Seeing the dynamic of power shift within a Formula 1 team is rather like watching the sun rise at dawn. You first become faintly aware of a brightening of the sky as time ticks by, before the new day is suddenly there in all its glory.
We’ve been aware for some time that Charles Leclerc would probably, eventually – through the unstoppable passage of time as much as his sheer driving talent – become the main man at Ferrari. But the manner of his first two grand prix victories – fending off Mercedes while his four-time champion team-mate made rookie mistakes and played a subjacent role – has suddenly rendered the new dynamic at Ferrari crystal clear.
What’s happening to Sebastian Vettel happens to most drivers eventually. Rather like in politics, all racing careers end in failure – once someone younger, stronger and faster comes along. Vettel’s been here before of course, when Daniel Ricciardo bounded into Red Bull all sunshine, big smiles and race victories against the odds in 2014. Vettel bounced off to Ferrari come season’s end. He must surely be considering whether history will soon repeat itself, especially after seeing Fernando Alonso sniffing around the Monza paddock…
Ricciardo subsequently went through something similar with this month’s cover star: Max Verstappen. Eventually, Verstappen just proved too relentlessly good for Ricciardo to live with. Daniel surely became faintly aware of the balance of power shifting subtly within Red Bull, and decided to seek pastures new rather than fight the irresistible tide.
Verstappen has driven superbly over the past 12 months, to the point where Red Bull considers him F1's most in-form driver. Nico Rosberg shares that opinion, or he did until Verstappen blotted his blemish-free copybook with a first lap crash at Spa.
Rosberg claimed that first-corner collision with Kimi Räikkönen suggested Max was back to his “old self” (ie over-zealous), but that’s unfair. True, Max was keen to make up for a poor start, but Räikkönen also turned as though no other cars existed. This was not the banzai Max of yore, nor at Monza either.
In any case, Rosberg has since felt the full force of Verstappen’s tongue. Max has never been afraid to speak his mind and went on the attack, describing Rosberg as having “no charisma” and becoming “the new Jacques Villeneueve” by giving controversial opinions just to gain attention. Ouch!
Max was in good form too when we sat down to interview him for this edition of F1 Racing, discussing the remarkable transformation he’s undergone over the past year or so. It’s clear he has matured, elevating him close to Lewis Hamilton’s level in terms of consistency as well as pure performance. Leclerc is showing signs he too will very soon belong in that elite club. As for Vettel, well, the day is always darkest before the dawn.