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How To Lose A Formula One Championship, As Told By Ferrari

Illustration for article titled How To Lose A Formula One Championship, As Told By Ferrari
Photo: Clive Mason (Getty)

Every season, Ferrari looks promising. Formula One’s pre-season testing starts the rumor mill churning: this might just be the year Ferrari beats Mercedes! Ferrari is faster! Its engine is better! Aerodynamically, Ferrari is killing it! It’s always something.

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And every year, Ferrari slowly comes to realize that its championship hopes are dying but won’t quite admit it’ll be another depressing year at Maranello. The team is always the last one to admit that it won’t be a formidable enough contender. And there are plenty of excuses lined up ready to go. We screwed up this time, but next time it’ll be different! We’d have beaten Mercedes if it weren’t for those meddling [pit stops/engine problems/weather/insert reason here]!

Ferrari being a “loser” is a funny and particularly Ferrari-style situation. It is a constant loser despite being clearly the number two team in F1, a podium contender all through the season, all while having the constant attention of the press and the adulation (and purchasing power) of crowds worldwide. Many teams might still wish to be in that trademark red, but Ferrari somehow perpetually presents itself as a disappointment if it doesn’t win every race, and also take pole, fastest lap, and whatever else could be quantified.

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This year, I decided to make a list of all the reasons Ferrari gave for being unable to beat Mercedes, along with all the problems they had in the race. From the start of the season all the way to the end. This, my friends, is how the drama of F1 is built up only to slowly dissipate throughout the course of the season. This is how you lose a championship.

Pre-Season Testing

  • Ferrari claims to be fast enough to challenge Mercedes for a title this year… but maybe not actually fast enough. Or very reliable. (AP)
  • Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas says Ferrari will be “a bigger challenge” (BBC)

Australian Grand Prix

  • Ferrari struggles with balance, tire grip, and setup. The team is “missing something.” (Autosport)
  • Vettel is shocked at how slow Ferrari is. (ESPN)

Final Results: 4th (Vettel), 5th (Leclerc)

Bahrain Grand Prix

  • Charles Leclerc secures his first-ever pole position; Ferrari looks fast (Los Angeles Times)
  • Leclerc dominates the race, only to suffer from a MGU-H failure. Vettel spins out of third place. (Autosport)

Final Results: 3rd (Leclerc), 5th (Vettel)

Chinese Grand Prix

  • Ferrari’s straight-line speed, which seemed promising in pre-season testing, is no longer there. Ferrari implements team orders that displease both Leclerc and Vettel and cause them both to suffer, highlighting inconsistent management. (ESPN)
  • Mercedes claims team orders “opens up a can of worms.” (Formula 1)

Final Results: 3rd (Vettel), 5th (Leclerc)

Azerbaijan Grand Prix

  • Ferrari announces that its new upgrades will bring the championship fight to Mercedes. (Express)
  • Leclerc crashes in qualifying; Ferrari won’t say its strategy calls were bad, but team boss Mattia Binotto admits Leclerc could have been brought in for fresh tires sooner, giving him a better shot at a higher finishing position. (ESPN)
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Final Results: 3rd (Vettel), 5th (Leclerc)

Spanish Grand Prix

  • Binotto calls upgrades “insufficient” and “well below our expectations.” He notes weaknesses but doesn’t identify them. (Autosport)
  • Ferrari admits there’s potentially a flaw in the overall design concept for 2019. (Formula 1)
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Final Results: 4th (Vettel), 5th (Leclerc)

Monaco Grand Prix

  • Binotto blames the SF90's “efficiency” for its lack of pace. (Formula 1)
  • Ferrari holds Leclerc in the pits for too long during qualifying; Leclerc is knocked out in Q1, qualifies 15th. (Formula 1) Vettel is the one who knocks Leclerc into the drop zone. (BBC)
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Final Results: 2nd (Vettel), Retired (Leclerc)

Canadian Grand Prix

  • Vettel finishes first in Canada but is awarded a five-second penalty for driving in an unsafe manner. He ultimately finishes second. (The National)
  • Binotto feels, at least, that the result is promising for the rest of Ferrari’s season (Formula 1)
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Final Results: 2nd (Vettel), 3rd (Leclerc)

