Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019

Why Leclerc had to ignore Ferrari’s order to stay behind Vettel

2019 F1 season

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Before the 2019 F1 season began, Ferrari gave mixed messages over how it was going to handle its two drivers.

New team principal Mattia Binotto talked about how his drivers were “free to fight” but also indicated that in an “ambiguous situation”, Sebastian Vettel would get preferential treatment: “He has already won championships, so he is our champion,” said Binotto.

What did all these platitudes mean in real terms? We can judge that from the fact Charles Leclerc is two races into his Ferrari career and has already been told not to overtake his team mate in both of them.

Last year Ferrari seemed hesitant to use team orders even when there was arguably good cause to do so. At the Hockenheimring, Vettel wasted lap after lap losing time behind Kimi Raikkonen. And as the championship reached a crunch point at Monza, Ferrari surprisingly allowed Raikkonen rather than Vettel to gain the benefit of the tow during qualifying.

So what has changed? Was Leclerc’s arrival at Ferrari Vettel’s opportunity to demand Michael Schumacher-style number one status? It’s a tempting comparison, but the circumstances of the first two races paint a somewhat different picture.

In the Australian Grand Prix Leclerc cruised up behind Vettel in the final laps. Ferrari had pulled their leading car in too early and Vettel was struggling on his tyres. On the face of it, calling off the fight between their lead drivers in the final laps was understandable, though it conveyed a lack of faith in the pair not to hit each other. Leclerc did as he was told, but on the final lap he blasted around Albert Park four seconds quicker than Vettel, leaving no one in any doubt he could have driven past his team mate had he been given the chance.

Ferrari were in damage-limitation mode with an uncompetitive car in Australia. But in the Bahrain Grand Prix the SF90 was back at something close to its pre-season pace. Vettel still wasn’t as happy at the wheel, complaining about poor rear balance, but Leclerc was on fire. He beat Vettel to pole position, and though a sluggish start dropped him to third, he immediately brushed Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes aside and began hunting down the other Ferrari.

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Leclerc was lapping up to half a second quicker than his team mate. The speed with which he was able to mount an attack seemed to catch the pit wall by surprise. Approaching turn four on lap five he told them “I’m faster, guys.” Six corners later he was told “stay there for two laps.” But approaching turn one on the very next lap Leclerc was through.

Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Leclerc was quicker than Vettel all weekend
“On the next straight I had the opportunity to go for it, so I went for it,” he explained afterwards.

What exactly were Ferrari trying to achieve by telling Leclerc to wait two laps before passing his team mate? What was the next stage in their plan? Have him wait another two laps? Then 50 more?

Ferrari surely understood that, given the power of the three DRS zones in Bahrain, Leclerc was too fast to contain for long. But they didn’t just have their own cars to worry about. When Leclerc got on the radio to point out how quickly he was catching Vettel, Hamilton had also taken half a second out of the race leader. A prolonged scrap between the two SF90s could have brought the Mercedes into the picture.

But for Leclerc the danger of being stuck behind his team mate was that his tyres might wear out more quickly, depriving him of his performance advantage. His opportunity to overtake could have passed, and if he didn’t get by before the pit stop he would be at the strategic disadvantage of having to come in second. His pass meant that happened to Vettel instead, and he lost a position to Hamilton.

Forget beating Vettel to pole position by nearly three-tenths of a second, forget building up a 10-second lead over Lewis Hamilton in the race; this was the most important and impressive thing Leclerc did in Bahrain. This 21-year-old, two races into his first season with F1’s most famous team, made it incontrovertibly clear he is not prepared to be Vettel’s number two. After Melbourne it was a stand he had to take.

And if anyone understands that it should be Vettel. After all, we all remember what happened six years when he was told to stay behind his team mate in the second race of the season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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59 comments on “Why Leclerc had to ignore Ferrari’s order to stay behind Vettel”

  1. Sonny Crockett
    2nd April 2019, 14:06

    Multi-21 is likely to haunt Vettel for the rest of his career…

    1. Maybe, but not like Schumacher’s incidents. I bet it haunts webber more

      1. @frood19, I am not sure that it haunts Webber that much, because we know from statements he has made in the past that he would also ignore team orders when it suited him: he actually set the precedent within the team for ignoring an order to hold position.

        Webber quite happily admitted that, during the 2011 British GP, Red Bull had asked Webber to hold position behind Vettel instead of continuing to attack him – Webber ignored that request and continued to try and pass Vettel, which Webber failed to do.

