Ferrari’s Next Top Charles
Who doesn’t know the name Ferrari? From its roots as the tiny Scuderia team to now dominating the global luxury scene, the Rosso Corsa of the prancing horses are just as, if not more, classic as the red-bottomed Louboutins. Despite their overwhelming 16 constructors’ championship titles (second place being Williams with only 9) they have been unable to end Mercedes’ recent dominance. Fighting for third place instead this year against McLaren and Alpine, their 2021 lineup is Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Charles Leclerc enters his third season with Ferrari in 2021, halfway through the longest driver contract in F1. Leclerc is undoubtedly the team’s golden boy, and he was picked up by Ferrari from Sauber after just one year in F1. His sheer speed was already apparent from his rookie year, ending up P13 in the championship. He then rocketed up to take P4 the next year in front of then teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Leclerc is one of, if not the, fastest driver in Formula 1, and that is showcased in his ridiculous qualifying pace. He has the remarkable ability to maximise his laps no matter how good the car is, and given that he was in a Sauber and the 2020 Ferrari car, the amount of Q3 appearances he has racked up is no mean feat. He also claimed the most poles in 2019. If he continues to beat Sainz this year, he will have never placed lower than a teammate in the championship standings for his entire F1 career.
This wildly impressive feat and his obvious talent on track is why Leclerc is among the drivers considered to be the next world champions. In particular he parallels Max Verstappen, who has been engaged in a rivalry with the Monegasque ever since their karting years. That conflict has since mellowed out as they reached F1, but in no way does that mean they are any less competitive on track.
Speaking of which, Leclerc’s most direct competition will be Carlos Sainz. Newly signed to Ferrari in a shock move, he now has two years to prove that he belongs amongst the Ferrari greats. Sainz is currently in his 7th season, and he has yet to break into the top 5 in the championship. But with Ferrari - considered one of the top 3 of the modern era alongside Mercedes and Red Bull until 2020 - he has a solid chance this year.
Sainz was a Red Bull Junior before he got to F1, but although he drove for sister team Toro Rosso for 2.5 years, he never made it into Red Bull. Despite that, he has enjoyed continuous improvement throughout his career, ending up 6th for the last two years with McLaren. His qualifying pace is no match for Leclerc, but his consistency on track and his mastery of wet conditions trumps Leclerc’s occasional tendency for mistakes on race day. Judging by how the SF21 looks much better than the 2020 car, they could still take 3rd in the constructors away from McLaren. And when announcing Sainz as the new 2021 driver, team principal Mattia Binotto said, "We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos ... will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves." Could this move be the very key to Sainz' first F1 win?
I have not signed anything that says second driver. I will give everything for Ferrari and I will give everything they need, above all, to try to win. Carlos Sainz
Well I’d personally disagree. Respectfully, Sainz would be a bit of a fool if he expected to waltz in and simply take the place of number one driver. Assuming he isn’t higher, Leclerc is still currently the third best right behind Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen, and with the commitment Ferrari put into his contract, they won’t be pushing him to the side. While McLaren haven’t been in the title fight for years, most would argue that they are matching Ferrari in the midfield battle. (if not beating them) With the new aero regulations and Mercedes engine, McLaren are in a very good position for 2022, and former teammate Lando Norris has just committed to a multi-year extension, citing that “my commitment to McLaren is clear: my goal is to … become F1 world champion and I want to do that with this team.”
There is also another red flag within Ferrari, and that is the number of junior drivers in their academy. The Ferrari Driver Academy is full of upcoming talents, and there are simply not enough seats within Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and potentially Haas. Callum Ilott was pushed out of a drive last year, and currently has a role as reserve driver for both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Then you have Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman in F2 this season as well. Sainz is safe for the next two years as his contract runs until 2022. But after that, he has some serious competition in Mick Schumacher.
There is a quote from Binotto last year that reads, “today it is too early to decide but there are the premises to see Mick in red in 2023.” That does not seem to bode well for Sainz. Whether it is in Alfa Romeo or a direct promotion to the prancing horses, Schumacher is closing in on that second seat. A Ferrari drive is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but in 2023 after all is said and done, where does that leave Sainz?
No one expects Sainz to back down against Leclerc, and that prompts a potentially tumultuous teammate relationship. But so far, the two have delivered some relatively impressive results in the past four races. (Both in the top ten save Sainz’ Portugal showing) If the duo continue to make the pairing work and Sainz can prove that he is of comparable calibre, perhaps he will be the one to postpone the return of the Schumacher name to the prancing horses.
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