Charles Leclerc became the latest lucky driver to experience the thrill of racing for Ferrari in Formula One. The Monegasque couldn’t quite follow in the footsteps of Mansell, Raikkonen and Alonso in winning his first race for the Scuderia but produced an impressive weekend to finish the Australian Grand Prix in fifth position.
Leclerc showed his speed and only team orders stopped him from having the opportunity to beat four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. He has already laid down a marker for the season for Vettel.
So, here are some examples of driving for Ferrari on debut where dreams can come true and also, where it doesn’t quite go to plan.
Nigel Mansell (1989) – Ferrari’s lack of reliability in winter testing saw Nigel Mansell book flights out of Rio de Janeiro even before the race was due to finish. However, Mansell surprised even himself on raceday. From sixth on the grid, the charging Brit overcame some first corner shenanigans involving his teammate Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna and had to pass Alain Prost twice to take the lead of the race. He then was waiting for the semi-automatic gearbox to let him down. It didn’t and Nigel recorded the best possible start to his dramatic two-year association with Ferrari. For the record, he failed to finish any of the next five races.
Eddie Irvine (1996) – It wasn’t a victory but Eddie Irvine certainly caused a stir on his Ferrari debut in 1996. Signed to drive for the Italian marque after two full seasons for Jordan, Irvine qualified a car that looked horrid to drive in third place. In the process, he outqualified reigning world champion Michael Schumacher in their first race together as teammates. Schumacher passed Irvine early on but after surviving an early skirmish with Jean Alesi’s Benetton, the Ulsterman benefited from a brake problem for Schumacher and finished an excellent third on debut, only behind the dominant Williams pairing of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. It would turn out to be Irvine’s only rostrum of 1996.
Fernando Alonso (2010) – It had been an association much-talked about and in October 2009, it was finally confirmed that Fernando Alonso would be linking up with Ferrari for 2010. He made a dream start in the 2010 season opener which was held in Bahrain. Alonso was outqualified by Felipe Massa but quickly asserted his authority over the Brazilian by overtaking him at the start. He harried race leader Sebastian Vettel and when the Red Bull started slowing with a broken exhaust, Alonso pounced to take the lead and cruise to victory on his Maranello debut. He won another four races that season but a strategical error in the season decider in Abu Dhabi saw Vettel snatch the championship from the Spaniard’s grasp
One to forget
Alain Prost (1990) – When Alain Prost decided to leave McLaren at the end of 1989 due to the tense relationship between him and Ayrton Senna, the only team that could match the Woking team at this stage was Ferrari. The Italian team lowered the track records at many circuits in winter testing and went to the season opener on the streets of Phoenix in the United States in quietly confident mood. They and Prost were in for a reality check. The car was nowhere in qualifying with Alain back in seventh position – his worst qualifying performance since Hungary 1988. Although he briefly reached fourth place in the race, an oil leak eventually sidelined him after just 21 laps. It wasn’t the start Prost hoped for but he did go on to win five races in 1990, including next time out in Brazil.
Nicola Larini (1992) – By 1992, Ferrari were uncompetitive and Ivan Capelli bore the brunt of their problems. Having been seriously criticised for his performances all year, Capelli was dropped after the Portuguese Grand Prix and replaced for the last two races by long-time test driver Nicola Larini. It started okay for the Italian as he lined up 11th and four places ahead of team leader Jean Alesi. However, he stalled on the grid and got away last. Larini ended up 12th, one lap behind race winner Riccardo Patrese and behind the Larrousse of Ukyo Katayama and both Dallara cars, powered by Ferrari engines. He didn’t retain his seat for 1993 but deputised for an injured Alesi twice in 1994 and finished second in the ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
Felipe Massa (2006) – It was one Brazilian in and one out in 2006 at Ferrari as Felipe Massa replaced the outgoing Rubens Barrichello who moved to Honda. Massa’s debut for the team came in Bahrain and he followed Michael Schumacher in qualifying to claim his first-ever front row start. Raceday didn’t go so well. He was overtaken by world champion Fernando Alonso on lap one, then spun wildly early on whilst attempting to stay with the Spaniard. A slow pitstop followed and he trailed home out of the points in ninth position. Things did improve for Massa after this poor debut and he won twice in 2006 to finish third in the final drivers’ standings.
The Vettel/Leclerc dynamic will be interesting to see this season and going by form, if not the result in Melbourne, Vettel will not have things his own way in 2019 at Ferrari.