Analysis: Ferrari's 2019 is turning into 2018 just with more team orders

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Another Grand Prix, another disappointment for Ferrari at Formula 1's milestone 1000th race in China.

The Scuderia was simply out-classed by Mercedes, who optimised their performance in the corners to score a third straight 1-2 to begin this season.

Powerless to keep up, it would lead to another internal struggle as the young apprentice was again sacrificed for the master to capitalise.

History has taught us that Ferrari only gives their drivers equal status in unique circumstances and when Charles Leclerc was announced for 2019, his position within the team was the first thought in most people's mind.

Would they allow their future star to challenge Sebastian Vettel's throne? Or would he follow the likes of Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen before him?

So far, the answer has been pretty empathic with three instructions in the first three races that can be construed as those two delicate words: 'team orders'.

In reality, only the decision in Shanghai can be argued against and even then, it isn't a particularly strong one.

Ferrari saw the two Mercedes pulling away out front, they saw Vettel on Leclerc's tail and knew the Monegasque had also been compromised by the lack of a long run in practice.

It did make sense to let the German through to try his luck but it was only after he had that we realised, in fact, they'd just been running the same pace all along.

There is arguably a case that the four-time world champion bottled it too with two small errors when he needed to push on, but after Bahrain, we'll let that angle slide.

The problem is, however, because Ferrari is so synonymous with team orders, and because so many question if Vettel deserves priority status, when anything like this happens it immediately gets jumped upon.

Soon, this will all change, Leclerc is already on Vettel's level and will just keep improving so eventually, the powers at be will have no choice but to shift focus.

It is until Ferrari knows that for sure though, that this debate will continue happening.

All of this also has roots in 2018 too, after former team boss Maurizio Arrivabene was criticised for not backing Vettel enough at key moments.

Upon replacing him, Mattia Binotto immediately made it clear that mistake would not be made again, but the problem is the situation at Ferrari is now very different.

One thing that isn't different though, is the Italian team's ability to make a bad situation worse.

Having asked Leclerc to move out the way, the team then ruined his race by keeping him out on used tyres in the first stint and effectively secured his fifth-place finish with the timing of his second pit-stop.

This is the most infuriating thing about Ferrari because there was the opportunity to try something and possibly cause some irritation at least at Mercedes.

Why not pit Leclerc for soft tyres for a short stint after letting Sebastian through? The kind of pace advantage he'd have had for 10-15 laps could have certainly kept Bottas on his toes.

Instead, by completing wrecking Charles' race, it almost came across as an intentional way of ensuring he could no longer challenge Vettel, and that would be a much bigger controversy than one or two team orders.

All of this overshadows what is the main issue for Ferrari, however, their lack of performance.

Just three races into 2019 and already the championship situation is concerning, Vettel and Leclerc sit fourth and fifth in the Drivers' Championship with over 30 points to make up to Lewis Hamilton on top.

Of course, there's still a long... long... long way to go, but Mercedes has only become stronger since feeling the threat of the Scuderia and they will certainly not stop in their relentless push for speed.

This while Ferrari only appears to be a one-trick pony as their excellent engine gives them a straight-line speed advantage.

That will help them in Baku though, where they may well dominate, but after that, both the car and their strategies must improve otherwise a year of Silver Arrow dominance will follow.