Odds & Sods: This week we give a quick overview of the headlines of Formula 1 after the Russian Grand Prix.
– This past weekend brought more drama to the relationship between the Ferrari drivers of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel. Ross Brawn, who knows a thing or two about running a team and maintaining chemistry, asserted that he felt the relationship is “potentially explosive,” and from the eyes of even the most casual F1 fan, that remark seems like an understatement.
The kinship in the Ferrari house has been growing increasingly acrimonious since F1 resumed from its summer break. Leclerc has basically proclaimed himself to be the team’s top driver after four straight poles, the latest this past weekend in Sochi, and his three wins since the break. Vettel’s lone win came at Singapore when Ferrari mismanaged the gap in their stops and Vettel was able to pip Leclerc through pit stops and then hold on for the win – a win that left Leclerc fuming.
Leclerc, the hot young driver is making his older four-time champion counterpart look silly and Vettel seems to be angling for every trick he can pull to ensure that he does not lose his place with the team. The connection with the drivers has become frayed and Ferrari are caught trying to manage sitting on a powder keg with a fuse that could be sparked any day now.
The Russian Grand Prix looks like it is providing a significant spark to get that fuse lit. In a peculiar situation where the team had allegedly arranged for Vettel to use Leclerc’s slipstream at the start to take the lead, and for then Vettel to give that lead back, everything went wrong. Surprise surprise, a struggling driver moves into the lead of a GP and does not feel that they should give it back. Who would ever think that to happen?
With the fact that Leclerc seems to be outperforming Vettel so noticeably, it is little wonder that Vettel would see a great opportunity to score another win by keeping the lead after slipping by his teammate. There are a few things that make this ordeal a bit problematic.
First – giving back the lead is not always such an easy thing. With Lewis Hamilton hovering around four seconds behind Leclerc for much of the first stint of the race, Vettel’s ability to just offer up the lead was not just a done deal but something instead that the team needed to manage to precision. Vettel is not the only one who might be troubled by Ferrari’s ability to execute anything with any kind of precision with something involving strategy.
Second – we have no real idea what kind of deal may or may not have been decided prior to the race. There’s a lot of difference between a tacit understanding and an explicit plan and who knows what Ferrari and the drivers established as they got the race going.
Third – egos are a thing. Drivers aren’t paid lots of money not to fight for wins. Teams don’t develop cars to play swapping games. The races are a big deal with a lot of pressure and the drivers are supposed to be putting themselves out there and to just give up a lead or to capitulate to your younger hotshot teammate. Things like that do not usually go well and that is just what happened.
The question that is coming to the fore is whether or not Vettel is wearing out his proverbial welcome at the Maranello outfit. The thought of Ferrari making a bold move and ousting Vettel at the end of the season seems slim but it still could happen. And it very well might.
The team botched another opportunity at a win in Russia and has all but ensured that Mercedes and Hamilton will earn another constructors and drivers title, but for Ferrari to really make strides in the near future, they need to manage their house and figure how best to handle their drivers. What is funny is that they may once again be looking up at Mercedes, who provided a solid example of how to handle two drivers at odds with each other in Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
– The McLaren team is continuing to make its engine-supplier look silly and are closing in on taking fourth in the constructors title for the season. With Carlos Sainz placing sixth and Lando Norris eighth, the much-maligned team has pulled to a 33-point advantage over Renault with five races to go.
The team may want to enjoy this kind of result because next year may be a different story as McLaren have announced that they will be switching to Mercedes engines in 2021. The lame-duck year does tend to produce the best results for teams being supplied by someone else.
– This column made mention last week of the quiet job that Alex Albon has been doing and how it deserves more credit. A lot more. An accident in the first round of qualifying sent Albon out and meant he would start the race from the pitlane. Such a start is not the end of the world but it usually does not encourage stellar results.
Albon must have used the pitlane start as motivation because he methodically picked his way through the field and by the midpoint had moved into the tenth spot. By the end of the race, he had pulled up behind his teammate and earned fifth, keeping his string of finishes with Red Bull all at sixth or better. The team looks like they have finally gotten this one right and found the right teammate for wunderkind Max Verstappen.