Ferrari need tactical rethink ahead of Japan as Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel rivalry sharpens

Throughout this Mercedes dominated Formula 1 season, Ferrari have been off the boil and whilst their German counterparts encroach on their sixth consecutive constructors title, the Maranello outfit are left ruing costly errors again this season and need a tactical rethink prior to the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

After another recent blunder in Sochi, where Matteo Binotto’s drivers were left biccaring about swapping positions after discussions prior to the race, outlined the key difference between Mercedes efficient thinking and Ferrari’s irrational strategies amid high pressure situations.

Sochi signalled the need for a major strategic rethink for the Italian team and costly mistakes throughout the season have left them a staggering 162-points behind constructors leaders Mercedes and their leading driver Charles Leclerc trails five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton by 107-points.

Without realising their mistakes, it seems they have forged an unnecassary rivalry between their drivers. When Sebastian Vettel virtually refused to let Leclerc into the lead in Russia after agreeing to do so before the race, it signalled a self-caused issue and is why fans continually align in saying ‘let them race!’

Losing the race win to Hamilton and being resigned to a Mercedes one-two may have been the wake up call Binotto and Ferrari needed. A race they were in control of fell apart after Vettel broke down and Leclerc was caught out by the Mercedes pitting under the virtual safety car.

The team decided to tell Vettel to let Leclerc retake the lead during the race and after Vettel’s refusal Binotto said, “Looking at the video, looking at the start our judgement that the start went as planned and therefore we thought it was right to ask Seb to swap the positions.”

He added, “Eventually, the two drivers may have different opinions by driving the car. That’s something which we may discuss with them.

“We initially asked Seb to give the position back. But fair enough to say that at that stage of the race maybe Charles was not close enough and we would have lost some time on track.”

It seems that Binotto was resigned to accepting that Vettel would not follow his instructions and the German was able to escape without any consequences amid the rift amongst the team and his teammate.

A week before the shambles in Sochi the team ignited an unhealthy rivalry between the Ferrari teamates in Singapore, where they risked causing existing tension to implode between the pair after Leclerc who was controlling the race, was jumped by his teamate in the pits after he was given second choice on when to pit.

While it boosted the confidence of Vettel who clinched an emotional victory after an over 12-month absence from the top step, an outraged Leclerc wanted answers after a third consecutive race win for the Monegasque was snatched away.

A rightfully aggrieved Leclerc aired his fury publically on team radio as Ferrari’s inter-team conflicts continued to bubble away. “To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand the undercut,” said Leclerc. In a passive aggressive way with words he added, “We will discuss after the race.”

Since the mid-season break the team have developed the car into the race-winning machine we all expected at the season opener in Australia, but the costly errors that have plagued Ferrari’s 2019 campaign such as Leclerc’s Q1 exit in Monaco as one of many examples have been at the forefront of the teams struggles.

Though the relationship between the Ferrari drivers hasn’t soured to anywhere near the extent of which the then Force India drivers of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez did in 2018, it provides a worrying example of what can happen when teammates fall out.

The cause of any potential fall-out, which I must say is unlikely to escalate to unsavoury levels this season with the world championship out of reach for both drivers, would rest upon the over complications of the team.

Ferrari will look to bounce back from a disapointing Russian Grand Prix this weekend as they visit Japan where they are expected to battle Mercedes for the race win. Whilst the battle with Mercedes should be the focal point, the main storyline will revolve around the inter-team competition between teammates and Ferrari’s clear inability to consistently get the better of title rivals Mercedes.

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