It would be easy enough to misinterpret my chosen title. I would not blame you. It would be easy to assume I was referring to performance and/or ultimate pace, who has it and who does not this year.
For the last several years pace and performance were the domain of the silver arrows in the Mercedes garage while Ferrari played catch up. Last year and the year prior Ferrari really closed the gap to Mercedes, however the red cars were just a bit too inconsistent throughout the year and while they dominated at some tracks, at others the cars in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, just weren’t fast enough.
But I am not speaking of this. I’m not speaking of the fact that Ferrari all throughout winter testing was the car to beat and their chassis looked good in all conditions. And despite the Scuderia’s bizarrely poor showing in the season opener, the red cars this year are definitely the ones to beat, or so every single pundit and expert says and I happen to agree – begrudgingly.
No, I am not referring to any of this. So why do I now say Ferrari is the new Mercedes if not because they are the odds on favorite to win most races and the championship this year? I’ll give you a one word hint: Leclerc…
Does anyone remember when Mercedes enlisted two drivers by the names of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg? It was not too long ago these two drivers went tong and hammer, head to head, mano a mano ever other weekend first on Saturday and then again on Sunday and basically anything could and did happen, and I mean anything, not to mention some damn fine racing.
Does anyone remember Nico over-cooking his entry to Mirabeau in Monaco 2014 while Lewis was setting purple times only to have his lap yellow flagged and thus handing the pole to Nico? If memory serves Lewis said something about doing a “Senna” whatever that means, wink wink… Then there was Belgium 2014 where Nico clashes with Lewis on the second lap, in what seemed a deliberate move and the later revelation from Lewis in the debrief that Nico could have avoided Lewis but wanted to “prove a point.” Nico by the way remembers that debrief quite differently. Right of course you do…How about Austria 2016 last lap, Lewis passes on the outside, Nico pushes Lewis off the track via a bit of contact which results in a front wing job for Nico, Lewis passes Nico says thank you very much and wins the race. Nico finishes fourth with no front wing.
How about the mother of them all, when they both crashed each other out on the first lap [I don’t even think they made it to turn three] in Spain handing the win to Max Verstappen on his debut for Red Bull? That is just the highlight reel; there were so many more flash points over that 4/5-year period. Oh these were such good times. I think Negative Camber referred to the rivalry in a post of his as “One Hot Mess and Don’t We Love It,” or something like that.
These two really keep F1 exciting in the dominant Mercedes turbo era and thank goodness for that, because other wise it would have been even more of a borefest than usual.
That all went away when Nico retired with his first and last WDC, because as much as Valtteri Bottas wants to re-invent himself as the “F–k everybody” guy, there will never be that kind of chemistry between the Fin and the Brit. Toto made sure of that when he and Niki elected to hire Bottas instead of Fernando Alonso back in 2017. What a missed opportunity for the team and the sport imho.
Same deal with Sebastian, Kimi and Ferrari, there was never going to be that type of competitive drama with Kimi now was there? First of all Kimi was just not as fast as Seb and that kind of conflict is just not Kimi’s way is it?
But now one puzzle piece changes and we have a complete role reversal between two of F1’s principal players. It is now Ferrari that have the making for a highly bombastic season with a car that finally is the business and two drivers, a veteran and a rookie that, well, at the very least are as fast as each other (or so it seems currently) and so far, surprise, it is the rookie 2, the veteran 0.
Speaking of Nico, Lets again hear [read] his remarks after Bahrain (these were via Sky sports so if that was the feed you were watching like I was through ESPN then you were able to hear it the first time around in the moment he first said it, and I have to say I was a bit taken back by the Austrian’s candor and pull no punches delivery:
“I can’t believe that we’ve seen exactly the same Sebastian Vettel today as we’ve seen throughout the past year,” he said during Sky Sports’ coverage of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
“First of all the team messes up the strategy and he gets angry, then comes the race day, one wheel-to-wheel battle and he spins it away completely on his own and loses the full weekend. He needs to find a way out of that now.
Not only did he ruin his own race, but he has a teammate who been delivering unbelievably well all weekend and was so strong, and we should all expect it to continue like that.
So Sebastian still has a battle on his hands.”
As I like to say, ouch babe … the former champion was not holding anything back and was articulating quite rightly what I and I’m guessing most of you were thinking.
Unlike the last two years when Vettel had a very strong start to the season, this year it is anything but that. What makes these last two races even more disastrous for Vettel is that Leclerc was faster not only when the car was not at its optimum in Australia (and would have passed him had the pit wall not intervened) but the rookie was also faster by a large margin on the Bahrain track which favored Ferrari’s chassis.
It is reminiscent of Vettel, the rookie streaking away from Mark Webber the veteran in the Red Bull years. I’m sure in Vettel’s mind somewhere the irony is not lost on him, and if he is not thinking about comparisons, I’m sure at some point he will read it or hear of it some way or another, hell a snarky journalist just might ask him point blank about it if things continue this way for the four-time champ.
I’m not even going to get into the spin that set off a chain reaction for Vettel and further complicated his race aside from losing out to his rookie teammate, but I will say this: Champion’s legacies are defined by only a few things and one of these defining things is delivering under pressure. Enough said [for now].
Right about here in the post I could say something predictable and lame like, “Its going to be so interesting to see how the situation develops at Ferrari, who the Scuderia falls in behind, or something like, “This will be a fascinating match up don’t you think? ”
Blah, blah, blah… Honestly I want to see a street fight between Vettel and Leclerc, I want to see Ferrari struggling to decide who they will prioritize, I want to see the tension and to see it ratchet up as the year goes on – meaning I want to see racing, real racing…
I want to see Vettel dig deep down and pull out some brilliant drives, I want to see the rookie get under his skin, I want to see Leclerc apply the pressure and announce even more defiantly that, “I have arrived F1 and you and Seb can’t do anything about it…”
I want to see Seb vs. Charles a al Lewis vs. Nico a la Fernando vs. Lewis a la. Prost vs. Senna a la Mansel vs. Piquet. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not really into the bitterness, tantrums or the crashing each other out thing, however when the will to beat your teammate is so intense that a driver starts doing things behind the wheel that are incomprehensible, and in the heat of the moment, multi 21, sitting in a pit box too long, driving beyond the limit to beat your teammate to pole, passing your teammate where a pass is just not possible, finding half a second more that the other guy in the garage, well I am totally into that. That is the stuff legends are made of and the stuff we all live for as die-hard F1 fans. Right???
My guess is that I will be dedicating quite a bit of copy to Vettel and Ferrari and Leclerc this year and that is perfectly fine by me, I have been waiting for something like this for a while and boy are my fingers ready to get to it.
This year is definitely not going to plan for the wunderkid, that could change or it could just continue and get worse for Vettel.
Let the lines in the sand be drawn, let each driver give no quarter, let the fireworks commence and what was that about a Mess? You know it is just a matter of time before NC pens a blog post: “One Hot Mess, The Sequel…”