For Scuderia Ferrari 2019 should have been the year that broke the twelve-year drought with a car that looked and went like a world-beater, a driver line up that was the envy of many of the top teams in the sport, and a new team principal that knew the prancing horse inside and out.
After the initial promise of testing, it soon became clear that Ferrari had gone backwards rather than forwards as they suffered in the opening rounds of the season on tracks which required downforce rather than straight-line speed. A 1-2 went out of the window in Bahrain courtesy of a technical gremlin for Charles Leclerc who lost a maiden win and Sebastian Vettel spinning out after a battle against Lewis Hamilton.
The penny finally dropped in Catalunya after both cars failed to make the podium. Things got worse for Ferrari in Montreal with Vettel having a race win taken away due to a controversial five-second penalty, after the race the German’s season was dogged with rumours that he would retire at the end of the season.
Whilst Vettel faded, Leclerc rose to take up the baton as the Monegasque took another pole position at the Red Bull Ring as he proved to fans and critics alike that he was a hard but clean racer as his rivalry with former karting adversary Max Verstappen grew as the duo duelled for the win in Austria and for a podium at Silverstone.
Vettel found some of his old form in Germany coming from the back of the grid to get second but after the first half of the season, Ferrari hadn’t got a single race win in the first half of the season.
In the second half of the season, Ferrari became dominant after taking a hat-trick of race wins and six pole positions, including Leclerc taking an emotional win in Spa and a glorious victory in front of the Tifosi at Monza, whilst Vettel took a much-needed win in Singapore to silence the critics.
Despite having the fastest car the relationship between Leclerc and Vettel took a pounding as both drivers argued on who was faster in Singapore and Sochi before they eventually crashed into each other in Sao Paulo which in some ways summed up Ferrari’s season as Vettel limped back to the pits with his wrecked SF90.
High Point – Leclerc sends the Tifosi into raptures
For the ever-loyal Tifosi, the only crumb of comfort that this season brought was the fact that Ferrari won at Monza for the first time in nine years, the Scuderia dominated the Monza weekend from start to finish as rivals couldn’t keep up on Monza’s long straights.
Leclerc drove like a man possessed as he got his elbows out to give Lewis Hamilton a taste of his own medicine at the Roggia with the Brit forced to take avoiding action, he then held off pressure from Valtteri Bottas in the dying laps to take his second Grand Prix win.
Low Point – Vettel gets robbed in Canada
In a season full of lows, this was arguably the lowest for Ferrari as Vettel was robbed of victory after a genuine mistake upon re-entry to the track saw him penalised causing the German to blow a gasket.
He had good reason to, after a weekend which saw Ferrari finally have the edge on the silver arrows as Vettel grabbed his first pole position since Germany the previous year. It was seemingly written in the stars that Ferrari would get back to back victories at the spiritual home of the late Gilles Villeneuve.
For 69 of the 70 laps, Vettel drove flawlessly but that one lapse in concentration handed the win to Hamilton and with it, Vettel decided to grab the number one board in parc ferme in frustration of his lost win with Vettel looking increasingly fed up of having to stand on the podium with his second-place trophy.
In the qualifying battle, there was no real contest as Leclerc hammered Vettel as the Monegasque grabbed seven pole positions compared to Vettel’s two.
Vettel also made more mistakes in qualifying with the most glaring examples of this coming in Bahrain, France and which cost the German a combination of a potential pole position in Belgium and Bahrain, and a top-six starting position in France.
Leclerc wasn’t error-free either with the young Monegasque wrecking his Ferrari in Baku at turn 8, ending all hopes of a second pole position in four races giving his mechanics plenty of work to do.
Both drivers also had their fair share of bad luck with Ferrari’s power unit failing to fire at the Red Bull Ring and Hockenheim costing Ferrari a pair of front-row starts and giving their drivers plenty of overtaking to do in the race.
Leclerc wins this battle too, he could finally show the skills that saw him dominate the 2017 Formula 2 Championship, with his style of driving almost a hybrid of Ayrton Senna’s defensive skills and Jean Alesi’s flare.
For most of the season, Leclerc held his own against his more experienced rivals with Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Hamilton one of his many victims in the one track battles he had on his way to two wins and ten podiums which put him fourth in the driver’s championship.
As for Vettel Germany, Singapore and Russia showed that there were signs that the German still has got what it takes to be in the elite of the Formula 1 grid. Vettel used the power of his SF90 along with his experience helping to achieve second place in Germany as he put his hand outside of the halo to check whether the rain was relenting or not.
Singapore was a case of Vettel not cracking under pressure, where despite a fired up Leclerc snapping at his heels from the first round of pitstops, he hung on to take an emotional win and his fifth at Marina Bay.
Russia should have also been the place where Vettel took his second win of the season but it wasn’t to be as his Ferrari lost power causing him to usher the famous line “bring back the f***ing V12s.”
However, apart from those bright flashes of talent Vettel has been under the cosh, from his damming error in Monza where he rejoined the track in a dangerous manner, to his crashes with Verstappen at Silverstone and Leclerc at Sao Paulo.
What to look out for in 2020
It seems the honeymoon period is certainly over at Maranello and 2020 could see a power struggle between Vettel and Leclerc for number one status which will put team principal Mattia Binotto under enormous pressure to get his two drivers under control.
It will be interesting to see whether Vettel can bounce back after a nightmare 2019 season which has seen his reputation taken a further hit, or whether Leclerc can keep up the form which has made him the flavour of the month with the Tifosi.
With the right car and the right mentality, 2020 maybe Ferrari’s year but it will all depend on whether Binotto can keep his charges under control and getting the full potential out of the new car.