Formula 1 fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2019 season which gets underway with the Australian GP in Melbourne this weeken. The two pre-season tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain offered the first glimpses of the new 2019 challengers.
The Ferrari team was impressive in both tests and experts pronounced them the fastest team and the favourites for the first race in Melbourne. Driving for a marque team with a storied history like Ferrari is a unique experience. The Ferrari drivers endure the most scrutiny and pressure among all the drivers on the grid.
Charles Leclerc, a Ferrari Academy driver, after an impressive debut season for Alfa Romeo Sauber has moved to the Ferrari team for 2019. The young Monégasque driver replaces Kimi Räikkönen at the Italian team. Leclerc will partner the formidable Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari. This is one of the most eagerly anticipated team-mate battles of the season. It pits a very promising young driver in Leclerc against a four-time world champion in Vettel.
#5 Sebastian Vettel
219 GP Starts | 4 Championships | 52 Wins | 55 Pole Positions | 36 Fastest Laps
The Toro Rosso and Red Bull Years
Vettel is in his thirteenth season in the sport and has many Formula 1 records to his credit. The German started his career with his debut at the United States GP for BMW Sauber in 2007. The German replaced Robert Kubica after the Polish driver suffered a serious crash at the previous race in Canada. Vettel scored a solitary point and became the youngest driver to score a Grand Prix point at that time.
Vettel moved to Scuderia Toro Rosso for the last seven races of the season. He handily beat his then team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi (5 points to 3 points) to start a run of six seasons where he consistently beat his team-mates. In 2008, Vettel had a stellar year which included his famous first win at a wet Italian GP. Vettel’s performance in his first full season marked him as a future world champion. In the process, he handily trumped his teammate Sébastien Bourdais (35 points to 4 points).
In 2009, Vettel got the inevitable promotion to the senior Red Bull Racing team with veteran Mark Webber as teammate. Vettel again made a good start at Red Bull as he beat Webber that first season. In the process, Vettel challenged eventual champion Jenson Button for the drivers’ title. From 2010, Vettel started a golden run which brought him four drivers’ championships.
In 2010, Webber actually led Vettel by seven points as they headed to the last race at Abu Dhabi. Vettel had not led the drivers’ championship the whole season. A pole to flag win brought him his first drivers’ title. This was the start of a run of four consecutive titles and complete dominance of his team-mate Webber.
Over the next three seasons, Vettel proceeded to beat Webber by over 100 points in each season. In 2013, many records were set by the German which included most wins in a season (13, a record held jointly with Michael Schumacher), most consecutive wins in a season (9), and youngest four-time world champion.
Daniel Ricciardo replaced fellow countryman Webber at Red Bull in 2014. This was the start of the V6 1.6L hybrid-engine era and Mercedes dominance. This season produced the only blip in Vettel’s team-mate battles. In a troubled and winless season for Vettel, Ricciardo clinched three opportunistic wins and beat him on points (238-167). The Australian outraced Vettel (13-5) and had more podiums than Vettel (8-4). Vettel announced during the season that he had signed with Ferrari for 2015 and would replace Fernando Alonso.
Vettel finished his Red Bull career with 44 pole positions and 65 podiums which included 38 wins.
The Ferrari Years
For Vettel, driving for the Italian team was a dream come true as he wanted to emulate his idol Michael Schumacher and lead the team to multiple titles. Over the next four seasons, Vettel handily beat his teammate Kimi Räikkönen in all departments. Vettel has challenged for the drivers’ title in the last two years and just come up short against Lewis Hamilton. Vettel is undoubtedly the team leader at Ferrari. The Ferrari stint has brought 10 pole positions, 45 podiums which includes 13 wins.
In compiling an outstanding career record in F1, the German has secured four drivers’ world championships and scored 111 podiums, 52 wins (2745 points) and 55 pole positions.
#16 Charles Leclerc
21 GP Starts
An Impressive Start in Formula 1
In 2014, Charles Leclerc started his single-seater career with the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps Championship and finished second. A fourth-place finish the next year in the FIA Formula 3 European championship followed. But the young Monégasque driver came into his own in the next two seasons, as he won both the GP3 and the F2 championships in 2016 and 2017 respectively. During his title winning campaigns, Leclerc joined the Ferrari Driver Academy and got his first taste of F1 with test driving duties for Ferrari, Haas F1 and the Sauber team.
The potential Leclerc showed in the lower formulae was soon in evidence in his first season at Sauber in 2018. He made a slow start as he was outqualified by the more experienced Marcus Ericsson in his first two races. But Leclerc turned things around and dragged the car into the top 10 positions (Q3) in qualification in eight of the twenty-one races. Leclerc decisively beat Ericsson as he outqualified (17-4), out-raced (12-8) and outscored (39-9 points) him.
By mid-season, Leclerc had earned a promotion to the senior Ferrari team to replace Räikkönen in 2019. Leclerc joins the formidable Vettel at the most successful team in the sport in a season where the focus is on Ferrari. This could be the season when the Maranello-based team finally gets the better of the reigning world champion Mercedes and ends its title-drought since 2008.
Vettel vs Leclerc in 2019
Leclerc established himself as a great qualifier during his first season at Sauber. Vettel is no slouch himself in this department as he is fourth on the all-time pole positions list with 55 pole positions. The Ferrari SF90 emerged as the fastest car during the pre-season tests. During the eight days of testing, Leclerc showed that he could match his team-mate Vettel in pace. Some real tasty battles for pole positions during qualification are in prospect during the upcoming season.
Leclerc is an inexperienced racer compared to Vettel. But the Monégasque driver displayed good race craft in his first season, though he showed some weaknesses in wet conditions. Vettel was a master at qualifying in front and running away with a win at Red Bull. To challenge the German, Leclerc needs to outqualify him on a consistent basis.
Vettel has revealed a few chinks in his armour as he has come up short in his title fights with Hamilton in the last two seasons. The tendency to make mistakes under pressure during the races is one of them. Leclerc is a shrewd racer and he would have taken note of this.
Mattia Binotto, Ferrari Team Principal, had initially said that Vettel would be given priority over newcomer Leclerc. But he walked the talk back after the pre-season tests saying: “They will be free to fight. We will not ask Charles to go slow or Sebastian to be faster. We need both of them to run to the maximum and try to do their best. But certainly if there is any ambiguous situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one who has got more experience. He has been with us many years, he has already won Championships, so he is our champion.”
Ferrari has been a team that has clearly designated a driver as their lead driver and given him the maximum support to win the championship. During the 2018 season, this policy was on shaky ground as Räikkönen was allowed to challenge Vettel at a few races. To have a chance against Vettel, Leclerc will have to stay ahead or equal on points in the early part of the season.
The Italian team head to the first race in Australia with the favourites tag. This has not happened in a long time as the team has endured through a dry spell without a title since 2008. With a chance to make a strong start and secure both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, surely team strategy would be deemed important. Vettel as a four-time world champion and a driver with a formidable record will get preferential treatment.
Leclerc will have to do as Ricciardo did in 2014 to get the better of his team-mate. Challenge, apply pressure and stay on par in the early races. Surely he has the potential to do it. But whatever the outcome of this intra-team battle, it will be a gripping spectacle as both drivers have great talent and will be in one of the fastest cars on the grid.