Formula 1 managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn has warned that the rivalry developing between Ferrari team-mates Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc is ‘potentially explosive’.
Frustrations during the Singapore Grand Prix, where early leader Leclerc felt he was robbed of victory by the team, manifested themselves in Russia last weekend.
A pre-race agreement between pole-sitter Leclerc and Vettel saw the German leapfrog into the lead from the start.
A fraught series of radio exchanges followed as the team tried to shuffle their steeds before compromising Vettel’s race strategy to effect the switch.
Though both drivers and team tried to hose down the situation post-race, Brawn suggests there’s an internal battle brewing at the Scuderia.
“Mattia Binotto will have work to do in the next few days to pour oil on what seem like turbulent waters,” Brawn wrote in a column for the sport’s official website.
“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.
“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.”
Traditionally Ferrari has employed a clear pecking order with its drivers, highlighted by the relationship between Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello during the team’s most successful period.
Running two ‘lead’ drivers has typically ended in drama, as McLaren found out with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and more recently Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Brawn believes Ferrari’s situation therefore needs to be managed delicately if it’s to be kept in hand, though suggests it’s not something Binotto hasn’t seen before.
“Mattia 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 honour and obligation falls to him to make sure that mechanism that drives what can be healthy rivalry runs smoothly.”
Leclerc ultimately netted third place in Russia after being compromised by an ill-timed Safety Car.
However, the 21-year-old’s recent form has seen him rise to third in the drivers’ championship, two places ahead of Vettel.
Formula 1 moves to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix on October 11-13.