The rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc can be healthy for Ferrari, according to its former technical director Ross Brawn.
Vettel declined to move over for Leclerc in the early stages of the Russian Grand Prix, after the younger driver had provided a tow from pole position and not defended his lead into the first corner. After a number of radio messages, Ferrari managed to reverse the positions during its pit stops before Vettel retired with a power unit issue, and Brawn — who was also previously team principal at Mercedes and is now managing director of motorsports at Formula 1 — says if handled correctly the rivalry can work well.
“Ferrari has clearly made a lot of progress in recent weeks but it still probably has to deal with a few internal issues in terms of the balance between its drivers,” Brawn said.
“On the one hand they have a four-time world champion who is still one of the finest drivers on the grid, despite a few too many mistakes over the past two seasons. And on the other, they have an incredible talent in Charles Leclerc — after all, you don’t take six poles (including four in a row), and win two races at legendary circuits such as Spa and Monza if you’re not a star in the making.
“It’s a potentially explosive combination and needs careful handling. Of course, Mattia (Binotto, team principal) is well aware of how this kind of dynamic can work as he has experienced it before when he was a young engineer, but now the honor and obligation falls to him to make sure that mechanism that drives what can be healthy rivalry runs smoothly.”
Vettel’s retirement opened the door for a Mercedes one-two in Russia and Brawn added he has been impressed by the way his former team has responded to Ferrari’s step forward in recent races.
“The fact that the championship leaders chose to start the race on medium compound tires, indicated that they realized they had to try something different in order to shake things up, as in terms of pure speed, in qualifying and over a long run, Ferrari had the upper hand.
“Before the summer break, it would have been hard to countenance the idea that Ferrari could match Mercedes and now the Anglo-German team has had to roll up its sleeves and counter punch, ready to jump on any opportunity or slip-up from its opponents.
“The tactic paid off handsomely in Sochi and resulted in a one-two that had looked very unlikely on Saturday. After five and a half dominant years, Mercedes is finally up against an opponent capable of really challenging their supremacy. Adapting to this has not been straightforward but Toto Wolff’s squad has reacted very well.”