Undoubtedly, Sebastian Vettel is under intense pressure and scrutiny heading into the new season. The four-time world champion is entering the final year of his contract at Ferrari and faces a formidable opponent in new teammate Charles Leclerc.
After a slow start that featured some rookie errors, Leclerc recovered impressively to regularly out-perform Vettel and move himself into contention to become Ferrari’s new team leader.
His form turnaround from the French Grand Prix saw him go from Vettel’s potential supporting act to taking on the leading role as he began to assert himself with a streak of qualifying dominance over the German.
Leclerc claimed Ferrari’s first (and second) victories of the season and scored seven pole positions – more than any other driver – on his way to rounding out his maiden campaign at the Scuderia clear of Vettel in fourth spot in the championship.
In contrast, Vettel could only manage one victory in Singapore, where a better strategy helped him leapfrog pole sitter Leclerc to end his one-year wait to return to the top step of the podium.
After four years
After four years of being the comfortable team leader at Ferrari and facing little resistance in the shape of former teammate Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel has seemingly been rattled by the emergence of Leclerc.
This sparked intra-team tensions that brewed and bubbled into a crescendo at the penultimate round of the season in Brazil, where Leclerc and Vettel came together in what Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto described as a “silly” collision that wiped out both drivers.
Signs of potential fractions were seen early on as both Leclerc and Vettel each took it in turns to ignore team orders as they battled it out for supremacy at the Maranello squad, with the former eventually winning the duel in 2019 at least, and earning himself a fresh five-year deal running until the end of 2024 in the process.
Vettel showed flashes of his brilliant best with a dominant display in Canada (until his costly late error), his remarkable recovery drive in Germany and stunning pole lap at Suzuka, but ultimately there were not enough highlights during the course of the season as Ferrari struggled to get on top of its complicated SF90 concept.
As this writer predicted prior to the 2019 season – that Leclerc’s promotion would either make or break Vettel’s Ferrari tenure – Vettel is desperately in need of a response this year amid continued suggestions he could retire from the sport.
Potential candidates to replace Vettel could include the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.
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