I’ve been saying for sometime now that Charles Leclerc has earmarks of another Formula 1 driver, and 7-time champion, Michael Schumacher. There is tenacity, speed, aggression, unyielding shrewdness, and little desire to play tiptoe with his teammate as he has a job and dream to fulfill. When you combine that with incredible talent, you get the recipe for a world champion.
If you had to sum it up, there is a fire inside Charles that is required for all world champions but not present in every driver. Michael had it. So did Prost, Senna, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel.
We’ve talked about this before, there is a moment or time when an upcoming champion has to shake off the current kings of the grid and place their foot on the neck of the sport.
Prost and Senna hit each other and fought hard to dominate. Schumacher had no gap for Hill and Villeneuve while at Benetton and when he wrapped the entire Ferrari team around him, he had little patience for anyone encroaching on his turf. Lewis Hamilton shocked McLaren and Fernando Alonso when he had no quarter for the Spaniards role as number one at the team.
Equally, Alonso had little time for Schumacher in 2005 and 2006. When Red Bull called Mutli-21, Sebastian Vettel wasn’t going to play nursemaid to Mark Webber’s needs, he passed him and took the race win. When Nico Rosberg had put his mind to it, he punted and pilloried Lewis in the press and got under his skin to take the win.
After two wins in a row—certainly track specific assistance to the Ferrari chassis—Charles Leclerc has become the focus of the Tifosi and Ferrari as well as the world’s press. For all the right reasons. He has put his foot on the neck of the team and F1.
The thought of Leclerc battling Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is enticing. There is little doubt that Charles and Max have that fire inside them and to be fair, Lewis—driving at the top of his game—has that fire too. Lewis has had a straightforward five years in a dominant car and except for the title he lost to Nico Rosberg, he relishes the idea of having real competition again. He is a fighter and wants the challenge. Leclerc may have just given Lewis a glimpse of who will be inheriting the sport for years to come in the form of Verstappen and Leclerc.
Is Sebastian an asset to the Abbey?
What is missing from this equation is Sebastian Vettel and with several unforced errors over the last year, it is becoming a main talking point about what is happening to his career. Will he retire? Has he had enough of F1?
Looking at Sebastian’s body language and on-track performances, you could argue, quite convincingly, that the fire is not there any longer. The question we all have is, can it be re-ignited? Does he have the desire to once again sacrifice everything to get that fire and rage for success back?
If he doesn’t, would he be willing to perform in a supportive role to Charles Leclerc? Just as Kimi Raikkonen did for him at Ferrari? Ross Brawn said:
“Vettel is clearly one of the greats of our sport, but at this tough time he really needs the support of the team to regain the confidence he seems to be lacking at the moment,” said now-F1 sporting chief Brawn.
“That, as well as pushing on with the car development, has to be a priority for Mattia Binotto in the coming weeks.
“It won’t be easy, but it is essential especially in terms of 2020.”
From the outside looking in, I tend to think that Sebastian is old school and like Alonso, he finds this current form of F1 less appealing than it used to be and that doesn’t breed passion. If the passion isn’t there for what you do, you don’t do it with any passion. As a father of two daughters, I can tell you that I know what Sebastian is feeling from a family and fatherly view as well and these things tend to re-classify what is truly important in life.
While fans are calling for his head, I think it would do well to remain realistic about what Ferrari’s options are and I think Ross suggested the best path forward. Ferrari isn’t ready to put Mick Schumacher int he other car and unless they poach Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Daniel Riccardo or another experienced driver, they have limited choices.
If Sebastian abruptly retired at the end of this year, they could move Kimi Raikkonen back into the seat as a quick fix. What would be more advantageous is to have a long discussion with Sebastian about his role as elder statesman and assisting Charles. The pressure would be off Seb at that point and getting him comfortable in the car and assisting with development would be huge.
Sebastian is a huge asset to any team and Ferrari would do well to hit the reset button and get Seb comfortable and part of the program regardless if Charles is leading or not. I think Sebastian could work in a long-term Ferrari role as long as they right-sized the expectations. He would be the perfect driver ombudsman for Ferrari.
Seb is a class act and top-shelf man. Incredibly talented and for whatever reason, he is not comfortable with the car and to be honest, this isn’t the Ferrari he joined. The amount of internal politics and structure change has been unsettling. I’ve met a lot of the drivers and Sebastian is one who I can confidently say is a world champion, has immense talent and is as genuine as it gets. He is terrific!
Time to have a long-term plan and it should include Seb as long as Seb can accept the role or find the fire.
Hat Tip: Autosport