        I think that Webber has therefore since hinted that part of the reason why Vettel therefore chose to ignore the team order was because he felt that, if Webber was going to try and overtake him when the team asked him to hold position, why should Vettel then feel himself bound to protect Webber by holding position behind him? To some extent, it seems that Vettel perhaps felt it was more of a case of giving Webber a taste of his own medicine.

  2. I didn’t think it was a controversial pass at all. He basically drove past Vettel before the straight had finished.

    If it was a lunge under braking that might be different. It wasn’t anything like that though. He was so much faster it almost looked like Vettel let him past.

  3. this his multi 21, and he did good.

  4. Agree entirely. I’m really impressed actually. His response to the team order in Australia was perfect and nailed on: take qualification, leaving Ferrari with no option but to say they could race, and then, having fallen behind, ignore the completely obscure order to ‘stay back for 2 laps’ (why??) and seize the initiative.

    Do Ferrari want a driver who can win a championship, though? Despite being technically gifted as a team, their management don’t seem the sharpest tools in the box. They could easily squander this season holding back Leclerc for Vettel to take preference, only for the latter to continue his sub-per performance of the last two seasons, filled with mistakes that cost 2 titles. Bahrain showed they’re still in his system. (A grid filled with rookies and far less experienced drivers seemed to cope with the high winds just fine, if that was his reason for spinning this time.)

    1. Agree that VET is starting to look more and more like a real liability (actually I said last year that based on his 2019 performance maybe Ferrari should get rid of him for 2020-2021), but Mercedes had the edge regarding the car in 2017 and 2018, be it strictly speed-wise or reliability.

      1. @mg1982 The idea that Mercedes had the car edge is only based on the reality that Vettel kept crashing and spinning. If Vettel had kept his head cool he wouild have taken the WDC with a big margin.

        Races like Azerbaijan, Germany, Monza and USA where Ferrari had the quicker car, Hamilton won because Vettel had one of his red mist incidents. Also Austria where after Mercedes DNF’s Vettel would have had the fastest car and would have won the race. That’s a huge amount of race wins squandered. Those blunders alone cost him the WDC.

        Then there are races like France (whould have at least fought for P2 if not P1 instead of P5) , Hungary (fastest all weekend apart from when there were a few drops of rain in Q3), Singapore (fastest all weekend apart from Q), Japan (poor Q3 and crashes during race)

        Ferrari had the fastest car, but they looked slow because Vettel didn’t do what he was supposed to.

        1. I reckon he lost many points due to his own mistakes, but I think he would have needed more than just a perfect season to get the WDC, maybe even in 2018. In 2017, after Singapore, Ferrari lost the battle on both grounds, speed and reliability. In 2018 HAM did the job, but he was also more lucky than VET too. More exactly, whenever he wasn’t fast enough to get P1… BOT did it. So, BOT helped a lot HAM by preventing VET from taking another 7points advantage. Not really the case with RAI. Plus, Mercedes sacrificed BOT every time HAM was behind, also used him as a buffer to slow down VET. And it worked for them like a charm multiple times. Not the case with VET and RAI. There were few times when VET was behind RAI and Ferrari let them finish in that order.

          PS: if VET cannot be a refference for the performance of the car (see Leclerc vs VET), then how can we be so sure HAM is getting the max out of the Mercedes? Just put Verstappen in the Mercedes and we might be surprised how much performance is left in his car…..

          1. My opinion is that if Hamilton had been in the 2018 Ferrari, then even with the same reliability problems Vettel had, Hamilton would have won the championship. Vettel gave away too many points, and if Hamilton gave away points (he must have, but the only thing that springs to mind was Azerbaijan), it wasn’t that many.

        2. Dude, you make some good points and then go and make stupid statements as well. In Monza, Merc had a better race car. The Ferrari’s ate their tires and Kimi was powerless to defend from LH. They were only in front because of power advantage. In Singapore everyone expected Ferrari to dominate, but by that point their development had went the wrong way. Even RBR was faster than them, both in Quali and race.
          You know how you can tell that Merc was a better overall car in 2018? Bottas was beating Kimi by half a second a lap. I admit at this stage of their careers Bottas wants to win more, but half a second is still half a second.
          Swap LH and SV, put Vettel in that dominant Merc car and he wins race after race after race. Like he won 9 in a row to end 2013.
          When Vettel had a dominat car, he didn’t event let his teammate win a race (2013). Lewis not only lost races to his teammate, he lost championships.
          Yeah, there’s something wrong in Vettel’s head right now (I think that mustache is a cry for help), but for outright speed I think Vettel is faster than Hamilton.

