By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Four rounds completed and it’s safe to say that Scuderia Ferrari are nowhere near title contenders.
Not because they’ve just had rotten luck, but they’ve been out beat when it matters most, the grand prix races. It shows as they only have 99 points in the Constructor’s Championship to Mercedes-AMG F1’s 173 and have swept the first two steps of the podium in every grand prix thus far.
Sure, the duo of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc have been fierce in the free practice sessions, but once the lights go out, it seems they’ve lost their mojo and can’t get the job done when dealing with adversity yet again. Only this time, it’s early in the season where the past two years, it was Ferrari’s peak.
Mercedes are at a different zip code, scoring max points in the Constructor’s Championship with their drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, winning two apiece. What they have that Ferrari don’t is when the race commences, they’ve blown the competition out of the water.
Meanwhile, Ferrari have been searching for answers and even struggle figuring out who should be the man to stop the Silver Arrows. The tale of when will Vettel end up losing the title chase like he has at both Singapore in 2017 and Hockenheim last year, may not happen if they can’t get their stuff together sooner than later.
For Vettel, he’s slowly turning things around after starting of the season nowhere near podium contention like we’ve known of him being. Despite finishing third in the last two races, the German admitted that certain parts of the race the team has weak points, but still optimistic that it can be dialed up at Barcelona and stop Mercedes’ reign of terror this season.
“I think, at this point, it’s a question of putting it together,” said Vettel during the post-race conference. “Obviously Mercedes had a good run with the first three races. I think in Australia we struggled with the conditions, and probably set-up. I think we learned our lessons for Bahrain, it was a lot better.
“Still, here and there, there are some parts of the race where we are too weak. And I think it showed again this weekend. So, I think we can be very happy with where we are on the engine side. It seems to be strong. I think overall our car is working and there’s nothing wrong with it – but I think it’s just about placing it in the right window and then being able to extract the performance that the car has, which I think Charles was able to show in Bahrain more than myself and yeah, it seems to be there somewhere but at the moment seems to be a bit more difficult to find where it is, to be able to be a fair match to Mercedes at this point.”
Then there’s the 21-year-old Monegasque, who has shown at both Bahrain and Baku that when he’s in control of the race, only himself or strategy can stop his aspirations of winning that elusive grand prix.
However, in a uncommon way of playing politics, Leclerc has been vocal that if he’s quicker than Vettel, he wants to be the number-one driver. You don’t see that from a number-two driver, let a lone a sophomore F1 driver.
I appreciate his confidence that he isn’t there to be Vettel’s support character, but become the team’s future by winning races, maybe compete for championships right out of the gate.
This became loud and clear at Shanghai when Leclerc was confident that he can win the race. There was some resentment, but the team gave him a chance. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to prove that he should be given the big ball and had to give up the leading role to the four-time F1 World Champion.
Either way, it didn’t work out as Hamilton went on to dominate the race and the team were exposed for being incompetent on decision making when it counts.
Leclerc has also shown that he’s too hard on himself, and Baku was the epitome of his personality. Nothing wrong of being hard, believe me, I’m extremely hard on myself as well. This case was loud and clear when admitting fault when he crashed during qualifying, but the way he handled it is going to rub people the wrong way because his attitude may expose him and soon enough, if not already, people will say that Leclerc isn’t capable of being in a top-tier team.
If you know his story, you’ll know that he’s just a young man who has a lot to live by and no doubt carrying the legacy of Jules Bianchi, who could’ve been a rep of “The Prancing Horse.” Right now, Leclerc is going through growing pains and with the current off sync the team are dealing with, it’s obvious that it hasn’t gone his way.
Sunday’s race at Baku showcased Leclerc as a guy that can back up his case and redeemed himself with great passes and making the most out of staying out for much of the race. While he lost pace to both Mercedes cars, his teammate Vettel and Max Verstappen, when he finally pitted, it won some people over and ended up with “Driver of the Day” honors after finishing fifth. It was a tremendous turnaround after having one of his bleak weekends thus far in his young and promising F1 career.
There’s some concerns after four rounds, which they must fix soon. Otherwise, we’ll see a Mercedes runaway between the championship leader Bottas and Hamilton all season long. Aside from Ferrari, safe to say the only other person concerned about their race dominance is Esteban Ocon, Mercedes’ test driver. Looks like he won’t be driving the Silver Arrow anytime soon, if not at all.
Plain and simple, it’s put up or shut up at this point because Ferrari are out of sync and getting chewed by Mercedes.