Formula 1: Ferrari essentially handing Lewis Hamilton his 6th championship

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 31: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 31, 2019 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 31: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 31, 2019 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) /

Scuderia Ferrari are essentially handing Lewis Hamilton his sixth career Formula 1 championship with their team orders prioritizing Sebastian Vettel over Charles Leclerc.

Despite the fact that he was robbed of what would have been the first Formula 1 victory of his career in the 2019 season’s second race, the Bahrain Grand Prix, nearly two weeks ago with an engine issue that took place with just 10 of the race’s 57 laps remaining, first-year Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc sits in fourth place in the driver standings with 26 points while four-time champion teammate Sebastian Vettel sits in fifth with 22 points.

But building this four-point lead over Vettel in the driver standings has not come easily for Leclerc. Ferrari utilized team orders to keep Vettel ahead of him late in the season opener, the Australian Grand Prix, as his was rapidly closing in on his clearly slower teammate. Vettel ended up finishing this race in fourth place ahead of Leclerc in fifth.

The team then utilized team orders again to try to keep Vettel ahead of Leclerc after taking the lead from him at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Leclerc fell to third place from the pole position behind Vettel and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s Valtteri Bottas before battling back and taking second from Bottas and then hunting down Vettel for the lead.

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Leclerc ignored this team order to stay behind Vettel for two more laps and proceeded to pass him on the following lap before going on to dominate the race, only to see what was almost a guaranteed victory turn into a third place finish behind Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in first and second, respectively, due to the engine issue that his car experienced.

But he still finished the race ahead of Vettel, who spun out with 20 laps remaining after Hamilton passed him for second place and ended up throwing away a top two finish, perhaps even a victory, because of it. Vettel ended up finishing in fifth.

With all things considered, Leclerc has established himself as the faster and more reliable of the Scuderia’s two drivers through the first two races of the 2019 season.

Yet even with 21-year-old Monegasque having clearly outperformed the 31-year-old German through these two races, Ferrari have committed to prioritizing the veteran as opposed to the youngster, team principal Mattia Binotto has confirmed, although this is subject to change.

In other words, congratulations to Hamilton on winning his third consecutive Formula 1 championship and his fifth championship in the last six seasons to become only the sport’s second ever six-time champion (with no disrespect to Bottas, of course, who currently leads the driver standings by one point (44 to 43) over his teammate in second place).

There is a saying that goes “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. That’s literally what Ferrari are doing by prioritizing Vettel, just as they did for the overwhelming majority of the four-year span from the 2015 season through the 2018 season during which Kimi Raikkonen was his teammate.

The only difference now is that Vettel has been clearly outperformed by his teammate, which was rarely the case during his four seasons driving alongside the 39-year-old Finn at the Prancing Horse, but that just makes this situation even worse for Ferrari.

Leclerc would certainly not be 100% guaranteed to win the championship if allowed to fight Vettel or perhaps even given priority over him, although he very well could; he definitely has championship potential and has already proven that he can compete at a high level.

However, what is certain is that we have seen this act from Ferrari before in terms of prioritizing Vettel over his teammate and it has never resulted in their desired result of Vettel winning the team’s first driver championship since Raikkonen won it in the 2007 season and Ferrari winning their first constructor championship since they won it in the 2008 season.

This is largely due to the fact that Vettel has become an extremely mistake-prone driver, especially since the 2017 season. It is hard enough to defeat Hamilton without making mistakes, although Vettel certainly had the car to do it in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, two seasons that resulted in him finishing in second place behind Hamilton in the driver standings.

But defeating Hamilton while making mistakes, especially the amount of mistakes that Vettel has made in recent seasons? Forget about it.

If you do the math and give Vettel all of the points that he lost in the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to his unforced errors and take away from Hamilton all of the points that he gained in these two seasons because of them, Vettel would be a six-time champion right now while Hamilton would still be a three-time champion with his most recent championship coming back in the 2015 season.

Vettel finished the 2017 season a total of 46 points behind Hamilton (363 to 317) in the driver standings, and he finished the 2018 season a total of 88 points behind him (408 to 320).

Vettel has now spun out or been involved in some form of unforced error in seven of the last 19 races dating back to early last season. This trend has shown no signs of slowing down, as he continued it with his late spin in this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Is he really the driver who gives Ferrari the best chance to end their championship drought? He still has time to right the ship this season, but recent seasons and the start of the 2019 season indicate that this driver may very well be Leclerc, not Vettel.

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How will the 2019 Formula 1 championship battle play out? Will Sebastian Vettel take advantage of the fact that he is still Ferrari’s prioritized driver and truly give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money? Will Ferrari make Charles Leclerc their prioritized driver if Vettel continues to struggle? Lastly, will anyone stop Hamilton from winning what would be his sixth career Formula 1 championship this year?

There are a total of 21 races on the 2019 schedule, and only two of them have been completed, so we won’t know the answers to these questions for quite some time. That said, given what Mattia Binotto recently stated about prioritizing Vettel over Leclerc, things could already really start to heat up in this weekend’s race, the Chinese Grand Prix.

This race, which is the third race of the season, is scheduled to begin at 2:05 a.m. ET on Sunday, April 14, and it is set to be broadcast live from Shanghai International Circuit in Jiading, Shanghai, China on ESPN2.