Given the new sporting and technical regulations which will be introduced for the 2022 Formula 1 season and the without the possibility of improving the SF21 car as much as needed due to the development limitations, Scuderia Ferrari focused mainly on getting the basics right for the 2022 Formula 1 project.
This still led to a 2021 championship that showed some really good steps forward by the Maranello team in pretty much every area. The Italian side team improved from sixth to third place in the Formula 1 Constructor Standings, with a total of 192.5 more points, and was also able to score two poles and five podiums finishes.
Scuderia Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were fifth and seventh in the drivers’ standings, securing a double-points finish for the team in 17 out of 22 races. The only race this season in which the Maranello team did not manage to score a single point took place at the Paul Ricard circuit, due to tyre management issues.
However, the most important statistics that show the Italian side is on the right path back to recovery go beyond the basic points figures.
The poor race pace that Ferrari had in 2020 was not the only major issue: race execution was also on of the Maranello team’s weakest areas. Ferrari itself admitted that its pitstops were “a long way off the best”, and had been hampered by a championship-long problem with the wheelnuts being used.
During the 2020 campaign, just 48% of Scuderia Ferrari’s pitstops were comppleted in under 3 seconds (the metric used by the Maranello team to define a good, consistent pitstop) which ranked it ninth out of the 10 Formula 1 teams. In 2021, this stat rose to 73%, putting Ferrari third on the grid. The Italian side also improved its average pitstop time from 2.72 seconds to 2.55 seconds.
“We’ve done quite a huge programme to try and turn things around, both on the car, because there are some technical elements that we are driving that brought results, and on the guys with the training and the methodology we are using,” Scuderia Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies said – “Now today, on the criteria, we are third, and not by mistake, we are third in the points. So I think it’s a good representation of how background work leads to better executions, and that applies to pitstops, that applies to tyre management, that applies to race strategy, that applies to many things.” – he added.
The impprovment was still not enough for Scuderia Ferrari to be able to fight for race wins or the titles in 2020, but the Italian side focused on the battle with McLaren for third in the standings as its own title challenge. The two rivals were evenly-matched in the first parte of the season, but Ferrari had a very good second part and finished the season strong, with a 47.5-point advantage.
“It’s key that a close championship fight like that, when it’s points for points, your execution needs to be top level. This year was no excuse. And therefore for us, even if the car was not as fast as what we would wish, we took that fight as if it was for the world championship.” – the Ferrari Racing Director added.
The need to improve race execution was something which Carlos Sainz pointed out when he moved to the Maranello team at the start of the season: “For me, this was a big, big thing,” Carlos Sainz told Motorsport.com. “When I arrived to the team at the beginning of the season, I really felt like we had to make progress in the way that we execute the race in strategy and tyre management. The first races were very difficult with that. I really felt strong progress throughout the season on that. The car was performing maybe a bit better, but not more than a tenth better than at the beginning of the season. You see how consistent we are now on race execution, and it’s another story compared to a beginning.”
The improvement in race operations was also evident through Ferrari’s progress on the reliability side through 2021. The Maranello team went from six DNFs in 2020 to just one this year – plus Charles Leclerc problem in Monaco, when he could not start the race after a crash in qualifying – and recorded more top-10 finishes than any other team.
But the raw pace of the SF21 car is where Ferrari needed to take a step forward after its disastrous 2020 campaign. Not only did the team manage to get back in contention with the leading midfield teams, giving it third in the standings, but also cut the gap to Mercedes. According to Ferrari’s data, the average gap in qualifying to Mercedes fell from 1.34 seconds in 2020 to 0.64 seconds in 2021. This gap was as small as 0.4 seconds at the start of the year, but gradually grew as the season wore on.
“We are fully aware we have not closed the gap to the best, and 0.6s is still a big number,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto – “But the objective was to try to reduce the gap. We were fully aware of the situation of 2020, and I think that being realistic, it was impossible to close the gap.”
Scuderia Ferrari’s gains in race pace were smaller, yet still showed signs of decent progress: the average gap to Mercedes was reduced from 1.1 seconds to 0.8 seconds. The Ferrari boss felt this was “still a significant gap”, but also admitted that Ferrari knew it would not develop its car much through the season, instead focusing on 2022.
“That’s showing that we didn’t really develop our car, while maybe others did. I think in terms of pure design and development through the winter time, what has been achieved is from 1.3 to 0.4 seconds. Further in the season, the gap increases because as a choice from Ferrari, we were fully focused on 2022, except the power unit. This is correlating with these numbers. It’s again showing in numbers that we’re reducing the gap to the competitors.” – Mattia Binotto explained.
This represents promising data as Ferrari looks ahead with confidence for next season. The team led by Mattia Binotto showed its strength in terms of being able to imporove over the winter, sharpened up its race operations, and has one of the strongest driver line-ups on the grid, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
The main target for Ferrari will now be to put everything together ahead of the 2022 Formula One season so it can capitalise on the new regulations, and take the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull once again.