Nightmare. 27 points, collision of the two red cars in the second race of the season, only fifth place in the Championship – behind Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Racing Point. A top team developed back into a midfield racing team within a year. The car too slow in the corners, the engine too weak on the straights.
Scuderia Ferrari was hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, because Formula 1 and therefore the most successful racing team in history has to cut down on expenses. The regulations were tightened, development was severely restricted: on the car and on the engine. Therefore Ferrari’s hands are now tied. In Maranello they cannot rectify the big mistakes that have been made in racing development on several levels, only try to conceal them to the maximum.
Deficits in aero and the engine
Victories are a long way off. Even podium places are only possible for Ferrari if others stumble. There is no point in giving the fans false hope. “This year we are not competitive because of design flaws in the car,” John Elkann told the Italian newspaper “La Gazzetta dello Sport” in an interview. The Ferrari boss is preparing the Tifosi for hard times. It will take until 2022 before Ferrari can hope to be back at the top. “Today we lay the groundwork to become competitive and get back on the winning track once the rules change in 2022.”
Ferrari has aerodynamics and engine deficits. The former showpiece of the red package has now been reduced to the weakest engine, as Mercedes, Renault and Honda can generate more power than the six-cylinder turbo from Maranello. In the past, Ferrari could rely on its engine and whoever has the most power can also drive with larger wings to compensate for deficiencies in aerodynamics in the corners.
But now Ferrari no longer has this luxury. Since the FIA has been testing the engine in winter, there is a lack of power. Team boss Mattia Binotto swears that the loss on the straights is not solely due to the engine, but rather to the high air resistance.
Nevertheless, the SF1000 is not that impressive even in the curves. Only in the fast corners is the red car strong – if you leave Mercedes out. The new car has more downforce than the old one – but Ferrari bought it at the expense of drag. That must hurt Maranello twice. Mercedes is much faster in the corners and on the straights. The world champion team has put downforce and drag in the best possible ratio, and also has the strongest engine in the field.
The wind tunnel has fooled Ferrari, according to the technical department. What the data promised did not arrive at the race track. Elkann speaks of structural problems that Ferrari has been suffering for a decade and that have led to world champions like Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in the red car following behind. “We had a number of structural weaknesses that have existed for some time in aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics. We have also lost engine power.”
For the recovery, Ferrari is restructuring Mattia Binotto’s team in the engineering office. Enrico Cardile, as Chief Development Officer, will in future head the newly created “Performance Development” department. President Elkann expresses his confidence in his team boss despite his poor performance. “Binotto has the character and skills to lead us to a new cycle of victories.” It would also make no sense in the current crisis to change team bosses. A new team principal would only inherit the old problems.
After all, it might take until 2022 for Ferrari to rise again. Then the new chassis rules in Formula 1 will take effect. This is a chance, but no guarantee for success. Ferrari has a large construction site open because of the coming budget cap. Maranello will have to reduce staff or move them to other projects. This could lead to discrepancies and unrest within the organisation.
Ferrari must learn to spend less money and build an efficient structure within a short time. Efficiency has not exactly been Ferrari’s strong point since 2008, when it last won the Constructors’ World Championship. And in order to be able to drive for victories and titles again from 2022, the reorganization in Maranello must actually take effect. At the same time Ferrari must improve its tools so that the wind tunnel and CFD no longer lead the engineers in the wrong direction. Ferrari needs fresh ideas in the engineering office, more creative and courageous concepts – within the rules.
Chance through underbody rules?
It is to be expected that Ferrari will take a mid-field position this season with limited aero development and frozen engines. This would help the team at least for 2022. Because it would give Ferrari more wind tunnel time than Mercedes or Red Bull. From January 2021, the teams with the 2022 models will be allowed back into the wind tunnel. Ferrari will then neglect the current car and concentrate fully on the future.
The question is whether the Tifosi will have patience for almost two more years. Failures lead to negative headlines in the not exactly friendly Italian press and put pressure on in the team. President Elkann will have to shield his team – including the team boss. “The most important thing is to work on and off the track, to create cohesion and stability and to build the Ferrari we want, step by step,” says Elkann.
A small chance of premature improvement is offered for the coming season. To protect the tyres from excessive stress, the underbody rules will lead to some changes in front of the rear wheels. What sounds like a small incision is actually a big one. The cars have to be aligned from the front wing to the diffuser. This major intervention in aerodynamics could upset the balance of power, at least in parts. Ferrari would be well advised to use the remaining time in the wind tunnel this year to fully concentrate on this area. The red racing car will probably still not be a winning car, but maybe at least again the third force in the field.
But for that, the engine must also be improved again. Ferrari will not make up the gap in one year. Maranello must make it in two steps. The first in 2021, the important one in 2022, because without a competitive engine, it will be able to challenge for the title. Ferrari wants to bring its car and engine up to scratch with the company’s own talent. But maybe they should also look around the market. In fact, Ferrari should do everything to get their hands on Mercedes engine boss Andy Cowell, who is confirmed to be leaving the team.