While the Ferrari team and army of Tifosi hail the arrival of Charles Leclerc at the Scuderia, Jacques Villeneuve believes the youngster is a destabilising factor and is having a negative impact on the team.
The 1997 Formula 1 World Champion turned Sky Italia pundit said in an interview with Motorsport Network, “If you listen to any fan or go on the forums, even the qualifying accident [in Baku], Leclerc doesn’t get criticised.”
“If it had been Vettel, he would have been destroyed by the media and everyone, for the same mistake. Ultimately I think that’s having a negative effect for the team. Seb’s spin in Bahrain came because of that, then the team orders in China, it all comes from there.”
“And Leclerc’s accident in qualifying also, wanting to prove that he’s the number one of the team. Ultimately that’s damaging the whole team.”
“I hope it re-balances out, because they should have been the one that’s being chased by Mercedes, and instead they’ve got three podiums, and that’s it. It’s not had a good positive effect on the team, that’s all.”
It is well known that Leclerc got the nod last year, to replace Kimi Raikkonen, in what was initially a plan which the late Sergio Marchionne instigated. Maurizio Arrivabene was against the idea and preferred Raikkonen to be on board for another year.
Ultimately the call is said to have been made by current Ferrari president John Elkann. Leclerc spent last year at Sauber for his rookie season, which despite a wobbly start ended strongly enough to convince Maranello it was time to promote the 21-year-old to the big time.
Villeneuve acknowledged, “Leclerc is quick, he personally is ready. It’s Ferrari that’s not ready for this kind of situation. If you take Leclerc’s perspective, it’s great to be there this year, for him it’s amazing, and he’s shown that he’s super quick.”
“But if you take Ferrari as a team, you have to look at Vettel’s past, and you have to remember Ricciardo when he joined Red Bull. Seb needs to know that he’s loved by the team, and by the fans, and that’s gone this year.”
“They already had Leclerc, so they could have given him a contract for 2020 and 2021, and kept Kimi for just one year, because this was the year to fight. Then everybody’s happy, because you give them time in advance, it doesn’t unbalance anything.”
“That’s not saying Leclerc is not good, he’s amazing, he’s super quick, he deserves to be there, that’s not the issue. But the way Ferrari operates, the way Seb is, he needs this kind of love around him, and it was just not the right move.”
“Look what they did at Mercedes, and look how strong it is this year. If they had put Ocon there, Lewis would have reacted the same way – he would have wanted to eat him alive straight away, and destroy him.”
“But there’s respect with Bottas, and even if they both have two victories, Lewis doesn’t seem to be upset about it. That wasn’t the case with Nico [Rosberg] for example, and that really allows the team to perform at a level that it almost hasn’t performed at before,” explained Villeneuve.
Ahead of the forthcoming Spanish Grand Prix, after four rounds Mercedes are dominating with a quartet of one-two finishes, Ferrari need to raise their game before they run out of time and excuses.
Big Question: Did Ferrari promote Charles too soon?