There was an interview last week with Eddie Irvine that made several headlines over its slating of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton and because it was well covered, I chose not to discuss it. What I was interested in, regardless of the salacious headlines, was Eddie’s comments about being a Ferrari driver.
You’ll recall that we’ve discussed Charles Leclerc’s move to Ferrari and I mentioned that most articles were focused on his beating Vettel and being an instant challenger—and that could possibly be true—but one thing I haven’t read much of is the adjustment from a junior driver to a back-of-the-grid driver to a full Ferrari driver and the pressure that brings.
If I have learned anything by visiting Ferrari and reading the comments from drivers over the last few decades, it’s that being a Ferrari driver is unlike being a driver at any other team. It is, as Eddie puts it, being in another world.
“You become like a rock star more than just a sportsperson. It’s incredible the power that the association with the Ferrari name, gives you – you can get drunk on it to a certain extent.
“Even now when I’m in Italy, I eat for free a lot of places, I drink for free a lot of places,” which Irvine adds he particularly enjoys, “To be a Formula 1 driver is one thing, to drive for Ferrari is to be a Formula 1 driver on a magnitude of 10.”
With all of that celebrity status comes pressure to deliver wins for not only Ferrari but Italy as a whole. Ferrari and Italy are one. They are symbiotic with each other and the Tifosi are rabid for Ferrari victories. There is a honeymoon period when you join and get situated within the team and the minds of the Tifosi. The Italian press feels you out and determines what your strengths and weaknesses may be. They measure you up and determine how you’ll be presented to the Tifosi.
Part of making your time at Ferrari work is how much you are willing to embrace the Italian aspect of the team. Fernando Alonso wasn’t quite as interested in being grafted to the Italian vine via his role as a Ferrari driver as Schumacher or Vettel. Kimi, on the other hand, is a personality that somehow made his Ferrari presence work despite his lack of embracing any team or culture. He is the one personality that was such an enigma that the Tifosi learned to accept it while scratching their collective head.
The weight, expectations and pressure is immense and Vettel is feeling it now at full tilt. He missed the title last year and some feel his unforced errors were to blame more so than the team or Arrivabene.
Charles Leclerc will have a lot to learn at Ferrari and not just the car or the team members names. He has race craft to perfect and celebrity status to come to grips with. The pressure he will have in his shoulders as a young driver will be immense. Ferrari typically don’t hire young drivers as they would rather hire drivers in their prime ready to win championships. It is a lot of pressure.
Here is hoping he can hit the ground running, beat his teammate and win the title but I think he will find that saying that is much easier than doing it and that Vettel isn’t quite the pushover many suggest he is. Finding his way around the Ferrari system and managing the Tifosi expectations might be a good place to start.
Hat Tip: BBC