A disappointing 2018 season saw Ferrari finish as the bridesmaid to Mercedes in the F1 constructors championship by a margin of 84 points. Likewise, the Italian team’s top driver, Sebastian Vettel, ended the season second to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, trailing the five-time champion by a final margin of 84 points as well.

As it stands, Ferrari has not tasted a world championship since Kimi Raikkonen’s triumph in 2007. Likewise, Ferrari has not won the constructors title in 2008. The inability to win both titles plus Raikkonen’s decision to return to Sauber, prompted big changes for the 2019 Formula One season.

After confirming Raikkonen’s departure, Ferrari announced that they had promoted Monaco’s Charles LeClerc as Sebastian Vettel’s partner for the 2019 season while making him the youngest Ferrari Formula One driver in nearly 60 years. The 21 year old Monegasque won the GP3 Series title in 2016 and the following year, he captured the FIA Formula 2 championship.

“Racing" LeClerc Out To Challenge Vettel

Last year, LeClerc made his F1 debut for the Ferrari-affiliated Sauber team and became the first Monegasque to race in Formula One since Olivier Beretta in 1994. LeClerc finished 6th at last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to become only the second driver from Monaco to score points in Formula One. But his achievements were more than setting Monegasque records.

LeClerc would out-qualify his teammate Marcus Ericsson on almost every occasion. He would finish among the Top 10 qualifiers in several races and finished with points in several races. He would end the season as the13th best driver and finished as the higher ranked driver for the team while helping Sauber improve from last to 8th place in the constructors championship.

LeClerc’s arrival at Ferrari is seen as a challenge to Vettel’s dominance because while Raikkonen was a good soldier and co-pilot, LeClerc is seen as a threat who could supplant Vettel as Ferrari’s ace driver. Ferrari has said that it will “prioritise” Vettel in early 2019 but LeClerc vowed to put a stamp on the team and give Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto a “problem” by being on Vettel’s pace early in the season. LeClerc would be a “good problem” to have because not only will he be looking for his own success but he is expected to push Vettel to the next level and hopefully take Ferrari with them.

True to expectations, a clearly motivated Sebastian Vettel emerged dominant in the first day of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. The 31-year old German driver sat nearly two seconds clear at the top of the timing screens at the lunch break and remained clear of all rivals for the rest of Day 1.

Day 2 saw LeClerc drive his first pre-season test for Scuderia and the young gun delivered the goods, ending up three-tenths of a second faster than anyone else and giving Ferrari a dominant performance for the second straight day of testing.

After dominating the first round of testing, Ferrari suffered it biggest blow when Sebastian Vettel crashed in Day 2 of the second pre-season testing. The team later revealed that the cause for the crash was a wheel rim issue. Ferrari bounced back on Day 3 when LeClerc posted the fastest time of the F1 preseason tests so far. The Monaco native’s time of one minute and 16.231 seconds was just .05 seconds short of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track record set by Lewis Hamilton during the qualifiers for the Spanish Grand Prix last year. With one more testing date to go on Friday, March 1st, Ferrari has been literally red hot so far.

As much as the early success has been attributed to their drivers, there is no question that Ferrari’s new car is also making waves in the industry. Ferrari named their new car SF90 to reflect their 90th anniversary this year. The SF90 features matte paint for the first time in Ferrari history but the SF90 is more than just having a different paint work.

To conform to the new technical regulations this year, the SF90 has a radical-looking front wing whose rear flaps slope downwards from the center and towards the outside of the wing. The purpose of this is to channel air inside in an aerodynamically advantageous manner while reducing the losses caused by the new regulations. This wing is also seen on Ferrari’s sister team Alfa Romeo.

The development of the SF90 was overseen by new boss Binotto who was Ferrari’s technical director last year. Binotto called the SF90 a development of last year’s car instead of a revolution, noting that they simply tried to push and raise the bar and be extreme as they could. Said Binotto, via f1i.com on 2/15/19:

“It is not a revolution. We simply tried to push again to raise the bar, raise the level, and try to be as extreme as we could.

“There are a few changes that are straightforward, like the front wing that is for the technical regulations that have changed since last time.

“But if you look at it in all the details, certainly we try to push very hard, being innovative. The roll hoop is very narrow and very slim.

“And if you look at the bodywork at the back it is very, very slim, and that is thanks to the entire job, which you cannot see because it is below, in terms of engine installation and power installation packaging.

“A lot of effort has been done and I think the final shape is the result of all this effort. We like it.”

With a new boss in Binotto, a new car called the SF90 and a new driver in Charles LeClerc who is out to push not only the SF90 but Sebastian Vettel as well, only big things lie ahead for the Scuderia this year. Not only does Ferrari want to give Mercedes a better challenge this year, they are aiming to break the decade-long title drought.

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