Ferrari is under enormous pressure after a team order during the Chinese Grand Prix. Here is an attempt to clarify Ferrari’s situation:
Already on Saturday, Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto made it clear that Sebastian Vettel would be backed in Ferrari’s championship fight this year. The team order on Sunday was therefore just a logical consequence.
Nevertheless, particularly the Italian, but also the Spanish media harshly criticizes the Scuderia and Sebastian Vettel for making him the Number 1 pilot. Corriere dello Sport writes: “Maranello should back the young talent and not defend captain Sebastian Vettel. The German should finally give up the captain’s armband,” and “Marca” writes: “Charles was the pawn who was ultimately sacrificed for the house of Maranello.”
However, the situation is not as black and white as the aforementioned media tries to present it to us. Sebastian Vettel was simply faster in China, both in free practice and in qualifying. At the start, Leclerc was able to pass the German, only because Vettel was trapped behind slow-starting Bottas. Thereafter, Vettel had to struggle in Leclerc’s slipstream ruining his tires.
In fact, the only mistake Ferrari committed that weekend was that they didn’t give the team order early enough. Team Principal Binotto admits: “It was hard to give the order.”
In this regard, we should ask ourselves whether Leclerc and his engineering team should be criticized instead and not Sebastian Vettel. To recall the situation, the young Monegasque questioned the decision via team radio, and with that, he was the one who put his entire time into a situation to defend itself and its decision.
As motorsportmagazine.com reports, Leclerc was allowed to release more power from his car’s MGU-K unit at a critical moment of that decisive maneuver in question. This is also confirmed by other teams listening in to Ferrari’s internal radio communication. An approach that doesn’t fit into the whole picture at that moment when Ferrari bosses prepared to swap places at the commando stand. It’s only logical that Vettel wasn’t able to pass his teammate on his own with a more conservative engine set-up.
From the outside, it reminds us of Felipe Massa and his race engineer Rob Smedley in 2010 at Hockenheim. At that time, their radio communication became legendary: “Felipe, Fernando is faster than you.” At that time, team orders were still illegal, nevertheless, Smedley gave the order in a very obvious fashion as he radioed Fernando Alonso: “Good boy!”
Was it Leclerc’s performance engineer Jock Clear, who recommended his protégé to drive with more power? Clear is a seasoned F1 veteran who already worked with Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher and who knows the ins and outs of F1 politics.
There is no doubt, team principle Binotto has a challenging job ahead of him. Not only must he deal with the constant pressure from the Italian press, but also with Leclerc’s powerful faction that includes Leclerc’s manager Nicolas Todt.
Nicolas Todt is the son of FIA president Jean Todt, who still has an influence on the team as Ferrari’s former team principal. On top of that, Leclerc has learned from the Todt family in recent years, how to deal with F1 beyond the tracks; how to pull the strings as a driver in the background.
Quite possibly, that’s why Leclerc deliberately questioned Ferrari’s strategy on radio for everyone to hear. In the press session after the race at Ferrari’s hospitality area, he remained conspicuously cool: “After our meeting, I know that it was a difficult decision.”
From his face, one couldn’t judge whether he was serious or just playing high stakes poker. Vettel, on the other hand, seemed visibly affected by the whole affair. He appeared unsettled, even attacked some reporters verbally who questioned him about issues of team orders accusing them of bad journalism.
Mercedes Motorsport Director Toto Wolff, who made Valtteri Bottas Hamilton’s helper knows: “I can fully understand Ferrari. Still, it gets very complicated once you start these things. It creates a precedent and creates problems down the road.” Especially with the Italian press …