Every Ferrari driver feels a heavy burden of expectation but the pressure is mounting more than ever on Sebastian Vettel, who enters his fifth season with Formula One’s most successful and glamorous team. His fellow German Michael Schumacher had to wait until his fifth year at Maranello in 2000 before ending the team’s drivers’ title drought dating back to 1979.
And comparisons are being ramped up again as Ferrari’s bid to end another drought, that began in 2008, was boosted by Sebastian Vettel going fastest in testing.
The German driver was wary of fuelling the hype when asked at the start of testing whether the pieces were in place: “It doesn’t feel like five years to be honest, but that’s what it is,” said the 31-year-old, who joined in 2015 as a four-time champion from Red Bull and is now the same age Schumacher was 19 years ago. – “Overall the progression is there so I hope that this year we get to have a lot of fun – and fun means to win a lot of races and then, ultimately, you are fighting for the championship. That’s obviously what we want but, at this point, it’s very far away.” – he explained.
Michael Schumacher started the 2000 season with a new teammate in Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. Vettel begins the campaign with Charles Leclerc a fresh face in the adjoining garage. There the comparisons end.
Charles Leclerc is the youngest Ferrari driver since Mexican teen Ricardo Rodriguez in 1961 and, unlike Barrichello who joined in his late 20s after seven seasons elsewhere, his career has been nurtured and fast-tracked by the team. The 21-year-old may take time to settle in but he is fast, engagingly fluent in Italian and is seen as the face of the future.
Charles, combining the two most potent symbols of F1 as a driver from Monaco in a Ferrari, has so far shrugged off the pressure: “I’m just focusing on myself and trying to erase and delete what everyone is expecting from me,” he told reporters last month.
Whether he can pose more of a challenge to Sebastian Vettel than his predecessor Kimi Raikkonen is one intriguing question, with big implications for the German if the newcomer matches him for speed. In the short term, Vettel is likely to be favoured, however. Said new team boss Mattia Binotto: “Obviously the two will be free to fight… but, certainly, if there is a big situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one who’s got more experience. He’s already won championships, so he’s our champion.”
Ferrari will remove all Mission Winnow branding by tobacco giant Philip Morris for the March 17 opener in Melbourne after concerns about cigarette advertising, officials said yesterday. On Tuesday, the branding was removed from Ferrari’s official name for the Australian Grand Prix after the local authorities launched an investigation into whether the team breached laws over tobacco advertising. A Philip Morris spokesman said that it will also not appear on the car or team uniforms.