Jean Alesi was one of Ferrari’s favourite drivers and this status gives him access to inside information regarding the goings-on at Maranello, thus it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the new driver dynamic at his former team ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season.
This year Charles Leclerc will join Sebastian Vettel in the world’s most famous race team, ripping up an old age tradition the team had of hiring proven Grand Prix winners to drive their car.
Vettel is fresh from a spell with Kimi Raikkonen as his teammate, the German clearly the number one during their stint at Maranello, with the veteran Finn a couple of tenths slower than Vettel in most instances.
Leclerc arrives to do his best for the Scuderia, after all, his future hinges on how the next chapter of his stellar career evolves and beating Vettel is the target, and in doing so he will invariably force the four-time F1 World Champion.
In an interview with Radio Sportiva, Alesi – who often rubs shoulders with the Italian team’s bigwigs – gave his thoughts on the current status quo in the wake of the final F1 preseason tests in Barcelona last week.
Of the Leclerc-Vettel partnership, he said, “I think the fact that they have opted for a young driver like Leclerc is an incentive for Vettel who was lost for reasons that nobody understood in the latter half of last year.”
“Leclerc grew up at Ferrari, he knows the environment well and does not have too much pressure because Binotto has ordained that he must follow the team’s orders and help Vettel.”
“He won’t challenge the number one role of Vettel but they will certainly be very close: the plan is that Vettel wins and Leclerc finishes second, the season is very long and 21 races are many.”
Although Leclerc is wise enough not to rattle the cage of polemics that constantly gravitate over the Scuderia, all he has to do is put foot the metal and simply outdrive his teammate, not only in qualifying but also in the race.
Ahead of a season primed and loaded with similar stories up and down the F1 pitlane, time will tell how this intriguing sideshow will evolve.
Meanwhile, eight days of testing revealed that both Ferrari and Mercedes have good cars, the SF90 perhaps a tad better out-of-the-box than the W10.
So much so that it was good enough for Vettel to set the fastest lap of testing on his final day in the cockpit. And the mileage was extremely good with 997 laps added to the new car by their two drivers.
While Ferrari were not shy to strut their stuff, Mercedes were typically subdued and refusing to rise to the bait of fast lap times until the final day when they unleashed Hamilton who, in turn, popped up to second on the timing screens – 0.003 of a second shy of Vettel’s best effort – in other words: as close as it gets.
Noticed by all was the fact that the W10 that broke cover for the first four days of F1 preseason testing last month was a very different animal that took to the track for the second stanza of testing a week later – a proper W10-B. Also notable is that the ‘two cars’ covered a massive 1,126 laps at the Spanish Grand Prix venue.
Alesi said of the looming Ferrari versus Mercedes battle, “At Montmelò (Circuit de Catalunya) we saw a competitive Ferrari from the first lap and this is worth gold. For sure Mercedes will be very strong, but Ferrari seems to be more competitive to what it was last year.”
“Mercedes showed up at the two tests in Barcelona with two very different cars which was not a good sign, it means their initial project did not deliver what they had hoped for on paper, while Ferrari showed up with a very fast car and then worked to develop it further.”
“Vettel has everything to win the world title, now let’s see what happens. In Melbourne, which is a very particular track, we will understand almost immediately where they are…”
As for the other teams?
“I think Red Bull with Honda power will be very competitive, Renault has done some good things with Ricciardo and then there is the Alfa Romeo that finished well last season and with Giovinazzi and Raikkonen will be able to perform well.”
On a personal note, the one time Grand Prix winner added, “Ferrari is everything for me. At the Alesi home, Ferrari is part of our lives. It is a dream for me to see both Schumacher’s son and my son in the Ferrari Driver Academy. Seeing them together in Formula 1 would be great. I miss Michael a lot.”
The 2019 Formula 1 World Championship begins with Round 1, the Australian Grand Prix, at Albert Park in Melbourne on the weekend of 15 to 17 March.