          1. Lol Vettel fans are so hilarious. Were it not for Leclerc last weekend in Bahrain everyone would today be convinced that Mercedes had the faster car lol.

          2. Kimi would have been fine at Monza had he not taken too much out of tyres too soon. All he needed to do was stay in Hamilton’s window, but he wasn’t instructed to ease back off. The Ferrari was easily the quicker car.

            Your last 4 lines are nonsense. We know why the 2016 championship went Rosberg’s way, and most, including Vettel fans nowadays, have come to terms with the fact that Hamilton is the quicker driver. Even Ferrari know that.

            They had similar cars in 2017, and Vettel a better one in 2018. Hamilton beat him, quite comfortably. It’s quite clear.

  5. I’ve got an impression now Ferrari is going backwards becoming too conservative again. Driver management, tactics… Binotto did really a good job at the technical department, but for a team principal I liked Arrivabene approach more.

  6. I forgot that ‘Mulit-21’ was only the second race. It basically doesn’t give Sebastian a leg to stand on if he wants to complain about it.

  7. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    2nd April 2019, 14:29

    I can understand why Ferrari would issue team orders. They have been beaten by Mercedes since 2014 and haven’t had a champion since Kimi in 2007. But the Ferrari with the most pace is Leclerc so far and if they would have let him go by in Australia they would be closer to Hamilton. Vettel to me has turned into a head case since 2015 and Leclerc will expose that even more so this year. Bahrain is the first example of Seb losing it.

  8. This 21-year-old, two races into his first season with F1’s most famous team, made it incontrovertibly clear he is not prepared to be Vettel’s number two. After Melbourne it was a stand he had to take.

    I think there’s much more to credit Leclerc with than just throwing down a marker to the team. Australia – he might have overtaken Vettel, but was unlikely to catch and challenge Max. So when asked to hold station he didn’t see it as much of a loss (definitely a small loss for him, but not one for the team).

    However, in Bahrain, he had the confidence in the car beneath him, and knew that being bottled up was not good for him nor the team, and took decisive and safe action (hey, he didn’t even spin Vettel out).

    Drawing on just these two races, he seems to have a logical head on his shoulders, one that lets him pick his battles in a way that benefits the team and himself, particularly since Ferrari are all about the WDC and not the WCC.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. He has natural understanding of a race and the speed to put that understanding into practice. It’s still maybe a bit early to tell, but it’s possible we may have a new Alain Prost on the grid. And he’s already coping with Ferrari politics better than Alain did!

      1. Imo, Ferrari knew at the start they had a possible engine failure in the make. There was too much asked from Leclerc’s Ferrari’s engine during classifing. So to stay behind Vettel, who was slower, was the safer way.

        1. Oh my goodness. How do you guys come up with stuff like this?

        2. @pietkoster, there is an individual who has managed to record some of the additional radio broadcasts that are sent between the pit wall and the cars (there are subscription services that allow for extra access to the radio broadcasts), including those for Leclerc, that normally don’t feature on the main race feed.

          Those transmissions do not seem to provide any real support for that theory, since it’s only really after Leclerc started to develop those problems that you start hearing his engineer giving Leclerc a lot more information on how and when to use certain engine maps to try and mitigate some of those issues.

          1. I based my thoughts only on the fact that it was a faulty cilinder on the engine which was the problem. A mechanical failure, could have been worse in the end. Because F1 data is probably better than that of a spaceprogram going to Mars they must have seen it coming. I am not a Ferrari fan, but a race fan. Leclerc did an amazing job, I felt sorry when his Ferrari gave up on him.

    2. Couldn’t agree more (2).

    3. @phylyp

      That’s a good point. It’s almost like he’s picking his battles against the Ferrari strategists. He didn’t have much to gain in Australia, but had a heck of a lot more to gain in Bahrain.

      1. @phylyp @todfod
        I agree, exceptional on the track and also clever off it. After Australia he didn’t complain and didn’t even do that ‘disappointed but not complaining look’. He just cheerfully said, sure, I understand it, good decision bosses – and then promptly landed poll in Bahrain and overtook Vettel anyway. It’s a brilliant approach.