French Grand Prix

  • Ferrari brings a new front wing to Paul Ricard. (Autosport) Binotto calls them “not perfect” after Ferrari is several tenths behind Mercedes. (Planet F1)
  • Vettel says Ferrari failed in its upgrades. (Motorsport)
  • Binotto claims Paul Ricard does not suit Ferrari, so its lack of performance is unsurprising. (BBC)
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Final Results: 3rd (Leclerc), 5th (Vettel)

Austrian Grand Prix

  • Ferrari brings even more upgrades. (Autosport)
  • Vettel suffers from an issue in an air pressure line in qualifying. (Formula 1)
  • Ferrari argues that Max Verstappen’s win should be taken away for dangerous driving and given to Charles Leclerc instead. This does not happen. (Reuters)
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Final Results: 2nd (Leclerc), 4th (Vettel)

British Grand Prix

  • SF90s suffer from understeer, a lack of pace, and tire damage. (Formula 1)
  • Vettel claims to be unable to get the “right feel” for his car. (Reuters)

Final Results: 3rd (Leclerc), 16th (Vettel)

German Grand Prix

  • An unnamed journalist is already asking how Ferrari will mess up the race before qualifying begins. (ESPN)
  • Ferrari dominates free practice only for both drivers to be sidelined with power unit issues. Vettel identifies a problem with the turbo. Binotto recognizes that Leclerc’s problem was entirely different. (Reuters)
  • Even during practice, Vettel notes the car’s performance is “up and down.” (Formula 1)
  • Toto Wolff of Mercedes claims that Ferrari has “an illness.” (The Guardian)

Final Results: 2nd (Vettel), Retired (Leclerc)

Hungarian Grand Prix

  • Ferrari confirms more upgrades, this time aerodynamic. (GP Fans)
  • Binotto explains that circuits like the Hungaroring have proven to be a problem because Ferrari lacks downforce. High temperatures only exacerbated the tough conditions. (Formula 1)
  • Vettel points out an “obvious” lack of pace compared to Mercedes and Red Bull. (Formula 1)
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Final Results: 3rd (Vettel), 4th (Leclerc)

Belgian Grand Prix

  • A rare good weekend for Ferrari: the team dominates on the straights and manages to maintain a solid race pace, according to Mercedes rivals. (Formula 1)
  • Ferrari utilizes team orders in a “straightforward” way that enabled both drivers to perform to the best of their abilities. (Autosport)
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Final Results: 1st (Leclerc), 4th (Vettel)

Italian Grand Prix

  • Charles Leclerc wins at Monza, the first Italian GP victory for Ferrari in nine years. (CNN)
  • Vettel, however, spun of his own accord and was ultimately lapped by leader Leclerc. (Formula 1)
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Final Results: 1st (Leclerc), 13th (Vettel)

Singapore Grand Prix

  • Vettel wins his first race, Leclerc finishes second. (The Guardian)
  • Leclerc struggled due to poor strategy calls that ultimately lost him the race. (Formula 1)
  • Ferrari is unsure how its pace has improved so drastically and doesn’t believe it’s due to its upgrades. (Autosport)
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Final Results: 1st (Vettel), 2nd (Leclerc)

Russian Grand Prix

  • Pre-race team orders dictated that Vettel should move over for Leclerc any time Leclerc’s pace was faster. Vettel ignored those orders. (CNN)
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Final Results: 3rd (Leclerc), Retired (Vettel)

Japanese Grand Prix

  • Ferrari locks out the podium but can’t deliver during the race. (Telegraph)
  • Vettel has poor start from pole position that ultimately costs him the win. (Formula 1)
  • After battling Verstappen, Leclerc is handed a five-second time penalty and two penalty points, along with a further ten-second time penalty and a fine. (Formula 1)
  • Mercedes wins the Constructor’s title.

Final Results: 2nd (Vettel), 6th (Leclerc)

Mexican Grand Prix

  • Ferrari puts Leclerc on a two-stop strategy—one of which featured a blunder from the pit crew—ultimately costing him the race. (Autoweek)
  • Vettel also loses track position due to strategy. (Motorsport)
  • Binotto admits the team could have taken more strategic risks. (Formula 1)

Final Results: 2nd (Vettel), 4th (Leclerc)

United States Grand Prix

  • Lewis Hamilton wins his sixth F1 world title.
  • Ferrari’s hopes that unseasonably cold temperatures will aid performance are dashed as the weekend gets warmer. (Formula 1)
  • Verstappen claims Ferrari’s 2019 successes were only due to exploiting a loophole in engine regulations that increased fuel flow to boost performance. Ferrari denies it. (Eurosport)
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Final Results: 4th (Leclerc), Retired (Vettel)

