F1 Managing Director Ross Brawn hopes Mattia Binotto can keep the relationship between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc healthy for the better of Ferrari.
It hasn’t been an easy 2019 F1 season for Ferrari so far – from mistakes of their own or of their drivers, they have been outplayed in most departments by Mercedes. That’s one reason why they are staring at yet another defeat.
Barely a week from Singapore, where an undercut worked in favour of Vettel, there were more drama in store in Russian GP at Sochi Autodrom, where a pre-race agreement was out in open for the whole world to list in the opening stages of the grand prix.
Leclerc had a disadvantage to be on pole and was advised to give tow to Vettel so that they are at least ahead of the Mercedes drivers. The idea – from what Binotto and drivers said – was if Vettel gets ahead, he gives back the place to the Monegasque.
However, with the pace difference, it didn’t happen and thus ensued back and forth radio chats. Ferrari eventually decided to push the swap for later as it took place in the pits – whether it was done intentionally or it was co-incidence, only the team/drivers know.
Things looked good for a Ferrari 1-2 until the MGU-K failure for Vettel which took away the race from them and handed it to Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton led a 1-2 with Valtteri Bottas defending well from Leclerc in the closing stages of the grand prix.
The Monegasque had to settle for third and also face the media alongwith Binotto and Vettel. The Italian manufacturer is already down to Mercedes and the last thing they need is their drivers fighting among themselves and helping their rivals.
Brawn, who has is own experience, hopes Binotto can use his experience to smoothen things between the ‘potentially explosive’ drivers and help Ferrari on the whole to get ahead rather then waste time on solving such issues.
“How did Ferrari manage to lose a race it looked set to win? The answer is simple; it lacked reliability,” wrote Brawn. “The MGU-K failure on Vettel’s car was the key, not just because it put him out of the race, but also because it came at the only moment when Leclerc was vulnerable, following the Monegasque’s pit stop but prior to either Mercedes driver doing likewise.
“Once he lost track position, Leclerc was never able to go for a win that, after an emphatic march to pole on Saturday, had seemed more than likely. However, while it’s true that, overall, Ferrari had an advantage in Sochi, it was not significant enough for Leclerc to get past Valtteri Bottas, especially as he Finn did an excellent job in denying the Ferrari driver any opportunity for a late charge. And so for the red cars, the race ended in the red.
“The mid-race implosion was not the only talking point for Ferrari, however. The tow Leclerc provided to Vettel after the start and the somewhat testy radio chatter that went on between Leclerc and his pit wall for some laps afterward, as Vettel appeared to ignore a pre-arrangement to switch back the positions after a gap to Mercedes had been carved also made headlines.
“Vettel’s pit stop (after which he emerged behind Leclerc) followed by his retirement meant there was little point in any recrimination, but it’s a fact that Mattia Binotto will have work to do in the next few days to pour oil on what seem like turbulent waters.
“Ferrari has clearly made a lot of progress in recent weeks but it still probably has to deal with a few internal issues in terms of the balance between its drivers. On the one hand they have a four-time world champion who is still one of the finest drivers on the grid, despite a few too many mistakes over the past two seasons.
“And on the other, they have an incredible talent in Charles Leclerc – after all you don’t take six poles (including four in a row), and win two races at legendary circuits such as Spa and Monza if you’re not a star in the making. It’s a potentially explosive combination and needs careful handling.
“Of course, Mattia is well aware of how this kind of dynamic can work as he has experienced it before when he was a young engineer, but now the honour and obligation falls to him to make sure that mechanism that drives what can be healthy rivalry runs smoothly.”
Despite the losses for Mercedes, Brawn feels the Toto Wolff-led German manufacturer has made the right steps to ensure that the results keep coming from them and that they don’t implode knowing the advances made by Ferrari.
Read how the F1 Russian GP panned out