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

Leclerc’s qualifying gains heap fresh pressure on Vettel

2019 team mate battles: Vettel vs Leclerc

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In only his second season of Formula 1, Charles Leclerc has defied expectations by rapidly getting on terms with Sebastian Vettel.

So much so, some have even likened the scenario to the situation at Red Bull five years ago, where Vettel was faced with a competitive young talent in the shape of Daniel Ricciardo, and decided not to stick around for another year of it.

This is obviously not what Ferrari expected. Before the SF90 even turned a wheel in anger, team principal Mattia Binotto declared Vettel would receive favoured status in any “50-50 scenarios” which arose between his two drivers. One those words were uttered it was inevitable Binotto would have to act on them and, sure enough, in each of the first four races Ferrari intervened in Vettel’s favour.

Leclerc was told to follow Vettel home in Australia and obeyed, though he looked quick enough to pass his team mate easily had he been given the chance. In Bahrain he was clearly much quicker, and when the team said he should follow Vettel for a couple of laps, he chose not to, and shot by into the lead. Had his power unit not let him down, Leclerc would surely have won.

Ferrari made the questionable call to tell Leclerc to let Vettel past in China; the latter didn’t really seem quick enough to warrant it. In Azerbaijan Leclerc had to let Vettel by again, though this time they were on different strategies. This was a race either might have been quick enough to win, but Leclerc’s crash in Q2 blunted the team’s competitiveness.

Vettel enjoyed a stronger run of races after then, though Ferrari ruined Leclerc’s race in Monaco with shambolic tactics in Q1. While Ferrari were strong in Canada – where Vettel took pole and nearly won – Leclerc was unhappy with his qualifying performance. He turned that around at the next race and Vettel hasn’t beaten him on a Saturday since.

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Both drivers have thrown points away due to mistakes though the less experienced Leclerc has, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost more that way. In Germany he was again quick enough to challenge for victory but his eventual crash looked likely long before it happened. Meanwhile Vettel motored up from last to second.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2019
Hockenheim crash cost Leclerc
And as Hungary showed, while Leclerc appears to have unlocked the key to one-lap pace, he has more to learn from Vettel when it comes to race stints. This also means giving his engineers the best possible feedback.

“He is so precise with everything he feels with the car,” said Leclerc when asked what he can learn from Vettel. “This is something I straight away noticed when I listened to him from the first time during a meeting post-session. And on that I still think that I have some improvements to do.”

As the season so far has shown, Leclerc is improving all the time. Vettel’s lead over his team mate is just 24 points. Without Ferrari’s interference in the opening races Vettel’s margin of superiority would be even smaller, and if Leclerc keeps out-qualifying his team mate it is surely only a matter of time before he overhauls him on points too.

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Sebastian Vettel vs Charles Leclerc: Key stats

Sebastian Vettel vs Charles Leclerc: Who finished ahead at each round

Sebastian VettelQ
Charles LeclercQ

Sebastian Vettel vs Charles Leclerc: Qualifying gap

Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time

Author information

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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25 comments on “Leclerc’s qualifying gains heap fresh pressure on Vettel”

  1. Also Vettel has noticeably struggled on weekends with the harder compounds. Leclerc is a clever guy he’ll keep figuring out what he needs to be quicker, I can only see him become actually faster than seb.

  2. I dont think it’s too much of a surprise that Leclerc quickly got on terms with Vettel, It was clear from his year at sauber that he destined to be a superstar of the sport and was immensely quick.

    In saying that the article is a little disingenuous in its attempts to paint Vettel in a poor light compared to Leclerc over the first 4 races.

    In Australia Leclerc was quicker than Vettel at the end because he had tyres 14 laps fresher as Ferrari pitted vettel very early to try and pressure Mercedes.

    Bahrain was no contest. Leclerc had the edge all weekend.

    In china vettel lost the position to Leclerc trying to overtake bottas at the start. The decision to swap the cars was then taken too late by ferrari meaning vettel had lost the best of his tyres however looking at the race as a whole vettel did have better race pace.

    Azerbaijan. Not sure to much can be compared as were doing opposite strats.

