Leclerc shows up Vettel again at Silverstone, leaving Ferrari with a decision to make
It was Lewis Hamilton's day at Silverstone as he secured a record-breaking sixth home win, but this British Grand Prix may well prove more ground-breaking for Ferrari, as Charles Leclerc added more weight to growing calls for him to stand level – at the very least – with Sebastian Vettel at the Scuderia.
Outright results are beginning to back this up. Leclerc has taken to the podium in each of the last four races, while Vettel has not enjoyed a run as good since the start of the 2017 season.
Away from the naked numbers, Leclerc's battle with Max Verstappen at Silverstone, and Vettel's subsequent rear-ending of the Red Bull man shows there is little comparison between their racing right now.
Of course this battle was a carry-over from Austria a fortnight ago, where Verstappen was the winner.
Their Silverstone scrap began in the pit-lane – Verstappen jumping Leclerc thanks to rapid work from Red Bull's mechanics, and McLaren's hopping out of the way to avoid crushed toes.
However, the Dutchman ran wide on the outlap, Leclerc getting through, and the battle was on once again.
The Silverstone crowd is as partisan as any on the calendar in favour of Hamilton but the home hero was briefly forgotten as the audience fell agog for the youngsters in battle.
Verstappen spat up gravel coming out of Luffield after Leclerc held off his first attack and the Ferrari man made good on pre-race promises to ditch his Spielberg subservience when he slammed the door shut on Verstappen as he tried to tip-toe through at the 180mph Stowe corner.
There was plenty on the line for both drivers as they fought for the final podium spot but a ceasefire was briefly called when Antonio Giovinazzi shambled into the gravel at Club.
Leclerc was the big loser, dropping from third to sixth, now behind the rival he had fought so hard to stay ahead of.
It did little to extinguish the heat of battle, though, and Leclerc took on his role of aggressor in style, barging his way alongside at Club having taken the racing line in a strikingly similar way that Verstappen had with three laps to go at the Red Bull Ring.
Differently to Turn 3 in Spielberg, however, Verstappen had ample room running onto Silverstone's home straight and was able to keep his right foot planted and out-dragged his way back ahead of the Ferrari.
Thankfully there was no interruption from the stewards on this occasion and the two drivers set to play out a decade of making this sport special were allowed to offer us another glimpse of this golden future.
Leclerc called this the most fun he's had in his F1 career and he is swiftly becoming just as box office as Verstappen has been for some time.
Unfortunately for Max, things would soon turn sour.
Having fought off Leclerc and then passing team-mate Pierre Gasly, he set sights on Vettel, running in a net second position at this point after lucking out at the safety car arriving before he had pitted.
Verstappen caught Vettel cold into Stowe, pulling off arguably the overtake of the race around the outside.
Only a few hundred metres later, all his hard work was undone, as Vettel looked to sneak through a narrowing gap into Vale, and locked up his tyres trying to back out of it, shunting Verstappen into the gravel and ruining both their races.
There was no chance of another wait for the stewards' decision and it soon arrived: Vettel was wholly to blame and given a 10-second time penalty; largely immaterial as stopping for a new nose had dropped to him to last place.
Vettel's mistakes are growing with frequency and can no longer be put down to coincidences. Whether his skills have diminished, his motivation has waned, or those now alongside him are simply better, he looks nothing of the four-time world champion we once knew.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto cited Vettel's loftier position to Leclerc in the drivers' standings as reason to maintain giving "priority" to the German in 50-50 moments between the team-mates this season.
That decision seemed questionable when announced in pre-season, potentially damaging when Leclerc was shackled by team orders in the season's early races and now it looks pretty ridiculous.
Leclerc has overcome a weakness in qualifying with the minimum of fuss, but Vettel's error streak now spreads over a full calendar year. The next grand prix sees a return to Hockenheim, scene of the ignition of Vettel's slump in battle with Hamilton for last year's title.
Crossing the half-way point in the campaign, it is clear that Ferrari will not break their title drought in 2019.
If they are to stand a better chance of doing so in 2020, putting faith in Leclerc to deliver it is the only way.
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