Why Leclerc, not Vettel, looks like the champion Ferrari has been waiting for

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Ahead of each race in 2019, ESPN is ranking every driver on the grid in our Formula One Power Rankings.

In compiling these standings, we have taken out the car factor and focused solely on the drivers and how each has been performing. This is not a prediction for how the race will go this weekend. Nor is it a prediction for how things will look at the end of the season. Instead, read this as a gauge for who has the most influence over everything that lies ahead, who’s hot and who’s not ahead of the Italian Grand Prix.

Previous rankings: Australian GP | Bahrain GP | Chinese GP | Azerbaijan GP | Spanish GP | Monaco GP | Canadian GP | French GP | Austrian GP | British GP | German GP | Hungarian GP | Belgian GP | Italian GP

Note: Teammate head-to-heads are compiled in qualifying sessions in which both drivers set a representative time and in races in which both drivers were classified as finishing.

1. Charles Leclerc

It’s official: Leclerc is the number one man at Ferrari. The Scuderia big wigs may not want to admit it just yet, but there’s no denying that he has soared ahead of his four-time world championship winning teammate Sebastian Vettel since the summer break. Two excellent wins from two outings means Leclerc is the hottest driver in the sport right now and and it’s fair to wonder whether his recent achievements have change the hierarchy at F1’s most famous team.

2. Lewis Hamilton

Ask Hamilton if he would have taken a 63-point champion lead into the Singapore Grand Prix and he would have surely said ‘where do I sign?’ At times this season Hamilton has looked unbeatable and the consistency in his driving should be marveled at. He’s finished in the top five in 56 of the last 60 races and on the podium in 47 of the last 60. Like him or not, those numbers are extraordinary.

3. Max Verstappen

After a streak of 21 consecutive top five finishes, Verstappen suffered back-to-back disappointments in Belgium and Italy, but those were never races Red Bull was likely to excel at. This weekend in Singapore offers up a genuine chance of victory for the young Dutchman who will be hungry to reignite his incredible 2019 campaign.

4. Alexander Albon

It’s been anything but a smooth ride for Albon since arriving at Red Bull, but the young Thai driver is already showing why he’s the man to partner Verstappen in the long term. In Belgium he sliced his way through the field to make up eighth positions, while in Italy he drove another calculated race. In fact, Albon’s shown more promise in two races than Pierre Gasly did in half a season. If he can have a trouble free Saturday in Singapore and a clean race, who knows, he might even top Max.

5. Daniel Ricciardo

For someone who has won seven races, fourth place in Italy might not be a day worth celebrating until Singapore, but it certainly was the highlight of a difficult season. The Australian finally got some reward after a few weekends blighted by issues out his control. If the Renault engine is more stable in the final third of 2019, we might just start seeing Ricciardo consistently taking out the best of the rest award. Oh, and with four podiums at Marina Bay, he goes in as the clear midfield favourite.

6. Carlos Sainz

On paper, back-to-back retirements for Sainz suggests he should plummet in the Power Rankings, but neither one was through driver error. An engine issue in Belgium and a loose wheel in Italy came at the wrong time as the Spaniard was clearly the number one midfield driver. Still, he has scored 24 more points than the next best full-time midfield driver and ahead of this weekend will surely be watching old Fernando Alonso tapes on how to position a McLaren around Singapore.

7. Sergio Perez

How many points did Perez score in the first 12 races? 13. How many points has he scored in the last two? 14. I’m not sure what Perez got up to in the summer break, but it’s certainly rejuvenated him and he should definitely stick to it moving forward. Right now he is one of the grid’s form men and that should be set to continue at Marina Bay, a track he’s scored points at in all but one F1 season.

8. Valtteri Bottas

He might not be challenging for the championship he desperately craves, but Bottas has had a few little wins in recent weeks. Since the break, the Finn has finished third in Belgium, signed a contract extension at Mercedes and finished second in Italy — crucially, ahead of Hamilton. It’s amazing what four weeks off can do for some drivers and maybe, just maybe, Bottas 2.0 really does exist.

9. Lando Norris

Every week someone can consider themselves a tad unlucky to drop as other rise, and this week it’s Norris. Nevertheless, he remains in the top 10 due to the fact he is enjoying one of the best rookie season we’ve seen in recent years and, truthfully, you’d expect it to continue this weekend. The only worry is that Norris has never raced in Singapore, and every points scoring finish he’s had this year has come at tracks he’d visited at least once.

