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Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz: Could Ferrari driver flashpoints hurt team's F1 2024 prospects?

"They could do with another sit down"; Listen to the latest episode of the Sky Sports F1 podcast below for discussion on all the hot topics from China, including Ferrari's driver flashpoints, with guests David Croft and Christian Hewgill

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Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft says he doesn't mind if team-mates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz squabble and admits that Ferrari won't care too much either.

Ferrari endured their first underwhelming race of the Formula 1 season so far at the Chinese GP as they failed to finish on the podium for the first time in 2024.

With the SF-24 car which had proved Red Bull's closest challenger at the season's opening four rounds not showing so strongly around the Shanghai International Circuit, wider focus instead ended up being placed on the in-house battle between their drivers after flashpoints between Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in both the Saturday Sprint and the Grand Prix on Sunday.

Leclerc suggested his team-mate "went a bit over the limit" in his defence of fourth position as the Ferraris made contact in the closing laps of the Sprint, while Sainz said after Sunday's main race that both were disadvantaged when he was squeezed wide by the sister car through Turn One at the start.

"I prefer not to comment but it's obviously quite clear that it cost us two positions so it didn't help either of us," said Sainz of an incident which saw the Ferraris drop behind George Russell's slower Mercedes.

The in-house dynamic at Ferrari this year is being watched particularly closely given Sainz went into the season already in the knowledge he is being replaced by Lewis Hamilton for 2025, with the Spaniard, who has since started the campaign strongly, on the market for a new drive amid potential opportunities at Red Bull, Mercedes and Sauber/Audi.

Speaking on the post-China edition of the Sky Sports F1 podcast, commentator David Croft said that while he did not think Ferrari would necessarily mind their drivers racing each other hard, they might need to speak to them again to further remind them that their duels must not come at the expense of the team's collective prospects.

"[Team principal] Fred Vasseur sat down with both drivers after the Sprint race and before the Grand Prix, and I'm not quite sure it made a huge amount of difference right at the start of the race," said Croft.

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"They definitely were targeting third, they lost places at the start, there's a lot of squabbling between the drivers. I don't mind that, and I don't think Ferrari necessarily mind that.

"After all, look at Monza last year where they allowed Charles and Carlos to go banging wheels in the last few laps and giving us great entertainment on that one. And nothing was said about that other than praise for team and drivers for really going for that.

"It's only when it starts to really hurt them, and I don't think it necessarily really hurt them at the weekend apart from at the start where Carlos was forced wide.

"That was an understeering Charles Leclerc that was causing that rather than him trying to run his team-mate off the road.

"But they could do with another sit down I think and just be reminded that 'look, we're in a really great position to take second place in the championship, we don't want to throw that away. Carlos, I know you're going, but come on, you've got to do your bit for the team here'."

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Watch the opening lap of the Chinese Grand Prix as Max Verstappen held the lead and Fernando Alonso squeezed past Sergio Perez to take P2.

On Sunday's first-lap battle that saw Sainz run off track at the start, Croft added: "I think Carlos is right - they lost a bit of ground and losing that ground then had a knock-on effect.

"So they lost out places at the start, they pushed too hard to get those places back where they didn't necessarily need to had they just held the position, then that cost them towards the end.

"They didn't maximise their chances. I don't think they'd have got third place, which was their intention going into the race. Ferrari believed that they had the pace to get third."

Croft was joined as a guest on the podcast by Christian Hewgill, the host of The Fast And The Curious, who is not surprised to see early-season flashpoints between Leclerc and Sainz.

"If you've been kicked out by Ferrari [as Sainz has], I just think it's inevitable," said Hewgill.

"If he was still contracted to that team for another two years and thinking 'I might have the chance to win a world championship with this team if I've got this team's support around me' then he might play a different game.

"So I think the minute Ferrari committed to Lewis Hamilton for 2025 you open the possibility of 2024 being a trickier year to manage between your two drivers."

Ferrari's otherwise strong early-season form means they are marginally closer to leaders Red Bull (45 points) than third-placed McLaren (55 points) in the Constructors' Championship ahead of next week's Miami Grand Prix.

But Lando Norris' impressive second-place finish in Shanghai has raised expectations about McLaren's prospects this season, and Hewgill added: "McLaren are knocking at the door so they [Leclerc and Sainz] can't afford a situation where they take each other out because neither wants to give."

Could Ferrari's next upgrade be a 'game-changer'?

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Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft says it is never ideal for upgrades to be made to cars ahead of a sprint weekend.

Conclusively outperformed in China but is there hope on the horizon for the Scuderia and their drivers in their quest to close the gap to dominant Red Bull?

In his post-race interview with Sky Sports F1, Leclerc said that while he saw no positives to take from Ferrari's disappointing Shanghai weekend, he was holding out hope about their next car update.

"I think what is going to be the game-changer is going to be the upgrade, so we'll have to focus on that," said Leclerc.

"As soon as we have them that will give the direction for the rest of the season, so we'll have to get it right."

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Watch the opening lap of the Chinese Grand Prix as Max Verstappen held the lead and Fernando Alonso squeezed past Sergio Perez to take P2.

Croft understands the new package is scheduled to arrive in time for Miami, the season's second consecutive Sprint weekend.

"We talk about McLaren and their upgrades and their updates to come, Leclerc has described Ferrari's next updates as being a 'game-changer'," added Croft.

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Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft believes that if there are more sprint races introduced into the sport, then they should be in a separate championship, not the part of a Grand Prix.

"So we'll see where that comes as well. As far as I know they are coming to Miami. Introducing upgrades on a Sprint weekend is never ideal but get them in now, perfect them for Imola, because there's no point trying to perfect anything for Monaco."

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