Brazilian Grand Prix

  • Both Ferrari drivers collide during the race; both retire. Binotto demands explanation. (The Guardian)
  • Ferrari blames poor straight-line speed on a new aerodynamic configuration. (Autosport)
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Final Results: 17th (Vettel), 18th (Leclerc)

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

  • Mattia Binotto admits that Ferrari “screwed up” the qualifying strategy, sending its cars out into heavy, slow traffic. (Sky Sports)
  • The FIA believes Ferrari has a fuel flow irregularity before the race. When asked about it, Leclerc was unaware of any concerns. (Racer)
  • Vettel says he and Ferrari know where their problems lie and must do better in 2020. (Motorsport)
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Final Results: 3rd (Leclerc), 5th (Vettel)


What is Ferrari supposed to take away from this? It’s hard to say. The problems are inherent to Ferrari as a whole. Design, engineering, performance, and strategy have all suffered this season at varying points in time. Binotto has admitted that there hasn’t been a common thread connecting one weekend’s problems to the next, making it next to impossible to solve anything with confidence.

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If Ferrari plan on mounting a serious title challenge in 2020, it’s going to take a lot more than a few wins and some promising race. Maranello needs to get its house in order first. But with the way things have been going, it could take more than a single off-season to turn Ferrari into the well-oiled machine of its biggest competition.

But until something fundamental changes, Ferrari will just keep on tripping over its own feet on its way to the finish line.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

8695Beaterz
8695Beaters

Here’s the fundamental difference between Mercedes and Ferrari, one Binotto needs to address in the off-season if he wants Ferrari to improve. It’s not going to be an easy change because this is inherently ingrained in Ferrari’s culture and part of it is due to being an Italian team that the Italians adore:

When Mercedes has a bad weekend, they root cause the problem, whether it’s a person, a process, or a part. Not only do they figure out what failed, but they figure out, and this is key, WHY. Ted was overworked because there’s only one person checking bolts in incoming? Let’s hire Jim so Ted has some extra help and we can make sure everything is properly inspected. Melissa didn’t know who to talk to when the test results came back oddly and it turned out the false negative was an actual negative and caused a fuel issue? Let’s make sure there’s a proper check/approve process in place to ensure everyone can confirm test results so we are 100% sure of our numbers. We had no front wings ready when Lewis knocked his off in the last corner? Let’s get 3 front wings ready to go at a moment’s notice for both cars.

When Ferrari has a bad weekend, they find a scapegoat, throw him or her under the bus, and call it a day. Why did this person screw up? Who cares, they’re gone now and the new person won’t screw up because they know they’ll get fired or quit in shame and that’s enough. Ferrari can find the WHO, but not the WHY. In most businesses the who and why can be one in the same. Even in F1, bad employees crop up (though a bad F1 team member would be a great worker anywhere else), but more often than not, the process fails. Ferrari, more often than not, blames the people, not the processes. Part of this is because it’s very easy to point a finger and feed the Italian press a bone...specifically the bones of a team member who had a bad day. But this doesn’t solve the problem, it just kicks the can down the road. It also forces Ferrari to constantly train new people to replace those who leave.

Mercedes finds every little bit they can improve upon and that is why despite their car not being as good as Ferrari or Red Bull, they still managed to deliver a dominant season. There were a lot of races early in 2019 Ferrari just plain threw away and Mercedes picked up the pieces, because they execute each weekend almost flawlessly. When they do make a rare mistake (miscalculating a pit delta, being ill prepared for a pit stop and wing change, an engine failure, etc), they root cause the issue, and scrub it out. Most importantly, they don’t scapegoat. Mercedes knows that people best learn lessons when they have a supportive environment. Ferrari has always been a pressure cooker team and Binotto needs to take the pressure off and bring a Mercedes style 5P system to Ferrari. The team won’t adopt it overnight: after all, Ferrari has been operating like this since old man Enzo started the team 90 years ago and people are going to be hesitant to adopt it.

Everyone is going to screw up: it’s inevitable.  How you handle it is the key.  Do you point fingers like they do at Ferrari?  Or do you find the root of the problem, and scrub it out like Mercedes?  One clearly works better than the other since Mercedes is dominating like no other team before it while Ferrari is still kicking itself in the nuts.