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Why Leclerc is Ferrari's future as Vettel's expiry date nears

The contrast between Ferrari’s two drivers could not have been more glaring than it was at Monza.

At the end of a nail-bitingly tense Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the grand old palace of speed, we were faced with two distinct realities. The first was of joy and hope, as an army of Tifosi thronged the main straight, loudly chanting and cheering Ferrari’s first home win in nine years. The second however, was of age and futility, as a fading star increasingly became the subject of derision.

The two realities we’re referring to here are Ferrari’s two drivers of course — Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

QUICKLY UP TO SPEED

Leclerc, handpicked by late Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne himself, has been a revelation, to put it mildly. Since joining them this year after a season with sister team Sauber Alfa Romeo, the 21-year-old wasted no time in getting up to speed. At the second race of the year itself, in Bahrain, he qualified on pole and was on course to a comfortable victory until a faltering power unit cruelly relegated him to third.

Since then, Vettel has been lagging behind in every statistic of note, from average grid position (4.6 vs 5.1) to podium finishes (7 vs 6). Just like in his final season with Red Bull in 2014, when Daniel Ricciardo outperformed him on a consistent basis, Vettel is now once again being shown up by younger blood.

LECLINICAL

Following the Bahrain disappointment, Leclerc was once again within arm’s length of claiming his first win at Austria save for a brilliant late-race charge by Max Verstappen, but he finally put it all together at the Belgian Grand Prix, on a weekend shrouded in sadness. The death of his close friend Antoine Hubert during Saturday’s Formula 2 race meant celebrations were understandably muted and devoid of the usual fanfare, but following the Italian Grand Prix triumph, all his pent-up euphoria came to the surface, from the team radio all the way up to the podium.

Meanwhile, Vettel was nowhere to be found. He had spun out early on whilst running fourth and compounded his misfortune further by dangerously steering right into the path of Lance Stroll while attempting to rejoin the track. He picked up a 10-second penalty for that and finished down in 13th place.

How he’d liked to have been the one to return Ferrari to the top step at Monza, something he never achieved during his four seasons at the team. Instead, he was ruing his shambolic weekend and emerged into the public glare only to pose for the team photo.

CHAMPION AMATEUR

The man who was brought on as Ferrari’s No. 1 in 2015 has been increasingly looking like an amateur and since 2017, his actions on track (and at times off it too) have frequently belied the fact that he’s a four-time champion.

Baku 2017: Intentional contact with Hamilton under Safety Car.

Singapore 2017: Serious misjudgment at the start and unnecessary risk-taking resulting in retirement.

Mexico 2017: Opening lap tangle, first with Max Verstappen and then Hamilton in the next corner.

Baku 2018: Flat-spotting tyres in a desperate overtaking attempt and compromising his race.

France 2018: Overshot braking point and rammed into Valtteri Bottas.

Austria 2018: Grid penalty from blocking Carlos Sainz in Q2.

Germany 2018: Crashed out of the lead.

Italy 2018: Crashed into Hamilton while being overtaken, spun and dropped to the back of the pack.

Japan 2018: Spun following desperate, miscalculated lunge inside Verstappen.

USA 2018: Grid penalty from not slowing down in red flag period AND during the race, spun while trying to overtake.

Bahrain 2019: Spun out after getting passed.

Britain 2019: Crashed into the back of Verstappen under braking.

Italy 2019: Self-spun, then rejoined in front of traffic, earning a 10-second penalty.

It’s understandable then that his commitment has been questioned more and more, both by the press and the public. While he still has another year to go in his £120m contract, many suspect he may not see out 2020. If that were to happen, who Ferrari would bring in is anybody’s guess.

However, one thing’s for sure — Leclerc is Ferrari’s future, make no mistake about that. The young Monegasque has shown blinding speed complemented by maturity beyond his years and is not prone to the childish outbursts of his contemporary Verstappen when things don’t go his way. He has youth on his side and to top it all off, speaks fluid Italian too!

Surely then Ferrari just cannot go wrong with him.

Will Vettel drive for Ferrari in 2020?

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