Ferrari, the longest running team in Formula One history, has spent a significant portion of 2020 in distress — and that is, unfortunately, nothing new. The team threw away its chances at battling for a championship in 2019, and things have only grown worse since. But if you only listened to what the Ferrari camp is saying, you might never realise how dire the situation is. In fact, team principal Mattia Binotto has been frequently insisting that everything is just fine.
Both Ferrari cars failed to finish last weekend’s Monza Grand Prix, just as they both did at the Styrian Grand Prix. The previous weekend, at Spa, neither Ferrari finished inside the points. The team currently sits sixth in the World Constructors’ Championship, lagging behind both McLaren and Renault. And Binotto is convinced that there is nothing to worry about.
“I think it is wrong to use the word crisis for the moment we are going through,” Binotto told Sky Italia after the Belgian Grand Prix. “Certainly this is a very bad result within a difficult season that we are experiencing. But we knew it was coming, we saw it in winter testing, and then came the [car update] freeze and the impossibility to develop the car.”
Instead, Binotto said that the team was “in the middle of the storm” and that its lack of pace at Spa was solely down to track characteristics. “There is no crisis, no tension,” he assured viewers.
He’s sticking to his guns, even after Sebastian Vettel’s brakes failed and Charles Leclerc crashed at high speed in Monza.
“I think we were not in a crisis last time, and I can confirm that is not the case,” Bunotto said. Instead, he evaded pinning responsibility on anyone in the Ferrari camp, saying that there were simply reliability issues that plagued an already difficult race.
Binotto is claiming that Ferrari’s 1000th race — the upcoming event at Mugello — will be a significant improvement, as it is a totally different kind of track to Monza and Spa-Francorchamps.
However, just like in 2019, Ferrari has had a wholly different problem to contend with every weekend. In Austria, the car was dramatically slow on straights and could only qualify midpack. Both drivers crashed into each other. The team updated the car’s package, but nothing substantial came from it. Radical changes to downforce levels didn’t seem to pay off. Engines have failed. Strategy and pit stops have been questionable. The team introduced a whole new chassis after Vettel’s was found to be faulty. There were problems with tire performance. The car consistently lacked grip. Once again, everything is wrong, and nothing seems to alleviate the pain.
And it’s going to be a while. Binotto doesn’t expect the team to win before 2022, but he has also evasively suggested that 2022 might even be a bit generous. Before the season, Leclerc didn’t have high hopes for his team. He is, however, contractually obligated to stick it out until 2024.
Anyone with eyes would probably consider Ferrari’s situation this year a crisis. No, it isn’t a sudden onset of disaster — but two straight seasons where a generations-old team has slipped from frontrunner to midfielder on a good day isn’t exactly promising. I can understand why Binotto would want to play things down in public, but lingering firmly in denial is no way to tackle the problems he and the team are facing.
I do have to agree with Binotto that firing people every time something goes wrong isn’t the way to go. Ferrari’s recent problems seem to stem in part from the fact that the team has been a revolving door of staff members for the past several years. Since 2013, Ferrari has had three different team principals: Marco Mattiacci, Maurizio Arrivabene, and Mattia Binotto. And many staff members responsible for car design have been sacked along the way, with each season signalling a chance for the team to freshen up its team. It might be time to stick with a strong group of performers and try to find some consistency as a group.
And it might be time for Binotto to start admitting that things just aren’t working the way he’s been hoping. The first step to change is, after all, admitting that something needs to get changed.