I think it’s fair to say the story of Formula One in 2016 has not been written in Ferrari’s favour. After a draught of podiums in the previous four rounds, Ferrari finally cracked the top three again in their home race at Monza. But it’s blindingly obvious something is wrong when the fans rejoice over a third place, so what’s gone wrong for Ferrari in 2016? Why can’t they win?
Ferrari headed to the Singapore Grand Prix last year knowing they had already won two races and Sebastian Vettel was still realistically in contention for the Drivers World Championship. But as they head to the streets of the Singapore CBD this year, Ferrari are yet to win a race and they are now facing a prolonged fight with Red Bull for 2nd in the Constructors Championship.
2016 has thrown up opportunities at Ferrari, and they’ve all slipped through their fingers. In the first round at Australia, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen jumped both Mercedes off the line and they continued to dominate the race by stretching a gap. But the red flag for Fernando Alonso’s violent crash with just over 50% distance left caused the team to make an incorrect decision regarding tire choice, handing a 1-2 to Mercedes.
In Spain, when the Mercedes drivers took each other out, a poor qualifying performance from Ferrari meant that Red Bull were already ahead of them. With the nature of the track making overtaking difficult, Red Bull snapped up an unlikely win from under Ferrari’s noses.
In Canada, Ferrari choose to two stop Sebastian Vettel from the lead of the race. But that turned out to be the wrong call as Mercedes one-stopped Hamilton, a move that was 5 seconds faster than Vettel’s. In the end, the difference between 1st and 2nd.
Following this lack of luck and success, rumours began to surface that the big boss at Ferrari, Sergio Machionne, was putting pressure on the team by sitting in on technical debriefings. It appears team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, is being held responsible for the teams misfortunes – with rumours even briefly emerging that he could be sacked. This has left Arrivabene in an exposed and awkward position. In races before the summer break, he refused to give interviews to anyone in English.
With things clearly worse for wear at Ferrari, they took a real turn when it was announced Technical Director, James Allison, had left the team with mutual consent ahead of the German Grand Prix. Allison is considered by many as one of the best designers in the paddock, but he had to unfortunately leave the team due to the sad and devastating circumstances around the passing of his wife.
Engine man, Mattia Binotto, has temporarily filled the Technical Director role as Ferrari scramble to gather themselves. Binotto is extremely well-known within the Ferrari camp because of his involvement in the team since 1995.
So what do Ferrari need to fix these problems? What they need is stability. One of the hallmarks of their dominance in the early 2000s was the pairing of Jean Todt and Ross Brawn as Team Principal and Technical Director. Considering Mattia Binotto’s expertise is in engines, he is likely temporary and Ferrari must find a technical director who can work well with both Machionne and Arrivabene, as it has been rumoured the James Allison’s relationship with Machionne wasn’t the greatest.
One way Ferrari have gained a little bit of stability was by renewing the contract of Kimi Raikkonen for 2017, a move which some described as ‘safe’. Although Kimi is well liked, he may not be the fastest driver for the 2nd seat at Ferrari, but Sebastian Vettel does believe himself and Kimi have the least ego issues in the paddock – something which Ferrari does need right now. As we saw in Spain with Mercedes, the drivers relationship can have a major effect on a teams success.
I think the key for Ferrari now is to accept and move on. 2016 isn’t there year and all they can do now is try to solidify 2nd in the Constructors Championship. I can’t see major developments this late in the season majorly effecting their campaign and with new regulations in 2017, they would be far better to focus their development there.
It does appear this may have actually happened as Ferrari did spend their last engine tokens of 2016 on a power unit upgrade for Monza. This does mean Ferrari won’t be able to continue development of their power unit for the rest of 2016, showing they are clearly focused on 2017.
And as a consolation to the Ferrari fans, Sebastian Vettel did have a strong message on the stunning Italian Grand Prix podium, saying: “I’m sure Ferrari will come back. I can’t make any promises about when, but I know we will, so keep believing, keep it up, I know that we believe in it and I’m sure we will succeed.”