Opinion: 2020, the year that could have been for Ferrari

It’s safe to say that 2020 has not been the best year for Ferrari. From dropping Sebastian Vettel, who has previously been their best shot at a title, to engine problems leaving them and their customer teams falling behind initial expectations.

Only two podiums in the first four races would usually be a disaster for Ferrari in the modern era, especially when McLaren have one third place and Mercedes have won all four. It doesn’t bode well for a team with such pedigree within the sport.

Not having both drivers through to Q3 in Austria wasn’t a major issue, especially as Charles Leclerc had described the performance of the car as “probably worse than we expected”. But when team principal Mattia Binotto confirmed that there were major design flaws with the SF1000, particularly regarding the aerodynamics, this did not fill anyone within the team, or the fans, with confidence.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

As if things couldn’t get worse, they did at the Styrian Grand Prix when both cars collided on the first lap and had to retire. Even with the new upgrades to the front wing and rear diffuser, the car just couldn’t meet the standards expected from the team and the fans.

Hungary was an improvement, especially in qualifying. Both drivers made it through to Q3 and both finished the race, even if they were both lapped by Lewis Hamilton.

Also, Ferrari are lucky to not have had significant mechanical failures like some Mercedes engines and the electronics issues with the Honda-powered cars. The Ferrari-powered Haas cars had issues with the brakes in the Austrian GP. Even if their power unit isn’t as good as in 2019, its reliability is something to be impressed about.

2020 was destined to be the year for them. Leclerc had just finished his maiden year with the team and Vettel going into his last with them. Surely, just surely, they could string a good season together.

A technical restructure for the team before the British Grand Prix was needed and came with Rory Byrne being mentioned, who helped Ferrari to titles in the dominant Schumacher era. His expertise will be used to ensure the team do not fall as far behind as they currently are.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Bringing a low aerodynamic package to Silverstone, one that would commonly be seen at a track like Spa-Francorchamps, proved that Ferrari were focusing on a defensive strategy rather than trying to attack from the front. This is due to the fact that Silverstone is dominated by engine power and this has been the main point of concern for the team.

The qualifying performance from the team was more impressive at Silverstone than previous races, with Leclerc starting in fourth place just over a second behind the new record time set by Hamilton, and Vettel also qualifying in the top 10.

This was also supported by a strong performance in the race with a podium for Leclerc, assisted by a tyre issue for Valtteri Bottas in the final moments of the race, and tenth for Vettel, after struggling to keep the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly behind him.

After four races, the team is in fourth place in the constructor’s championship, one point ahead of Racing Point who have had a strong showing so far. For the drivers, Leclerc is in fifth position behind Lando Norris, and Vettel is only two points behind Gasly in 13th place. Vettel has not finished a race higher than sixth, which would usually be the minimum for one of the top three teams.

2020 has unfortunately proved that Ferrari are not going to be automatically considered to be in the running for titles or even race wins. With the rules staying the same into 2021, it is unlikely that they will be more competitive next year.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel vs Leclerc: The making of the most explosive partnership ever?

It was coming, wasn’t it?

In the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, following a safety car,  Ferrari’s talented Monegasque upstart Charles Leclerc dived down the inside of team-mate Sebastian Vettel going into turn one. Nothing wrong with that move. On the exit of turn three, however, came a moment that epitomised what has been a long and painful struggle for Ferrari over recent years.

Attempting to gain his position back, Vettel re-created his 2010 drama with then-Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, and moved across on Leclerc, terminally damaging Leclerc’s wheel, and giving himself a race-ending puncture.

I know we can’t use one incident to suggest that this is already the most controversial team-mate battle in F1 history. It doesn’t come close to Senna vs Prost or even Hamilton vs Rosberg, but what happened in Brazil was the culmination of an incredibly tense season at the Scuderia. It was a volcano that wasn’t going to stay dormant for long.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel has a history of being more than a little incident-prone. Even during his spell of dominance at Red Bull, there were cracks under pressure, clashes with rivals, and an almost permanent sense of volatility. Then, after his move to Ferrari, there were incidents in Baku and Singapore in 2017, and multiple errors in 2018.

This year, his rivalry with Leclerc has seen a stark contrast with Vettel’s placid and comfortable relationship with Kimi Raikkonen. This year saw him come up against a young, quick, aggressive, motivated and extremely talented Leclerc. This pressure has in some ways pushed Vettel to become a better version of himself, but the mistakes have always been there, as has the flare that comes with competitive team-mates who simply will not accept number two status at the most historic and successful team in F1.

