Teammate Tale of the Tape - Leclerc vs Sainz at Ferrari
Can Ferrari turn things around in 2021 with a new driver and a renewed outlook?
It's a new era at Ferrari heading into the 2021 season. After no longer needing the services of Ferrari's third most winningest driver in history, the Scuderia welcome Carlos Sainz to the team to partner Charles Leclerc. Ferrari have clearly invested in the future as it is uncharacteristic of the Italian team to partner two young drivers together as it is their youngest lineup since 1968. After one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Ferrari are hoping that their worst days are behind them and this season offers them the chance to right the wrongs of 2020. The new pairing of Leclerc and Sainz is a promising one but much like every new driver lineup, there is also the possibility of fireworks and in-fighting between the team. Can these two co-exist together in order to bring Ferrari back to the top of Formula 1? To try and find the answer to this question, first we've got to break down the tale of the tape between the two drivers and see how they matchup against each other.
Tale of the Tape - Leclerc vs Sainz
After bursting onto the scene as a future F1 superstar, Charles Leclerc had his first real test of adversity last season when Ferrari were struggling with performance. Leclerc truly showed his championship potential and leadership qualities by consistently outperforming the car and his teammate throughout a difficult year. Now that Ferrari's de-facto team leader in Vettel is gone, Leclerc will assume the role of number one and Ferrari team leader... or will he? I'm sure Carlos Sainz has something to say about that but first let's look at the tale of the tape between these two drivers.
Sainz has 3 years on Charles Leclerc and twice as much Grand Prix experience. Sainz enters his 7th season of Formula 1 coming off of his most successful season to date. He'll be looking to add to his podium tally at Ferrari along with that illustrious first Grand Prix win which he came close to achieving last season. After spending years in the mid-field, this is Sainz's first opportunity at a big team. Even though Ferrari is coming off of a poor season, the honor of driving for the Scuderia is not any less for the 26 year old Spaniard. "It's impossible really for me to put into words what goes through my mind. From entering the Fiorano track and entering the Ferrari world...seeing the car with the number 55 on it, seeing your name... it sounds like a small detail but seeing your name on a Ferrari car with your number is something that you will never forget." Charles Leclerc is also no stranger to the first time feels of driving a Ferrari as he enters his third season with the team. He's racked up 12 podium finishes along with two race victories that came in his debut Ferrari season in 2019. Leclerc has an impressive record against his F1 teammates going 3-0 so far in his career. He is also able to out-race teammates 55% of the time while out-qualifying them 71% of the time. Sainz on the other hand also has a positive record against teammates at 4-2 in his career. He out-races them 56% of the time while out-qualifying his teammates half the time in his F1 career. The tale of the tape at Ferrari favors Leclerc but now let's look at both drivers on their own and the skills they bring into this season.
#16 Charles Leclerc
Charles Leclerc is part of a special young breed of F1 drivers that will take the sport forward after the likes of Hamilton, and Vettel have retired. In his first three seasons of F1, he's shown many championship qualities and has been unfazed by the pressure of the Ferrari environment. Leclerc's already taken 7 pole positions in F1, all coming in his debut season for Ferrari. He's reached Q3 in 39 out of 59 attempts and is a consistent top 6 finisher. His best championship finish of 4th was also achieved in 2019 and has scored points in over 65% of his career races. Now with Vettel out of the picture, Leclerc will be looking to firmly grab hold of the number one driver position and Ferrari's team leader. The adversity of the 2020 season proved that Leclerc can rally his team behind him and still deliver good results even when the car isn't so good. I think the next step for Leclerc will be one that Max Verstappen has taken in the past few years. It will be important for Leclerc to be a more matured and calculated driver while minimizing his mistakes as much as possible. He's still quite young in Formula 1 years and like we saw last season for example in Sakhir, he still tends to take some high risk maneuvers that don't always pay off in the end. You like to see a driver go for a gap, but much like Verstappen has refined his risk vs reward game, I think Leclerc will need to do that as well. He has a significant upper hand on Sainz in terms of knowing the car and the team so they'll be relying on him as the senior driver. I'd like to think that it can't get much worse for Ferrari than 2020 and with a redesigned engine, we could see Charles Leclerc back up at the front of the grid fighting for wins and podiums. There is certainly a lot of pressure on Leclerc as Ferrari have put a lot of faith in his talents but he's shown time and again that he's more than capable of handling all that comes with being a Ferrari driver.
