Ferrari Chairman John Elkann knows that the Prancing Horse won’t be sitting atop the Formula One podium any time this year. And because the sport has instituted a mandatory chassis freeze for the 2021 season it’s extremely unlikely that Fezza will be anywhere near the front next year either. He told Gazzetta dello Sport “We have had a number of structural weaknesses that have existed for some time in aerodynamics and in the dynamics of the vehicle. We have also lost out in engine power.”
Elkann refers to these problems as “project errors”, but it basically means that the Ferrari’s SF1000 is a proper hunk of shit. The engine is bad, it doesn’t handle very well, and the aero doesn’t work. Having watched this team basically implode in the first three races of the postponed 2020 season, that all checks out.
The Italian race team has been fighting from its back foot for over a decade. The team hasn’t won a championship since 2008. Then again, no team save Mercedes (nee Brawn) and Red Bull have won since then. Elkann attributes the red team’s string of losses to worse aero than Red Bull and worse engines than Mercedes. “There has been Red Bull’s winning cycle thanks to aerodynamic capacity and then Mercedes for their great ability in hybrid engine technologies.
Some fans of the sport may have noticed a huge drop off in the team’s performance relative to 2019. Not only has Mercedes improved its car’s pace in the off season, but Ferrari’s pace has actually declined, setting slower laps in 2020 than they did in 2019. Ferrari’s 2019-spec engine was deemed illegal by the FIA, and in ‘fixing’ it the engine has lost significant power. This is also evident in the Ferrari-engined Haas and Alfa Romeo teams loss of relative pace to last year.
In order to cut costs for teams in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, F1 agreed to push out the new car regulations from 2021 to 2022. In the meantime, chassis development on the current car has been frozen, meaning teams must use the same car in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Further, the series has instituted cost caps for next year, which will significantly lower Ferrari’s budget. Ferrari is claimed to spend around half a billion dollars per year to run in Formula One, while the 2021 season team budgets will be capped at $145 million.
Luckily for Ferrari, the 2020 season is not subject to a budget cap, so it will likely be doing all it can to spend money this year developing its 2022 season car, which will be impacted by budget restraints. Pretty much every team is already doing this, but it’s something of an open secret. Here’s Elkann saying the quiet part out loud: “Today we are laying the foundations for being competitive and returning to winning when the rules change in 2022. I am convinced of this.”
Ferrari, it would seem, is not really interested in developing its 2020 chassis much further than it already has, as that would just be throwing good money after bad. It seems Maranello is putting all of its eggs into the 2022 basket.
More from Elkann:
“We must be realistic and aware of the structural weaknesses with which we have been living for a decade, and which the transition to hybrid [power units] has underlined.
“We do not see the limitation of budget caps as a constraint on our ability to win. We take it as a challenge.
“Our engineers, our mechanics and our drivers will find strength and creativity within those bonds to bring Ferrari back up. Personally I have never seen in the last 10 years such a cohesive and strong spirit.”
The Ferrari boss is also keen to spin this restructuring as the beginning of a new Schumacher-like dynasty, by comparing the current championship drought with the one Ferrari experienced before Jean Todt joined the team and rebuilt it into the team that won eight constructors championships in ten seasons from 1999 to 2008.
“The fans are suffering as much as we are, but we know they are close to us,” he said. “This is why it is important to be clear and honest with them. A long path awaits us.
“When [Jean] Todt opened that historic cycle [of titles] in 2000, we came from a fast that had lasted for over 20 years from 1979. It took time from him landing in Maranello in 1993 to Ferrari’s return to success.
“The important thing then is to work on the track and off the track, in a cohesive way, building the Ferrari we want to step-by-step.”
And what of Mattia Binotto? Elkann claims to be firmly behind the team captain. He worked with Schumacher and Todt, after all. He should know how to win the Ferrari way.
“He knows how to win and from next year he will work with two drivers who are young and ambitious like us.”
Surely a decade of incompetent pit strategy, competitive driver environments, and ever-changing leadership have nothing to do with the fact that two of the best drivers—at the height of their career, I might add—in the history of the sport couldn’t find championships in Ferrari cars. If Ferrari is blaming all of its losses for the last 12 years on the fact that it couldn’t build a competitive car, what makes Elkann so sure that 2022 will be any different?