During the 2019 pre-season test at Barcelona, Ferrari started really strong, they were fastest on many occasions and they even looked as if they didn’t show all their cards.
A new face in the team was that of young Charles Leclerc, who took the seat from Raikkonen, who switched to Alfa Romeo. Both drivers showed pace and although many thought it was too soon to put Leclerc in a Ferrari after just one year at (then) Sauber, the Monegasque showed some great pace.
Could this finally be the year of the red team?
Australia. The first race of the season and Ferrari looked strong until Saturday afternoon. Where Leclerc started great, being fastest in Q1, in the end, Leclerc qualified 5th while Vettel managed 3rd. The race on Sunday didn’t turn out the way they planned as Leclerc finished where he started in 5th. Meanwhile, Vettel didn’t do much better when finishing a place ahead in 4th.
Bahrain. Saturday afternoon was for Leclerc as he was fastest in each qualifying session, which meant pole position. Vettel stayed close and got to line up in 2nd position. A bad start on Sunday meant Leclerc was dropping back a bit but battled his way back up to 3rd at the finish. Vettel’s day was spoiled when Hamilton passed him and Vettel was surprised and spun. He came home in 5th.
China. On Saturday, Ferrari was again the second fastest team as Vettel qualified in 3rd and Leclerc managed to get 4th. While on Sunday, Vettel kept his position and finished 3rd, Leclerc lost out to Verstappen and came home in 5th.
Baku. The race with the long straight so top speed would be an advantage for Ferrari. On Saturday, during Q1, Leclerc was fastest but in Q2, Leclerc crashed into the wall and couldn’t set a time in Q3, meaning he had to start from 9th. Vettel did what he could but managed no higher than 3rd on the grid. Sunday was a day like the ones before as Vettel couldn’t fight with the Mercedes boys and finished 3rd. Leclerc did get back up the field but finished 5th.
Spain. The circuit where testing is done and Ferrari were good during pre-season testing so hopes were high. On Saturday, 3rd was the best Vettel could do. Leclerc did even worse and got stuck in 5th. The race pace looked strong so on Sunday, things could go better. It wasn’t the case as Verstappen got the better of Vettel again and Vettel finished 4th, 1 position in front of Leclerc, who finished where he started in 5th.
Monaco. On Saturday, Ferrari made a huge mistake with keeping Leclerc in the garage at the end of Q1, to save tyres. This was a bad call as Leclerc’s time wasn’t good enough and he was knocked out and had to start from 16th on the grid. Vettel did a better job, being fastest during Q1 but couldn’t get a “perfect” lap together when it mattered and qualified 4th. On Sunday, Vettel would’ve finished 3rd behind Hamilton and Verstappen but the Dutchman had a penalty, which meant Vettel ended up 2nd in Monaco. Leclerc’s day went from bad to worse. In an attempt to make his way to the front, he wanted way too much trying to get passed Hulkenberg and he clipped the inside kerb, destroying his right rear tyre. By going too fast when returning to the pits, he destroyed parts of his floor and rear wing. On lap 16, he gave up and retired from his home race.
After six races what were the signs?
It’s a strange situation as Ferrari started 2019 with a bang but somehow, they can’t get it all together on race day. Pitstops gone wrong, strategic calls that didn’t work and mistakes made by both drivers meant they were 2nd in the WCC but already 118 points behind Mercedes. Maybe they need some time to fix some issues but it just doesn’t look as if they make much progress.
Canada. It was a Ferrari weekend as, on Saturday, Vettel took pole position. Leclerc just missed out but qualified in 3rd to start right behind Vettel. On Sunday, everything clicked until Vettel went off track and when he came back on track, he blocked Hamilton. A lot of fans loved the battle and close racing but the stewards deemed Vettel at fault so he received a time penalty. This meant that, although he finished first, his penalty meant he got 2nd on the timing screens. Leclerc had a solid race as well as he finished on the podium in 3rd position.
France. It looked as if Ferrari were still rattled by the outcome of the Canadian GP as on Saturday, Vettel only managed to qualify in 7th. Leclerc did a bit better to qualify 3rd. On Sunday, a boring race saw Leclerc finishing where he started in 3rd but Vettel made up a few spots to finish 5th.
Austria. On Saturday, Vettel didn’t manage to set a time in Q3 so qualified in 10th while Leclerc had a good run and took pole position. On Sunday, it was a race with ups and downs but Ferrari made the best of it and Leclerc finished 2nd while Vettel went back and forth but ultimately finished 4th.
England. On Saturday, it was again Leclerc who was the faster one as he qualified 3rd. Vettel himself couldn’t get higher than 6th. A crazy race on Sunday saw Leclerc finishing 3rd, what would’ve been 5th but Vettel, then in 4th behind Verstappen, out-braked himself and crashed into Verstappen and both drivers went off, leaving Leclerc in 3rd and Gasly in 4th. While Verstappen and Vettel managed to continue, Vettel came home in 15th but received a penalty for the collision which dropped him to 18th.
Germany. The Saturday didn’t start great as Vettel had an issue during qualifying and wasn’t even able to set a time. He had to start from 20th and last on the grid. Leclerc was fastest during Q1 but he also had an issue and at the end, had to start from 10th. A wet start on Sunday promised a lot of fun and boy, did the race deliver. For Leclerc, it was in a bad way as he slid off the track into the barriers and he had to retire on the spot. Vettel however, had an awesome race and while starting in 20th, he worked his way up and finished an impressive 2nd.
Hungary. Final race weekend before the summer break and Ferrari was clearly the 3rd fastest team as Leclerc qualified in 4th on Saturday. Vettel was less than 3 hundreds slower and qualified 5th. Team orders on Sunday saw Vettel finish 3rd while Leclerc crossed the line in 4th. Both drivers finished over a minute down from race winner Hamilton.
A dozen races run and what did we learn?
Ferrari looks as if they are still on the same level in terms of performance, as when they were during pre-season testing. The team was always known for bringing upgrades to fix problems fast but it’s like they were already on their maximum performance during testing and just didn’t get any better. They have awesome straight-line speed but struggle too much in corners. Ferrari clearly is looking at Vettel as their number 1 driver but Leclerc is keeping Vettel very honest.
All other teams have progressed with RedBull probably the team that made the biggest steps so if Ferrari wants to keep 2nd, they really need to pick up the pace as they stand 2nd with 288 points, a whopping 150 points behind Mercedes but just 44 points in front of RedBull. Let’s see what they can do in the remaining 9 races.