10. Nico Hulkenberg

There’s good news and bad news for the out of contract Hulkenberg after last week’s Italian Grand Prix. He finished fifth — his best result in over 12 months — but, critically, he was over 13 seconds behind teammate Ricciardo. If the German wants a contract for 2020 he needs to at least be battling the Australian and that’s a tall order in Singapore, a race Ricciardo has excelled at and one the Hulk has never finished in the top eight.

11. Daniil Kvyat

Two races down with new teammate Gasly and, probably to nobody’s surprise, Kvyat has the edge. However, as Albon continues to impress at Red Bull, it’s becoming less and less likely the Russian will earn a call up to the senior team – either this year or next. As disappointing as that may be, he’s at least all but guaranteed he has a future in the sport, the same can’t be said of his fellow demoted Toro Rosso colleague.

12. Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen has been strangely off form recently. We all know the Iceman has been putting teammate Antonio Giovinazzi to the sword, but aside from the Haas and Williams quartet he’s one of just two drivers not to score a point since returning from the summer break. Having said that, the two weeks off will obviously be a relief after the back-to-back, so we might just see him back at the pointy end of the midfield this weekend.

13. George Russell

Consistency. It’s the best way to sum up Russell’s rookie year, one which must be super frustrating given he’s driving for Williams. Nevertheless, the young Brit has proven he has a bright future in the sport after absolutely crushing the experienced Robert Kubica in the first two thirds of the season. He has taken the chequered flag in every race and that’s a great trait heading to Singapore where he really could capitalize on some carnage.

14. Lance Stroll

It’s fair to say Vettel is not going to be on Stroll’s Christmas card list after what happened at Monza. The Canadian was tracking towards back-to-back points finishes for the first time since 2017 before the incident occurred. While he may have left Italy frustrated, Stroll can be quietly pleased with what he’s achieved since the summer break and is showing (at long last) that he can get the job done on a Saturday.

15. Kevin Magnussen

I was hopeful Haas would sort out their issues during the four-week break, but it doesn’t seem to have happened and K-Mag, and teammate Romain Grosjean for that matter, are still struggling to be competitive. Over one lap Magnussen looks rock solid, but in race trim he simply doesn’t have the machinery to compete for points at the moment. But who knows, perhaps some carnage around the streets of Singapore could open the door for him…

16. Pierre Gasly

Moving from Red Bull to Toro Rosso would not have been part of the grand plan for Gasly, but at least he’s out of the Formula One spotlight … for now. Since the switch, Gasly actually hasn’t been too bad and the reduced pressure of driving for the junior team seems to have helped him. The only worrying sign for the Frenchman is that he’s only ever scored one championship point (10th in Mexico last year) in the final third of a season. That simply has to change if he wants to remain in the sport.

17. Antonio Giovinazzi

What’s this? A career best finish of P9 for Giovinazzi at his home race and suddenly there’s a glimmer of hope that his Formula One career can survive beyond 2019. Overall it’s been a disappointing season for Giovinazzi, but you just never know what can happen if he manages to put a nice little run of form together in the final third of the season. Watch this space.

18. Romain Grosjean

Grosjean might be one of the toughest drivers to rank in season 2019. Like Magnuseen, he’s been handcuffed by a Haas which has suffered constant tyre issues, but he hasn’t really shown much when he has had the rare chances to. History is a pretty reliable guide when it comes to predicting Grosjean’s form and he hasn’t exactly had the best of it in Singapore with just two points scored since 2013.

19. Sebastian Vettel

The season has gone from bad to worse to just plain horrific for Vettel. The four-time world champion has been making mistake after mistake and is now well and truly being shown up by his 21-year-old teammate — who himself is looking for three consecutive wins this weekend in Singapore. As great as Vettel’s career has been, he might end up being remembered for his atrocious 2019, one which doesn’t appear to be turning around any time soon.

20. Robert Kubica

What more can you really say about Kubica’s dismal season? He has qualified and finished last more often than any other driver and it’s become quite clear that he’s no longer up to scratch. I love Kubica’s gutsy comeback and inspirational story, but to be completely blown away by a rookie is quite embarrassing. I think it’s time to hang up the gloves, Robert.

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