Success may seem distant for Ferrari at the moment, but as a team that dominates all of the papers in Italy and is the biggest talking point of a proud racing nation, the headlines are never far away. In typical Ferrari fashion, they have occupied them at every opportunity this year, but mainly for the wrong reasons.

On multiple occasions at the start of the year, Ferrari opted to swap their drivers over when chasing the quicker Mercedes cars, despite their cars being equal in pace. These decisions were puzzling to put it kindly, and led to friction that would dominate the rest of the season.

Singapore saw one of the most contentious incidents yet between the two. Leclerc was leading from pole, but Ferrari decided to give Vettel the undercut and inadvertently gave the German the lead of the race in the pit stops. Vettel won the race, ahead of a furious Leclerc.

At this point, tempers were sizzling, but Ferrari insisted that they had the situation under control.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

They came close to blows on the first lap of the US Grand Prix, and as soon as they went side-by-side in Brazil, you knew what was coming.

Ferrari have worked themselves into a situation that they cannot control. As in many races over the last couple of years, they have cost themselves valuable points with a combination of nonsense strategies and driver errors.

Regarding Vettel and Leclerc, there’s no need to explore specific points during races when Ferrari mishandled their driver situation. Forget China, forget Spain, forget Singapore, and forget Brazil. Ferrari were in trouble before the season even began.

Mattia Binotto started his role in the worst way possible. Before Melbourne, the new team principal stated that Ferrari would favour Vettel in the first part of the season and perhaps give Leclerc equal standing if he proved his worth as the year progressed.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a team boss make such a foreboding start to a reign as team boss. These comments will have created a lack of trust and a polarising divide between Vettel and Leclerc, because how are they supposed to race if they know they constantly have a team decision hanging over their heads? How does Leclerc hope to prove himself as a Ferrari race winner if the team will swap him and Vettel over anyway?

It gave the perception that Vettel had become Ferrari’s darling, and that Leclerc would have to be the bridesmaid. Binotto’s comments made it a personal battle between his drivers and they hadn’t even hit the streets of Melbourne for the weekend yet.

Would the tale have been different had Binotto been a bit more considerate in his comments? It’s difficult to tell, but I certainly feel there would be less animosity in Ferrari.

However, if you’re a neutral looking for exciting headlines every race, then Binotto’s a genius!

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Let’s face it, F1 has often felt stagnant in the last few years, because intense rivalries have been hard to come by. Lewis Hamilton’s battle with Valtteri Bottas has always been quite passive and amiable, despite Mercedes’ favouring the six-time champion.

Max Verstappen has had a grudge with Esteban Ocon, who will race for Renault next year, since their junior days.

Those rivalries aside, we are yet to see a battle to the extent of Hamilton and Rosberg. Looking back over the years, there has always been friction in such an emotionally-fuelled sport. The aforementioned battle of egos between Senna and Prost springs to mind, as does Mansell vs Piquet. Jacques Villeneuve wants to fight with everyone he meets, and who can forget Fernando Alonso’s beef with both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel?

This friction gives us talking points other than Mercedes and Ferrari winning, with Max Verstappen, to his credit, often helping to spice up the action at the top of the field.

However, it almost seems like F1 doesn’t have room for mind games and antagonism any more, despite other racing series proving it can still be done.

MotoGP riders do a good job of getting into each other’s heads, and the same applies to Formula E. Jean Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi don’t exactly have soft spots for each other.

And that doesn’t come down to snide remarks and below-the-belt comments in the media like we often see in F1, this is about drivers passionately confronting each other about incidents and making sure everyone knows where they stand on conflicts. Remember Sebastien Buemi going round screaming at every driver he saw after race one of the 2017 season finale in Montreal?

This is what F1 needs more of and hopefully the new 2021 regulations will bring the field closer together and we can see more on-track fights and debates between drivers every race.

Of course, we’re not asking drivers to get the boxing gloves out. All we want is drivers racing closely and entertaining us, giving us something to talk about. Is that so much to ask of a sport that has given us so many jaw-dropping moments over the years?

So, could Vettel vs Leclerc become a rivalry for the ages? Quite possibly, but let’s hope it’s not the only one we have to talk about in years to come.

Vettel: ‘We deserved the win’ at Canadian Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel says he believes the team ‘deserved the win’ at the Canadian Grand Prix, after a controversial penalty demoted him to second place behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel had started on pole and led for much of the race, however on lap 48, with Hamilton breathing down his neck, he lost the rear of his car going into turn three and ran over the grass. He rejoined the track and did keep his lead, but the stewards deemed the manner in which he had rejoined to have been unsafe. The FIA said he had forced Hamilton off the track, and gave Vettel a five-second penalty to be added to his time at the end of the race.

