Seb fans reading this who will be rolling their eyes, and thinking: "here we go...yet another Seb hater talking about how he should retire." However, I can assure you this is not the case.
Nothing made me happier than watching Seb back to his usual self after his surprise Hockenheim podium - it was great to see him enthused and humourous in the post race interviews, instead of the seemingly broken man that we've become used to hearing from after a series of disappointing results.
Although, with that being said I am not going to sit here and lie to myself, or to you readers - Vettel is in a bit of a tough spot right now. I don't need to tell you about his run of costly mistakes since Hockenheim last year, as I'm sure you've all heard enough about them by now. However, the last race in Spa could serve as a pivotal moment in deciding Ferrari's approach with their future championship campaigns.
It's been no small story that Ferrari's first win of the season has been clinched by Leclerc. What's more, if Ferrari fail in Italy this weekend, it's highly likely that it could be their only victory of the year. The significance of which could deal a severe blow to Seb's hopes of winning a championship with the Red Team.
Whilst it was already very impressive that Leclerc was the driver to win Ferrari's first race of the season, it was also the shocking events of the Spa weekend that elevated Charles' performance - given the tragic loss of his close friend, Anthoine Hubert.
Despite this devastating emotional blow to the young Monagasque, he performed absolutely faultlessly all weekend (both before and after the terrible, fatal incident). In light of the horrific circumstances in Belgium, Leclerc demonstrated to Ferrari his very unique calmness and maturity.
He made no mistakes in the race, despite his substantial emotional burden, and the huge additional pressure from the charging Silver Arrow of Lewis Hamilton - who was right on his tail in the closing laps of the race. He also had the clear pace advantage over his teammate, whilst simultaneously being kinder to his tires.
Compare Leclerc's flawless performance (in spite of the unimaginable pressure and emotional strain), to Vettel's controversial errors where he's cracked in intense race situations, and it becomes doubtful as to whether Seb is able to match Charles in terms of sheer calmness in the face of extreme adversity. This is perhaps the most vital quality to possess if a driver is to have any hope of going head to head with Hamilton for a driver's title.
Source: Motor Sport Magazine
That's not to say, of course, that Charles is in a position to challenge the likes of Hamilton yet. However, he has been in better form than Seb for most of the last seven races and has achieved more pole positions.
It's also fair to say that, with the exception of Canada, Leclerc has pounced on the finite opportunities for a win this season more reliably than Vettel has (having come so close in Bahrain and Austria). All of which he has achieved in only his first season with the team - a feat which even the most passionate Leclerc fans were probably doubtful of him being able to achieve so quickly.
It's therefore crucial that Sebastian capitalises in Monza - one of the few tracks at which the SF90 will be in contention for the win. He simply cannot afford to allow perhaps the last chance for a victory this season to slip through his fingers. If he doesn't win in Italy and Charles does, I feel that it's almost certain that Ferrari will shift their focus onto nursing their young talent into becoming the title challenger that he's meant to be, regardless of whether that means casting Seb into the number two role.
Maybe it's fitting that Charles' maiden win (and perhaps Ferrari's only victory this year) came at Spa - exactly one year after Vettel's last 1st place finish with the Prancing Horse. I believe that the quad-champion NEEDS to win in Monza, in order to prove to the team that he still possesses the Champion-worthy quality that his younger teammate has in abundance - to have the calmness to win in the face of adversity.
Otherwise, we may see Vettel have to settle for second (both in the team and on the podium), and thus have the dream of a Ferrari Championship continue to elude him. It's a harsh reality for a driver of Vettel's caliber, but unfortunately those are the stakes at Ferrari.
Summarised perfectly in the words of Clay Regazzoni in 'Rush': "you are family and friend to the commendatore as long as you win. The minute you don't, ciao, ciao."