  3. Two drivers trying to push that car to places where it doesn’t belong, mistakes are to be expected. At least Vettel isn’t in that spiral that he found himself last year. Leclerc is a talented guy and probably the future of Ferrari. If they improve the car, with this line-up they should expect great things

    @keithcollantine I didn’t notice the other team mate battles (will check them), but shouldn’t the cases where a driver doesn’t finish the race to his own fault be considered for the statistics? For example Leclerc in Germany shouldn’t that be a point in favour of Vettel?

    Also Vettel didn’t took part in Q3 in Austria, yet that one counted. And in Monaco, maybe Leclerc’s qualifying should be ignored too?

  4. We all know that both of them are having a far from perfect season. Seb is pretty picky and needs a stable rear end, which Ferrari is losing in attempt to gain more downforce. Leclerc seems to be able to drive okay with the car, and his racecraft is probably one of the most exciting on the grid atm. If this car is staying until Abu Dhabi, definitely Seb will end up behind Leclerc in the standings.

    Not going to lie though, for a moment I thought I was reading an Andrew Benson article with all these digs on Vettel. Truly the villain of all British media it seems

    1. @okeptl I’m not sure that’s fair. perhaps keith was a little light with his reading of vettel’s good days (canada, minus the error, and hockenheim were his high points this year; monaco he probably maximised what was available), but as a whole he’s been very disappointing this year, essentially carrying on his scrappy form of last year. you appear to have come to the same conclusion that leclerc is beating seb.

      the whole ‘what if’ analysis has always seemed a bit silly to me – reliability problems happen, driver and strategic errors happen, and they happen for good reasons: competition, pressure, etc. – but ferarri could have had numerous wins this year, had they played a better hand on the pit wall and their car been less fragile. bahrain, azerbaijan, canada, austria were all there for the taking. i don’t think the title race would look that different in terms of positions, but it would be a hell of a lot closer at the top.

    2. <blockquoteand his racecraft is probably one of the most exciting on the grid atm

      What? Please justify this statement. He is lacking compared to his natural rival Max AND his teammate in this regard. Minus the great move to retake 1st in Bahrain I havent seen anything particularly stellar in this aspect at all.

  5. Someone should tell Vettel it’s not “Mission Spinnow”…

  6. Feel like it was a massive mistake by Ferrari to bring in Leclerc. 2019 Kimi would’ve easily out-qualify and out-score 2019 Vettel.

    1. We’ll never know the answer to “Is Kimi’s 2019 form because he’s outside Ferrari and their #2 expectations?”

      1. @phylyp: I’m a fan of Kimi, but AFAIK there’s no way of telling whether his 2019 form is any better than his 2018 form. To state the obvious, last year he was compared to a quadruple WDC with many years of experience, now he’s being compared to a guy who has just arrived and might or might not be F1 material. For all we know, his form is the same it was last year.

    2. Why did the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Kimis not easily do that?

      1. -sub-optimal engineers/crew
        -sub-optimal strategy calls
        -unfavourable car dev direction
        -cheated out of certain wins [eg Monaco 2018]

        To balance the above, of course Kimi should have been more assertive, but he prefers the minimalist approach and that hurt his prospects. Secondly, rather stupid of the team not to cater for his needs as well as those of his teammates, but that’s Ferrari.

        1. …And somehow, Leclerc isn’t in in the same situation?

  7. For me the best moment of Leclerc’s season was the defense (successful this time) against Max Verstappen at Silverstone. Not only excellent driving against a brilliant racer, he showed that he can rapidly adapt his driving style to who he’s racing. That’s both quick learning and smart. On the downside, still unconvinced about his driving in the rain. Vettel, it’s clear his own talent only kicks in fully when he has the dominant car. Anything less, 50-50 even, and there’s a despondent fatalism about his season. With Red Bull overtaking Ferrari, including in big part thanks to Verstappen’s opposite attitude, then it’s difficult to see where this is going.

  8. Vettel’s definately having a poor year. He just doesn’t seem to be particularly interested – his overtaking is lazy, his qualifying is by his own admission lacking. I think he gets bashed on here and painted as a villain far too much but this year he’s certainly not been good and not at the same strengths he had last year and before. I think he’s falling out of love with F1, either because Ferrari look even further away from Mercedes than they did last year or Canada really got under his skin more than it looked.