Vettel took the chequered flag just over two and a half seconds ahead of Hamilton, meaning he was classified P2 once the penalty was applied.

“I think we had a great race,” Vettel said, “and the stewards’ decision is too harsh.

“In turn three, I lost control of my car and I had to run long onto the grass, rejoining at turn four ahead of Lewis. I couldn’t see where he was, as I was too busy trying to keep my car on track without crashing and I didn’t squeeze him on purpose.”

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

The penalty was met with almost universal condemnation, with many voicing their support for Vettel and Ferrari. Vettel himself expressed his regret that the penalty meant he was unable to repay the support of the fans at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with what would have been Ferrari’s best result of the season so far.

“I think given the way things wen this weekend and even though our rivals’ race pace was very strong, we deserved the win,” Vettel said. “I get the impression that lots of the spectators here today at the circuit agree with me.

“It’s always nice to race in Canada. I feel a lot of support from the people and it would have been wonderful to have given all our fans the first big result of the season.”

Ferrari’s Team Principal Mattia Binotto echoed Vettel’s sentiments, and spoke of the team’s decision to appeal the penalty.

“At the moment, we, as a team, are naturally disappointed, but most of all our thoughts are with Sebastian and the spectators,” he said. “As for Seb, I don’t think he could have done things differently, which is why we have decided to appeal the stewards’ decision.”

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

Bahrain Grand Prix: Ferrari reliability problem ‘unacceptable’

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto has labelled the reliability issue that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix as ‘unacceptable’ and something that the team are investigating to prevent from happening again.

Leclerc had dominated the Bahrain race weekend, finishing top of the timing sheets in FP1 and FP3 and claiming his first ever pole position in F1 on Saturday by almost three tenths.

He slipped back to third at the start but recovered to retake the lead by lap five and dominated thereafter. That was, until he developed a power unit problem with just fifteen laps to go, one which cost him several seconds per lap. The two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas caught and passed him, but Leclerc was saved from losing any more positions by the safety car brought out to recover both Renaults. He came home third, his first podium in F1 but one tinged with disappointment.

Speaking of the power unit issue, Mattia Binotto said, “It was a shame for Charles. He was in the lead for much of the race and showed that he was particularly comfortable here in Bahrain, also setting the race fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

“He deserved to win and it was only the reliability problem, which we must now investigate, which prevented him from doing so. That is something unacceptable from us and it shows how important it is to get every last detail right in order to win.”

Leclerc added, “It’s part of motorsport, we know that. Sometimes it’s not your day to win and today wasn’t ours. In the final part of the race we had an issue with the power unit and I had to slow down.

“It’s a shame because the race seemed to me to be under control. The team is disappointed and I am disappointed but there are a lot of positives to take home from this weekend.

“These things happen in motorsport: we took the best out of it anyway. It’s my first podium even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I wanted. It’s life, it happens, we’ll come back stronger”.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

Ferrari team orders issued to avoid ‘any risks’ at Australian Grand Prix

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto says Ferrari issued team orders to Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to avoid taking ‘any risks’ in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.

Ferrari Media

Despite many labelling the Scuderia the favourites going into the season based on their form in testing, Ferrari struggled around the streets of Albert Park.

“Right from Friday, we didn’t feel comfortable at this track,” Binotto said. “Even though we did a lot of work on set-up, we didn’t find the right balance and even our qualifying performance demonstrated that we were struggling to adapt to the Albert Park track.”

After Vettel made a pitstop to switch onto the medium tyres, he failed to get enough grip out of them and was passed by Max Verstappen. When Leclerc then started gaining on Vettel using newly fitted hard tyres with ten laps to go, he asked the team whether he should stay behind.

“Yes, and back off to have some margin,” came the reply. Leclerc obeyed and the pair trailed home fourth and fifth, nearly a minute behind race winner Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari Media

It was made clear in pre-season testing that Ferrari had the intentions of prioritising Vettel over Leclerc in an attempt to boost the former’s hopes in the title race. In Australia, though, it was a matter of not jeopardising either of their drivers’ results, despite the thirty second gap to Kevin Magnussen in the Haas behind.

Speaking of the decision, Binotto said, “When [Vettel] could no longer fend off Verstappen, we decided the most important thing was to get to the end, managing the tyres. When Charles caught up to him, it seemed wise not to take any risks.

“We leave Australia with a lot of data to analyse and we will use that to work out how to get back to our actual level of competitiveness for the race in Bahrain in two weeks time.”