Safe to say it’s been a year to forget for Ferrari star Sebastian Vettel. However, I strongly believe this season could actually be a blessing in disguise and that it could propel him into becoming a five-time champion by the end of 2020. Hear me out.
As Pierre Gasly will be able to tell you, it’s a completely different world driving in Formula 1 when things are expected of you. Ferrari and the Tifosi have been waiting for a championship to come their way for over a decade. When contracted in 2010, Fernando Alonso was the chosen one to further fill out the trophy cabinet in Maranello.
Although he gave Vettel a real run for his money in 2010 and 2012 (something which is often overlooked), the Spaniard never got the car underneath him to beat the Red Bull talent in his tenure at Ferrari.Embed from Getty Images
Ferrari sign a German champion again
Exit Alonso and enter Vettel ahead of the 2015 season. Teaming up with Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel was the next superstar driver to be recruited by Ferrari to help them get back to winning ways. Spoiler-alert; it didn’t pan out this way.
Vettel challenged Mercedes as much as he could in 2015, getting Ferrari’s first win in almost two years in Malaysia and the Scuderia’s first pole position in three years in Singapore but he simply didn’t get given the tools to challenge the Silver Arrows for the title, as was the case for Alonso in previous years.Embed from Getty Images
Things got even worse in 2016. Vettel didn’t win a single race although he scored seven podiums. Mercedes were utterly dominant and Ferrari were always chasing. The Italian press, who are notoriously ruthless when it comes to Ferrari drivers, started turning on Vettel, once hailed as the driver who would get Ferrari back to the promised land. The pressure they were piling onto him was incredible (even though his car was nowhere near good enough to win), and you could really see it was affecting his driving.
2017 and 2018 were two seasons were Vettel started winning again and challenging Lewis Hamilton for titles, but it was never enough. And there were personal mistakes. Particularly in 2018, when he led the championship up until the 13th round of the season, there were some spins and brainfarts that cost him and Ferrari very dearly. For the first time, you could say Vettel cost himself the championship rather than the car underneath him.
A new challenger approaches
This is where Charles Leclerc comes into all of this. I believe the context provided above was needed, because this immense pressure that rested on Vettel’s shoulders did absolutely not apply to the young Monegasque. Leclerc was a bit of a risky signing at 20 years old and just one year of F1 experience, but nobody was expecting him to be the one who would take Ferrari all the way.
Now, I’m not taking anything away from Leclerc’s impressive season. The youngster has truly developed into an F1 superstar and has flat-out out-driven Vettel in 2019, there are no two ways about it.
Having said this, the 2019 season has completely shifted the outside perspective on Ferrari. Despite Vettel’s best efforts in the second half of this season, Leclerc will now be seen as the more likely candidate to challenge for silverware in 2020.
Peace of mind in 2020
I genuinely believe this will turn into a blessing in disguise for the German.
Playing second fiddle to Leclerc might be overstating it, but Vettel is definitely not the unquestionable number one at Ferrari coming into next season anymore, as had been the case from 2015 up until 2019. Relieved pressure.
Now, it’s likely Mattia Binotto will tell his two drivers they are equals in 2020 and that the preferred strategy will go to the better driver on the day. It could be argued this will force Vettel to overdrive and make more spins in crucial moments. I don’t agree with that opinion.Embed from Getty Images
Like him or not, there is still a blisteringly quick driver in there. He’s won 53 Grands Prix, for goodness’ sake. I concede he hasn’t dealt with the pressure well in his time at Ferrari. Let’s see how Leclerc deals with it as a perceived number one coming into 2020; probably better.
In 2020, we’ll see an unchained Sebastian Vettel. A four-time champion with a point to prove to himself and to the world. Written off and replaced as top dog by the Italian media. I, for one, can’t wait to see how he gets on in this new mindset. Should Ferrari have the best car, I think Vettel could finally get his fifth title next season. You heard it here first.
Posted originally on GPblog.com on 22/11/2019