F1 Raceweek: Leclerc emerging from Vettel's shadow in tumultuous Ferrari season

By Ben Spratt 15 July 2019 644
F1 Raceweek: Leclerc emerging from Vettel's shadow in tumultuous Ferrari season

The 2019 Formula One season has not gone to plan for Ferrari, who are still waiting on their first race win as we approach the midway point of the campaign.

Sebastian Vettel is enduring a miserable time and his spirits would not have been improved by Sunday's British Grand Prix.

The German clashed with Max Verstappen and ended up in 16th, his worst classified finish since the 2012 Italian GP.

On that occasion, after retiring in the final stages of the race to come 22nd, Vettel went on to triumph at the next four meetings and claimed a third straight title. That will not happen this time.

Vettel has been the subject of retirement rumours, he sensationally protested a penalty in Montreal, and results have been ordinary at best.

There have been no shortage of commentators willing to chip in on the situation, too. Vettel might be "frustrated and vulnerable" at Ferrari, suggested Daniel Ricciardo.

On Sunday, as Vettel toiled again, Ralf Schumacher, working for Sky in Germany, said: "Sebastian has to be careful not to lose his number one status [at Ferrari].

"He almost has and Charles [Leclerc] is not making it easy for him."

Because perhaps Vettel's greatest issue is the improving fortunes of Leclerc, who had his own early-season woe.

Engine trouble limited the Scuderia new boy to third from pole in Bahrain, while he retired on a miserable weekend at his home race in Monaco.

But the 21-year-old's response to that latter setback has been superb, finishing on the podium in the four subsequent events, even though his wait for a breakthrough victory goes on.

At Silverstone, Leclerc profited from the contact between Vettel and Verstappen, while getting the better of Pierre Gasly, and thoroughly enjoyed himself as his team-mate toiled.

"Overall, I'm very happy with the race, with the battles," he said. "It was probably the most fun race I've had in my Formula One career."

Vettel's position might already have been weakened by his poor performances and shows of ill-discipline, but Leclerc's emergence means Ferrari also have a viable alternative as their lead driver.

Just three points separate the pair in the standings and there is now a genuine tussle to see which of the two will end the season on top.

Leclerc may well be benefitting from the distraction of Vettel's antics and the four-time champion only has himself to blame.

Should these two team-mates continue along their contrasting paths, Vettel's time at the front of Ferrari - let alone the sport - might be all but over.

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