Formula 1: Ferrari nothing more than a self-destructive also-ran

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF90 (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images) /

After preseason testing looked promising for Scuderia Ferrari, the 16-time Formula 1 champions have become nothing more than a self-destructive also-ran through the 2019 Formula 1 season’s first three races.

After 2019 Formula 1 preseason testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmeló, Barcelona, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari appeared to be the team to beat.

Over the past few seasons, they had inched closer to five-time reigning constructor champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport in the constructor standings, and the 2019 season appeared to be their best chance to earn their first constructor championship since the 2008 season and their first driver championship since the 2007 season.

It would be an understatement to say that aside of the fact that they are still ahead of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing for second place in the constructor standings, things have not exactly panned out for the Italian team, and it would be an understatement to say that this has been the case in large part due to the strength that Mercedes have shown through the first three races of the season.

More from Formula One

But it would be ridiculous to ignore the self-inflicted wounds that Ferrari have endured en route to becoming nothing more than a self-destructive also-ran just three races into the season.

Ferrari, which have a history of utilizing team orders, most recently to prioritize Sebastian Vettel from when he arrived at the the team ahead of the 2015 season through the 2018 season, his final season as Kimi Raikkonen’s teammate, opened up the season by stating that they would let their two drivers, Vettel and first-year Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, fight.

In the season opener, the Australian Grand Prix, they cost themselves by failing to carry through on this promise. In the race’s closing laps, the ordered the clearly faster Leclerc not to pass Vettel for fourth place.

At this point, it would have been smart to have Leclerc make another pit stop for new tires to try to gain the bonus point for recording the race’s fastest lap, as the 21-year-old Monegasque was well ahead of Rich Energy Haas’ Kevin Magnussen in sixth place. But Ferrari, which later admitted that it was a mistake not to make this decision, thought it was “too risky”.

Ahead of the season’s second race, the Bahrain Grand Prix, it was more of the same story. They stated that they would not issue team orders to place one driver ahead of the other. Leclerc ended up taking the pole position for this race alongside Vettel in second place.

But Vettel took the lead from Leclerc at the start. Leclerc then fell to third place behind Valtteri Bottas in second, but he proceeded to rally back. He passed Bottas for second and quickly ran down Vettel.

Ferrari then ordered him to stay behind Vettel for “two more laps”. Whether they really meant “two more laps” or not, we will never know, as he defied this team order to retake the lead from the 31-year-old German on the following lap.

An engine issue prevented a dominant Leclerc from winning the race, as he was forced to settle for third place. But he still finished ahead of the prioritized Vettel, who spun out and damaged his car before Leclerc’s engine had its issue. He finished in fifth after making an unscheduled pit stop due to this incident.

Then Ferrari actually told the truth about team orders ahead of the season’s third race, the Chinese Grand Prix. They stated that they would continue to prioritize Vettel, who trailed Leclerc by four points (26 to 22) in the driver standings at the time. Vettel ended up qualifying in third place ahead of Leclerc in fourth.

At the start of the race, Leclerc took third place from his teammate, and he held a steady gap of roughly one second over him through the race’s first few laps, at least in the eyes of everyone but Ferrari, which ordered Leclerc to let a “faster” Vettel pass him in an attempt to have him run down Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Bottas in first and second, respectively.

Vettel clearly did not have the pace to run them down, and this was obvious right away. But instead of having him and Leclerc switch positions again, they proceeded to have Leclerc go on a terrible tire strategy that effectively relegated him not only to fourth place but to fifth behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

Had Leclerc finished in fourth place, he would have been in third place in the driver standings with 38 points. Vettel and Verstappen would have been in a fourth place tie with 37 points. Instead, he sits in fifth with 36 points, and Verstappen sits in third with 39 points, two points ahead of Vettel in fourth with 37.

Prioritizing Vettel over Raikkonen was one thing; the four-time champion was clearly the better of the two drivers for the majority of their four-year tenure as teammates at Ferrari.

But prioritizing him over a clearly faster Leclerc is beyond ridiculous, and the fact that they continue to do it race after race as well as the fact that they continue to achieve nothing race after race as a result of it has effectively relegated them to the status of a self-destructive also-ran.

With all things considered, Mercedes have pretty much locked up the constructor and driver championships even with only three of the 2019 season’s 21 races having been completed.

They currently lead Ferrari by 57 points (130 to 73) in the constructor standings, which is more than one full race’s worth of points, and Vettel trails Bottas, the lower of the Brackley-based team’s two drivers, by 25 points in the driver standings, which is the amount of points awarded to race-winning drivers.

Next. Top 10 Formula 1 drivers of all-time. dark

Will Ferrari rebound from what has been an absolute disaster of a start to the 2019 Formula 1 season, or are they poised to battle for second place in the constructor standings and to have neither of their drivers finish in the top two in the driver standings? There is certainly still a long way to go this season, but things are not looking good for them at all.