The British Grand Prix was yet another horrendous weekend for four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has been consistently out-performed by his teammate and newly appointed Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, over the past few weeks. While Vettel is three points ahead of Leclerc in the Driver Standings, it is a fight for fourth place behind Red Bull’s Max Vertstappen rather than the title. As the 2019 Formula 1 season is set to begin its second half push, one thing is clear; Ferrari can no longer be beholden to Vettel as the team’s number one driver.
Sebastian Vettel made what could only be described as a inexperienced mistake by an experienced driver. In short, Vettel went for a slim gap on the inside of Verstappen heading by the Vale grandstand into the last sequence of turns. Verstappen quickly closed the door, but Vettel was too late on the brakes and subsequently shunted himself into the back of Max Verstappen. It ended what could have been a podium finish for both Verstappen and a respectable race for Vettel since Mercedes were the favorites throughout the weekend.
Vettel was quick to take responsibility for his mistake at the end of the race, but the damage was done and his stellar reputation as an esteemed driver took another hit. Sebastian Vettel already suffered a disappointing second half to the 2018 Formula 1 season. In the lead up to the German Grand Prix, Vettel was in the lead of the Driver Standings, but following a mistake, he was never able to recover and the pressure to bounce back only made things worse. He struggled in one-on-one battles against other drivers. Most notably, he spun the car when fighting then Red Bull driver, Daniel Ricciardo, on the first lap of the United States Grand Prix. Following a disastrous end to the 2018 season, which was compounded by numerous questionable strategic decisions by Ferrari as a whole, 2019 looked to be a bounce back year.
Ferrari were quickly brought back down to earth following a promising pre-season test session at Barcelona. The car simply has lacked the necessary downforce to keep pace with Mercedes through the corners. Throughout Ferrari’s plight, Leclerc has been able to get the most out of the car in a way that Vettel has simply failed to do. For example, Leclerc was leading the Austrian Grand Prix in the dying laps only to be beaten by a determined Max Verstappen. In just the last three races, however, Leclerc has out performed his teammate both in qualifying and race pace.
Momentum is key in Formula 1 and the recent performances by Leclerc pinpoint that the Monegasque has found his grove with his new team. What is surprising, is that traditionally teams will try to tailor the car to their number one driver. Yet, this can not always be the case as there are many nuances in the development of the cars back at the factory. Autosport just released a video breaking down the entirety of Vettel’s struggles in detail this season amid his inability to adjust his driving style to suit the current state of the Ferrari SF90.
Vettel will need to bounce back in a big way at his home Grand Prix in two weeks. The pressure has only continued to mount. At least last season, he never felt much pressure from his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. He plainly does not have that luxury this time around. Leclerc is skilled, aggressive, and determined to prove that he is the future of Ferrari. Vettel must also seek redemption from his shocking mistake at the German Grand Prix in 2018 when he went off the track and into the barrier while comfortably in the lead as the rain began to fall. Vettel’s defeat at the Canadian Grand Prix this season, which saw the German receive a five second penalty for dangerously getting back on track, was the result of his own mistake entering turn eight and nine.
Vettel may have already lost the confidence of those inside the Ferrari team over recent weeks. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented drivers on the grid, but his inability to handle the pressure that natural develops during a race is debilitating to his title chances. The only positive left for Sebastian Vettel is that the Constructor and Driver Championship is effectively over for Ferrari. With the summer break coming up in a few weeks perhaps he can take some time to decompose and revitalize himself. On top of that, there should be drastically less pressure on Ferrari should Mercedes score another 1-2 finish in Germany.
Sebastian Vettel’s time might be winding down at Ferrari and should he or the team decide to part ways there are very few places for him to go. He does not appear to be the kind of driver willing to join a midfield team like Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen. He has performed with the best teams for too long and and at thirty-two years old he might call it a career sooner rather than later. Yet, in an interview during the Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel downplayed any such rumors of retirement,
“I never said anything like that so I don’t know where it has come from.”
“I am very hungry and I have a mission here to win- that is the only thing that really matters to me, to win with Ferrari and this is what I am working for.”
It would be impetuous to claim that Vettel no longer has the appetite to fight for wins. He has been taking risk but for some reason they are either ill timed or misjudged. He is still battling towards the front of the grid and could easily secure a win at some point this season. This stretch of unsatisfactory results does not dismiss his driving ability but rather points to an issue of mentality and confidence.
Regardless, Charles Leclerc is the future of Ferrari and his relatively quick transition into the team proves that Ferrari must get fully behind Leclerc for the remainder of the season. Vettel, on the other hand, has must find the guile and belief that made him a champion in the first place. Ferrari may have had their best shot to beat Mercedes in 2018, but after a tumultuous 2019 season, the team might come back with a vengeance in 2020 with Vettel and Leclerc leading the charge.
Photo Credit-Unsplash: Puk Patrick