Ferrari legend Ross Brawn has warned his former team it will need to carefully manage the dynamic between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to prevent an all-out civil war.
The pair were embroiled in controversy at the Russian Grand Prix. At the start, Vettel had got past Lewis Hamilton and used the slipstream of Leclerc to pass his teammate into Turn 2.
This appeared to have been part of a pre-race agreement to neutralise the threat of Hamilton, with part of the deal being that Vettel would give the lead back to Leclerc later in the race. Vettel resisted despite several calls from Ferrari which played out over the world TV feed.
Brawn, who helped guide Ferrari to its dominant spell of championships in the early 2000s and is now F1’s head of motorsport, said the onus is on team boss Mattia Binotto to ensure the relationship between its drivers does not sour.
“It’s a potentially explosive combination and needs careful handling,” Brawn wrote in his review of the Russian Grand Prix. “Of course, Mattia is well aware of how this kind of dynamic can work as he has experienced it before when he was a young engineer, but now the honour and obligation falls to him to make sure that mechanism that drives what can be healthy rivalry runs smoothly.”
Ferrari eventually did the switch in the pit-stop window by extending Vettel’s first stint and allowing Leclerc to take the lead, but the public way in which it had played out was the focus after the race. It was a fascinating insight into the dynamic at the Italian team currently — young starlet Charles Leclerc has claimed four straight pole positions and followed up his maiden win in Belgium earlier this month with Ferrari’s first Italian GP win since 2010.
Monza was also controversial, with Vettel upset Leclerc had not returned the favour in qualifying and giving him a tow — a slipstream down Monza’s long straights — at the end of Q1. Vettel snapped Leclerc’s run of wins at the next race by winning the Singapore Grand Prix — his first in over 12 months — and was well placed to challenge his teammate after that pit-stop in Sochi, only for his car to succumb to an MGU-K failure.
Brawn said that retirement potentially saved Ferrari further embarrassment but does not think that disguises the fact the team has a big job on its hands to keep the peace.
“Vettel’s pit stop followed by his retirement meant there was little point in any recrimination, but it’s a fact that Mattia Binotto will have work to do in the next few days to pour oil on what seem like turbulent waters. Ferrari has clearly made a lot of progress in recent weeks but it still probably has to deal with a few internal issues in terms of the balance between its drivers
“On the one hand they have a four-time world champion who is still one of the finest drivers on the grid, despite a few too many mistakes over the past two seasons. And on the other, they have an incredible talent in Charles Leclerc – after all you don’t take six poles (including four in a row), and win two races at legendary circuits such as Spa and Monza if you’re not a star in the making.”