What Leclerc’s arrival means for Vettel

Richard Hazeldine Richard Hazeldine

Ferrari confirmed the rumours about their driver lineup on Tuesday when they announced that young gun Charles Leclerc would be replacing Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the season.

While bad news for the Ice man (a return to Sauber means he at least he didn’t have to exit the sport altogether), this brave move from the bosses over at Maranello will certainly inject a bit of excitement into the Formula 1 equation and along with the arrival of Lando Norris at McLaren, give hope to the legions of talented, up-and-coming young drivers.

One man who should be slightly worried, however, is Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion has been unofficial top-dog at Ferrari for the last four years, but that could change with the arrival of the Monaco-born prodigy.

The 20-year old Leclerc arrives with a great pedigree having won the GP3 and Formula 2 in the last three years, while he has also performed miracles for Sauber this season, finishing an impressive sixth in Azerbaijan while also completing the first nine races of the season. He has made it through to Q3 three times while consistently outpacing his more-experienced team-mate Marcus Ericsson.

It was this unbelievable start to the season that is said to have convinced the late Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne to give Leclerc a chance – a wish that Ferrari have now honoured.

The new line-up is certainly an exciting one for the Italians, but having one established champion and a rising star at a team doesn’t always work out well – think Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007.

Also, let’s not forget that the last time Vettel was paired with an up-and-coming driver in Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014, the then reigning four-time champion finished way behind the Aussie and ended up jumping ship to Ferrari at the end of the season. And while no-one suggests that a similar thing is going to happen at Ferrari next year, it has now been 11 years since the Prancing Horses last won a world championship (Raikkonen in 2007).

Knowing that he will have an extremely talented young driver and a potential threat to his primacy as a team-mate next season will up the pressure on Vettel. How he reacts to the pressure over the next seven races will be vital.

Should the German go on to overhaul Lewis Hamilton and win the championship then he can expect to rule the roost at Ferrari for the immediate future.

Failure to deliver in what is widely recognised as the fastest car on the circuit, and then it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to suggest there could be some upheaval in Italy.

As pundits and fans know, Formula 1 is no place for the faint-hearted. Sebastian Vettel may once again be about to find out just how brutal it can be.

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