All is not well in the House of Maranello according to several sources in Italy reporting mounting tensions between Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto and Charles Leclerc.
During the weekend at Monza, earlier this month, witnesses at the Italian Grand Prix recall Binotto and Leclerc arguing heatedly in the team garage, so much so that the Monegasque driver was taken ill during FP2 with nausea and a headache that forced him to go to the medical centre for a check-up.”
In other words, this was not a mere disagreement but rather a verbal altercation which was described by those there as “poisonous digs aimed at each other with tones that were gradually rising eventually requiring Nicholas Todt [Leclerc’s manager] to intervene and cool things down between them.”
Clearly, an unpleasant incident appears to have physically affected the driver at the most important Grand Prix for the Reds. No matter how spin-dottoris tried to sugarcoat it they were always in for an embarrassing home race due to the inefficiency of the woeful package they have for their drivers this year.
Despite this Leclerc typically gives it his best shot, now pushed by teammate Carlos Sainz, who in the end, inadvertently or not, is an extra source of friction between his teammate and his boss.
Furthermore, by all accounts, although this was the first ‘public’ fall-out between the pair, it has been an issue for a few months now, brewing since the start of the season when Leclerc realised, with the car they built for him, he was in for another season of pain.
And pain it has been as Ferrari are again no match for Red Bull and Mercedes and they’ll be lucky to beat a resurgent McLaren team in this year’s F1 constructors title race, which means a fourth place for the sport’s most successful team.
Unacceptable of course as F1 needs a strong Scuderia, which the current team Binotto built has not delivered. And Italy demands it too.
Adding fuel to the fire is that, during the course of this season, Binotto has regularly piled on praise for developments to the car and power unit, but the results have not been seen on track. And this is where Leclerc has taken exception.
While the boss trumpets performance developments, the drivers have to drive the car, a lethargic car, that requires risks and hard-driving which invariably leads to mistakes, but also prompts the questions: If the car is improving why is Leclerc not delivering podiums or wins on a regular basis? Or Sainz for that matter?
The harsh reality is that, relative to the Mercedes W12 and Red Bull RB15B, the team have a below-par-package in the Ferrari SF21, a concept no one understands how to make go quicker after two years of trying.
But Binotto and his engineers are refusing to accept or acknowledge that it is a dud of a car that induces over-driving, mistakes and shunts by both their drivers – both considered among the best of the new generation.
Of course, all this has been negative to the team dynamic, which before this season was all about Leclerc. The Little Prince the answer to the team’s prayers when he was walloping Sebastian Vettel on a regular basis and winning with a decent car to drive.
Remember how the Monaco Kid could do no wrong? Ferrari, Italy, Binotto were in awe of their Prince Charles who signed him until the end of 2024. History shows, Seb walked and in came Carlos.
Sainz is an ambitious lad, with a legend of a father – Carlos Senior – whose advice is priceless and evident in how Junior has won over the hearts and minds at Maranello. He did not go to Ferrari to play second-fiddle and is swiftly doing away with the perception that the Reds are Leclerc’s team.
So much so that Sainz, according to various reports, has become the team’s point of reference for technical development because the consensus among their engineers is that the Spaniard provides more reliable feedback than Leclerc.
That amounts to a major power shift within the Ferrari garage which sickened Leclerc who is obviously aggrieved about the new development and has further aggravated his increasingly fragile relationship with Binotto.
Needless to say, the decision to go the Carlos way went down like a lead balloon when Charles was told in Italy, which triggered the bust-up and required a Monza medical centre lie-down for the driver as he processed the harsh reality that he had just been demoted to number two by the team.
Until now Leclerc has played the team game, taking it on the chin when the car was no match for their rivals (most weekends) and doing with it what few can do without real complaints.
But it is evident that those days are coming to an end as the 23-year-old adjusts to the ever-shifting affections of an extremely volatile team led by Binotto’s whose incompetence, as a F1 team principal, is evidenced by what is Ferrari’s worst spell in the top flight.
On 22 September 2021, it was two years since the Great Team won a Grand Prix and 14 years since Kimi Raikkonen won Ferrari their last F1 Drivers’ World Championship title.