    Leclerc’s definitely a good pick for Ferrari but I think he’s way too harsh on himself. He seems to chastise himself incredibly for every mistake which in only his second year is pretty normal. He’s viewed as Ferrari’s future, I’d say his seat is pretty safe. Wasn’t it Massa that said you can’t win it in on the first lap? Leclerc needs to chill out a little, it’ll come.

    Ferrari though in general have been woeful this year. I’ve said it before but I don’t think Ferrari have the development capability or nuance in strategy that Mercedes and Red Bull have, and in a straight fight will lose each time to them.

    1. @rocketpanda

      not at the same strengths he had last year and before

      Both years when his multiple mistakes helped lose the championship. I agree it doesn’t have to be personal, but implying that Vettel hasn’t underperformed consistently the past three years doesn’t correspond to reality.

  9. The odd incidents apart, Leclerc has been truly amazing at Ferrari and sometimes carries himself like he is the team leader.
    Leclerc’s performance at Ferrari is also a contributing factor in Redbull’s evaluation of Gasly.
    Leclerc has been able to keep up with Vettel and more often, out perform his more experienced team mate.
    And they both followed a similar transition to a top team, having previously driven for a team sharing the same engines with the team they later moved to.
    Even if the cars are completely different, the fact Gasly is almost a second slower than Verstappen 90% of the time, Redbull just knew he either wasnt ready, or doesn’t have what it takes to be in a winning team.

  10. always this “pressure on vettel” nonsense

    it’s getting ridiculously boring now

  11. It is always fascinating to look over the Friday time-sheet and see which Teams have both drivers close together. Usually the times are back-to-back in the order and somewhere down the list. Presumably doing development work and saving the machinery. Either that or following team orders, possibly all of the above.
    The exception would seem to be when the two drivers are competing to “Win Practice”. Anyone we know of.?
    If Vettel is under pressure, my take is that it is self generated, and that will result in problems in the long run.
    You have to admire Daniel R. for his laid-back approach. Now if he could find a competitive car, that would be great.

  12. Vettel seemed to give up at Australia when it was clear that Mercedes had built a vastly superior car for 2019. Finishing 2nd or 3rd in the championship means nothing, he wants to be champion again.

  13. There is one universal issue I think we all tend to over look. All drivers in F1 (bar some) are title winning drivers, if the car fits their driving style.

    1. Drivers with WDC potential adapt their driving style to the car and not the other way around.

      1. I think some drivers are better at get the absolute maximum out of a perfect car, while others are better at driving a “dog” of a car. Think Vettel in RB days. He often put up lap times that Webber couldn’t match and I doubt very few could.
        In the same period, Alonso could drive the wheels of that piece of crap Ferrari, but I doubt that he’d extract the same performance from a Red Bull as Vettel.
        What I’m saying is, I don’t think Vettel would drive that Ferrari as fast as Alonso, and Alonso wouldn’t drive that Red Bull as fast as Vettel.

        1. What I’m saying is, I don’t think Vettel would drive that Ferrari as fast as Alonso, and Alonso wouldn’t drive that Red Bull as fast as Vettel.

          Alonso has mopped the floor with every team mate he’s been with with the exception of Hamilton. That includes his WDC winning Renault, “piece of crap” Ferrari as you put it, McLaren (stint 2) with “GP2 engine”. So we can safely bet that he can get extract the maximum pace from cars of varying performance levels. Vettel on the other hand…

  14. Speaking as someone who has supported Vettel since his BMW adac year… I do have to say I have been impressed with Leclerc. He’s done quite well although with it being early in his career he still has to mature a bit more.

    Having said that, I think there has been a trend that since 2013, if Vettel sees that the car is not competitive enough to win the championship, he loses steam. I think he psychologically probably feels that additional wins mean little if it doesnt end in a title; which I can sort of understand. I think we need to see Vettel vs Leclerc (or indeed Vettel vs Ricciardo) in competitive machinery to get a better picture. I believe both times, we see an incomplete picture by seeing an unmotivated Vettel vs a motivated youngster who’s giddy at their first crack at race wins.

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