#55 Carlos Sainz
After bouncing around the F1 grid in Red Bull's junior program, it looked like Sainz had found a comfortable home in McLaren in which he could build a team around him. But when a seat opened up last May at Maranello, Sainz jumped at the chance to join one of motorsports most prestigious teams. The smooth operator brings impressive numbers to Ferrari regardless of spending all of his career in mid-field teams. He averages a top 8 finish while also averaging a top 10 start on the grid. His best championship finish of 6th came two times, both with McLaren in 2019 and 2020. His big step forward came last season when he nearly won his first race in Monza and also managed to take the race lead on merit at a Grand Prix like Portugal. He also chipped in another podium finish and a season's worth of great performances led to McLaren securing third in the Constructor's. Much like the other new drivers this year, Sainz has the difficult task of trying to get up to speed in a very limited time frame. Luckily, he's been able to take advantage of the Fioarano test track a few weeks ago when he drove the SF71-H. Although a car that is now three seasons old, getting to know the Ferrari procedures was a key aspect of the test. It's a luxury that other new drivers like Vettel, Ricciardo, and Perez won't get to experience until the season actually gets underway in early March for testing. Sainz has shown himself to be a fierce racer who is not afraid of a fight or a challenge. His consistent high level of driving will be beneficial to Ferrari after a season in which they could only rely on one car. Sainz is still young at 26 years of age but he will be the more experienced driver at Ferrari with double the Grand Prix's raced than Leclerc. He's also driven for three different teams in the last four years so he should be able to adapt himself to a new team a little easier as this won't be new to him. I think it would be naïve to underestimate the skills of Carlos Sainz and he'll enter the 2021 season with the full intention of showing Ferrari and the F1 world that he's not just here to be a support driver but actually a contender himself.
What can we expect from Ferrari?
When you hit rock bottom, the positive about it is that you can only go up from there. After their worst Constructors championship finish since 1981, Ferrari fans are cautiously optimistic about the 2021 season. With a brand new power unit, Mattia Binotto and Ferrari are hoping that they can get back to competing at the front of the grid sooner rather than later. They'll still have to wait another season or two before they can realistically challenge for a championship, but their goals at the moment are just to improve on what was a very poor 2020 season. So enter the new driver lineup of Leclerc and Sainz and you can see why Ferrari believe there are brighter days ahead. But the Ferrari management will have their hands full with their youngest driver lineup since 1968. Binotto says Leclerc and Sainz are 'free to fight' and that they won't have a traditional number one and number two driver like Ferrari have done in the past. But do we really believe that this will be the case? Ferrari brought in a young protégé like Leclerc and immediately put a ton of support behind him. It led to the ousting of Sebastian Vettel and a shiny new five year contract for Leclerc which is quite long in Formula 1 terms. I think it's clear that Ferrari want Leclerc as their next world champion and true number one which is possibly a reason why they brought in a driver like Sainz and not Daniel Ricciardo. Not to say that Sainz is a sub-par driver, quite the opposite in fact. Sainz will definitely try and stake his claim as the number one at Ferrari and he's not going to just roll over and settle for number two. Out of all the new driver lineups, I see this one being the most problematic in terms of on-track battles and in team fighting. It's going to be close between these two and I hope Ferrari have learned a few things from their teammate's mistakes in the past few seasons. Leclerc and Sainz are both highly rated and very competitive who won't give an inch to each other in their battle and I can't wait to see it all unfold this season.