F1 Eifel Grand Prix
F1 Eifel Grand Prix

Cursed Ferrari: Why F1 season has been $450 million bust

Eleven races into this season, with no victory to their name and only two podium finishes, Ferrari languish down in sixth in the constructors' championship.

It is not inconceivable that they could slip down even further, with Red Bull's junior team Alpha Tauri closing in on them.

For a team that spends about $US450m a year and receives more money from the sport than any other because of bonus payments, how has it gone so wrong?

During the previous three seasons Ferrari were the team to bring the fight to Mercedes.

Last year Charles Leclerc, their 23-year-old racing leader, had more pole positions than any other driver on the grid. His team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the four-times world champion who has been told his services are no longer required and will leave at the end of the season, made multiple mistakes early in the campaign but also qualified fastest twice, and the team enjoyed a run of six consecutive pole positions.

 

Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari

 

That run ended at the US Grand Prix last November and they have not been at the front since. During that weekend in Austin, the FIA, the sport's governing body, was asked to clarify fuel-flow regulations. Fuel flow is only measured at certain times, so was it possible in between those intervals to exceed the limit and improve performance? The FIA confirmed this would be illegal.

The clarification was requested after questions were raised as to how Ferrari's speed was often almost half a second quicker than Mercedes on the straights.

During the winter break, the FIA and Ferrari reached a private settlement. The governing body said that it had doubts about the legality of the Ferrari engine last year, but could not prove they were doing anything wrong. Rival teams were rightly furious at the secretive deal, but the details of it still remain unknown.

Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving in Denmark
Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving in Denmark

What is known is that Ferrari's performance since that race weekend has fallen away sharply. The sport's most famous and successful marque denies that the two are linked.

Back at the end of August, at the power-hungry track of Spa, Ferrari were the eighth-fastest team in the Belgian Grand Prix. Last year Leclerc was on pole, but this year he qualified 13th. Ferrari were the only team not to improve on their lap times from a year earlier.

Vettel and Leclerc finished the race 13th and 14th respectively, representing the team's worst race result since 2010.

Things only got worse a week later at Ferrari's home race in Monza, the fastest track on the calendar. Again, Leclerc had been on pole in 2019, with Vettel second, but this season neither car made it into the final part of qualifying, the first time both Ferraris had started outside the top ten on the grid at Monza for 36 years.

Ferrari claim it is not just the engine that is hampering their performance, though it is clear that is a big problem, with fellow engine customers Haas and Alfa Romeo also struggling for pace.

When their problems became clear in pre-season testing in Barcelona in February, Mattia Binotto, the team principal, announced that they had taken a "significant change of directions in terms of development".

He said there was also an issue with aerodynamics and that they had been working to bring updates to the car as quickly as possible.

The first significant upgrade was introduced at the Russian Grand Prix at the end of September, with the next phase brought in at the following race in Germany for the Eifel Grand Prix. The upgrades do appear to have improved the car, though only slightly and not enough to be fighting regularly for podiums, let alone wins. Both drivers have also complained of handling issues with the car and a lack of grip.

 

Charles Leclerc at Nuerburgring
Charles Leclerc at Nuerburgring

 

Ferrari announced in the summer that they had restructured their technical department, with a new performance development department established, so the chain of command would become more "focused and simplified" to allow the heads of each department to hit their objectives.

With the big regulation changes pushed back to 2022 as a result of Covid-19, and a freeze on engine development to cut costs for the team, Ferrari have admitted they do not expect to be competitive again until 2022.

John Elkann, the Ferrari president, said the team were not competitive because of "design mistakes" with a "series of structural weaknesses that have been present in the vehicle's aerodynamics and dynamics for some time".

Ferrari have not won the constructors' championship since 2008, nor the drivers' title since Kimi Raikkonen was crowned world champion in 2007.

Elkan said the return to the top would require "patience" and could take "many years". The team at Ferrari have never been known for their patience and while Binotto still publicly has the support of his bosses, the pressure is rising and their patience won't last for ever.

Originally published on The Times

Originally published as Cursed Ferrari: Why F1 season has been $450 million bust



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