Former Formula 1 driver Ralf Schumacher believes that Ferrari have already chosen Charles Leclerc as their number one driver after his immense start to the 2022 Formula 1 season.
Leclerc has out-qualified team-mate Carlos Sainz in all three races thus far in 2022, winning two races while the Spaniard managed a best finish of second at the Bahrain Grand Prix behind the 24-year-old.
The former McLaren driver suffered a torrid weekend in Australia after a red flag and a starter issue saw him qualify ninth, before a change of steering wheel ahead of the race hindered him off the start.
In his haste to recover from 14th position, the 27-year-old made a mistake on the second lap of the race, spinning across Turn 10 and into the gravel.
He described the weekend in Melbourne as a “disaster,” but is hopeful that this weekend’s race in Imola will “hopefully” bring him better fortunes.
However, Schumacher believes that the mistakes Sainz made in Australia were indicative of a driver who is aware that the team have already prioritised his team-mate.
“The pecking order at Ferrari is already established,” he said.
“Carlos Sainz knows that too and is correspondingly angry.”
Ralf’s brother, Michael, won seven championships in one of the most illustrious careers ever seen in F1, and five of those came with Ferrari.
He was often the more prominent driver to the team over the likes of Rubens Barrichello, Eddie Irvine and Felipe Massa, and Ralf affirms that it never took long for the Scuderia to make him the focal point.
“There was a time when someone (Michael) was very successful and it was also the case that you knew relatively early on which driver you were concentrating on,” he added.
Team principal Mattia Binotto’s riposte came in the affirmation that it is far too early for his team to choose a number one, despite the 38-point gap Leclerc has over Sainz in the Drivers’ Championship.
“It’s only three races which have been done now,” he explained.
“There are still 20 races left, hopefully 19 or 20. So the championship is still very long. Our drivers are free to fight, and I am really looking forward and enjoying that they are battling for a good place, and first place, if possible.”
While Ferrari have been consistently at the front, Red Bull’s reliability woes leaves them 49 points adrift of their rivals in the Constructors’ Championship, with two DNFs leave reigning champion Max Verstappen sixth in the Drivers’ Standings.
After such poor fortunes early on this year, Verstappen conceded that there is “no reason to believe” that he can retain his crown this year.