Ferrari’s use of team orders in Australia and China has some prominent pundits questioning why team chief Mattia Binotto insists on keeping Sebastian Vettel as their number one at the expense of promising newcomer Charles Leclerc.
The Italian team compromised his the 21-year-old’s debut race with them, in Melbourne, when they ordered him to hold position behind Vettel when at that point the youngster’s was clearly faster.
During the race in China, it got worse for Leclerc when he was instructed to move aside for the #5 car when they were both running at the same pace. He obliged, but Vettel was unable to pull away and make a dent on the Mercedes dominance at the front.
Then, later in the same race, they opted to sacrifice Leclerc again, keeping him out far too long on ageing tyres, so that he could aid Vettel with his slipstream and thus keep him out of reach of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in fourth.
As a result, Vettel finished the race in third with Leclerc having to settle for fifth on a day when a podium appeared to have his name on it.
Reflecting on the weekend in Shanghai, former Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger told F1i, “I think it’s an open game at the moment. As much as I like Sebastian, and as much as I rate him, here’s a boy who is capable of winning the world championship.”
“I don’t think it’s enough to say: This one is experienced, this one is not experienced, so we take the card of experience. I think they got it wrong. Saying this, you always have to discuss this point in a different way – it depends where you are in the season.”
“Last year, when we were in Monza, when [Maurizio] Arrivabene said we let everything run open when the championship was already going into the final stage, it was clear that if somebody has a chance it’s not [Kimi] Raikkonen, it’s Sebastian.”
“So there I would react the other way. It’s a question of when it is and is it really giving somebody not even a chance to win the championship? And if you do it in the first or second race, I don’t agree.”
Berger is concerned that the rivalry between the two drivers could split loyalties within a team which is already a political hotbed, “In the last race, [Vettel] brought himself a little bit into this situation because it was up to him to ask.”
“If you’re not sure you can pull away, in this situation it was maybe not the best thing to do. Because soon you’re going to have two camps.”
“No question, Sebastian has a difficult role at the moment, having the young boy at his neck, having to deliver a championship for Ferrari, and to win the championship means beating Lewis. That’s maybe the biggest headache!”
As for Leclerc, the Austrian said, “He is an outstanding boy, as much as we talked two or three years ago about [Max] Verstappen. He has a different style. And the other guy who impressed me in the first two or three races when I didn’t expect him to be that strong was [Lando] Norris, another one.”
“It’s great to see some young ones coming up,” added Berger, winner of ten Grand Prix races during his 13 years in the top flight.
Big Question: Are Ferrari doing the right thing with Charles?