  9. hey, he didn’t even spin Vettel out

    Vettel only spun because of Mercedes’ blown axle

    It worries me though that we are two races into the season and we already have an handful of articles about Ferrari’s team orders, wonder if it were any other team if that would’ve been the case and the stance would have been the same. It is going to be a long season

    1. this was for @phylyp, don’t know what happened. My mouse spun when pressing the reply button

      1. @johnmilk

        Had me in splits on that one

    2. @johnmilk – I look forward to Merc equipping their car with air bottles on all four corners. One squirt at Vettel in a future race, and job done 😊

      1. they just need new tyre caps to release approx 1.5 psi air on demand that should be sufficient :)

        1. @mysticus – LOL, that’s easier, yes :)

        2. feels like over-kill @mysticus

          1. why overkill? 1.5psi is great for tracktion and enough to stall anyone’s front wing :) simple single stone two birds

    3. @johnmilk Ha that first sentence is hilarious. At least Vettel was man enough to explain it was his own mistake though.

      No other team would give team orders already. Only Ferrari does that, so I don’t understand where your question is coming from.

      1. @f1osaurus it feels like a storm is brewing in a glass of water. I would bet you that if we go and listen to all the communications I’m pretty sure teams give orders/advice (advice is a key word here for me, sometimes it really is advice) to their drivers when they are competing with the other car.

        1. @johnmilk Still, in both cases this season, really only Ferrari would have given team orders like that.

          And it’s not only this season, last seasons they started compromising Raikkonen’s strategy also already from the first races of the season to try to pull Mercedes drivers away from Vettel and help Vettel forward.

  10. JR Love (@dermechaniker)
    2nd April 2019, 14:54

    Ferrari invested in LEC — grooming him for a race seat specifically for their team. They poached VET from Red Bull, and have spent plenty on his salary since, but not on his early driver development. It would be the acme of foolishness to have invested a long term commitment in a talent such as LEC only to, what, make him a #2 driver?

    I seriously wonder if some of this “stay behind VET for two laps” nonsense is just politics to placate VET and it really doesn’t have teeth.

    I’ve been a bit stunned by the comments from Binotto after the race. When Sky was beaming to him about LEC’s derive his immediate response was, something along the lines of “it’s the car that is great” giving no accolades to LEC. Then he said to Sky that “no blame” was placed on VET for the spin. Huh?

    Anyone can see that LEC is the future and VET is, painfully, the past. However, can Ferrari see it? They need a Helmet Marko approach here,

  11. Im definitely rooting for leclerc and hope we will the guy to end Ferrari’s drought

  12. Thanks for the article @keithcollantine, will you be doing the radio transcripts this season – just curious.

  13. What are you smoking? Verstappen was overtaken by Bottas in same corner and so was Leclerc by Bottas(on opening lap) neither of those 2 drivers spun. It was only the overglorified “world champion” who spun on his own.

    1. He’s joking. I know his sense of humour, it’s weird as mine.

      1. haha, I am too tired(overtime for last 2 weeks to compensate for my leaves in monsoons) to read into joke.

    2. eheh, I caught one.

  14. Ferrari knew more to tell Leclerc to stay behind Vettel. Because in the end Leclerc had almost blew up his engine and was lucky that the safetycar saved most parts for re-use. But a big compliment to Leclerc for his performance this weekend.

  15. WHY ARE THE FERRARI’S BROWN?!

    1. @robinsonf1 because they are poopoo?

      1. Haha… poopoo… XD

    2. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      2nd April 2019, 17:51

      My grandpa painted his house pink because he was colour blind. Is your house pink? Or brown? ;)

      1. Well in that case I need an eye test! Because I’m seeing a brown Ferrari! :(

    3. they are more lemony oranges

  16. To be fair with Vettel, Multi 21 was a revenge for all the times Webber had ignored team orders (and failed to overtake). So he punched extra hard that time, “not only I am able to do what you do, but I also succeed at doing it”.

    The amaizing thing is that Leclerc made such an impression in his first two races that no one is refuting whenether he should’ve done it or not. Like he came along and snatched Number 1 from Vettel. I truly hope he stays well ahead of Seb through the year.

    1. In F1 you are only as good as your last race.

  17. Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of the season after being exposed by Leclerc. Just as he did at RedBull when he got exposed by Ricciardo. Vettel should be happy though. He achieved far more than expected in his career. Far more.

  18. Vet is good, but remember how Ric chased him away from RB?

    1. How did RIC chase him away when he had already started talks with Ferrari way before the 2014 season started?

      1. @lajo Actually even already in 2008. Imagine if that had happened. Alonso would most likely have had 6 titles and Vettel none.

  19. Max is a very rare talent like Senna and if Leclerc can put himself in the same class than that will be a great show for future.

  20. Leclerc has more potential than Vettel and simply put is faster than Vettel. With that said it was the right step to ignore the team order in Bahrain and it has to be his own purpose to be ahead of Vettel, so he cannot accept unjust team orders by Ferrari. He should have the same rights to win and fight for the title as Vettel period!

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