At the end of a long chat with Mattia Binotto, during which all the major topics of the moment were discussed, a common denominator emerges according to Motorsport Italy, a transversal concept that passes from the technical to the sporting front. It is the constant improvement, the gradual maturation of the working groups that operate on the track as well as back at the factory in Maranello.
In addressing so many and different topics, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto always tries to underline very clear points: experience, growth, application. This is what he saw was done doing the Michael Schumacher era, when he was working in the engine department, and which twenty years later he strongly believes is the only recipe to get where Ferrari wants to be.
A good part of the road has been covered, but something is still missing, and for Mattia Binotto that something must be sought within the walls of Maranello, from reliability to the optimization of race management. In his desire to shape a winning team, there is also the goal of coping with the inevitable pressure that comes from outside, because, as Mattia admits, it is part of being at Ferrari. Whether it is for lack of results, as in 2020, or for missed opportunities, as this season, the Scuderia is always and in any case in the spotlight. “Hard times? There are difficult moments every single day, but I’m happy with my role”.
Here is Mattia Binotto’s full interview for Motorsport Italy:
An F1 team that drops in the second half of the grid usually needs at least four or five seasons to win again. How did you manage to reverse the situation from 2020 to 2022?
“In Formula 1 there is no magic wand. In reality I don’t think it took a year or two, what we are achieving this season is the result of a journey that began a long time ago, precisely in 2017. There began a constant work for improving, which has always been our goal, a process that involved organization, skills, experience, methodology, tools and resources, from the simulator to the wind tunnel and more. So it took some time, and I think it’s been a long journey. Now, you might say, okay, you started well in 17, 18 and 19, but then there was 2020 which can be considered a step, or rather, three steps back. How come? I think in 2020 we just messed up our project, and then everything froze at the start of the season. Let’s imagine if Mercedes had been frozen in the first race of this season: what would have happened? I have always believed that our team is able to develop, is capable of making a good car and fighting, but if the project is blocked at the first race, and somehow you made mistakes, you stay there for the whole championship and finish sixth in the Constructors’ Championship. But that result did not reflect the real abilities of the team. I think this is the first point ”.
The second point?
“The second is that we haven’t just messed up the project. In 2019 I was appointed team principal at the beginning of the season, and there was no time to reorganize. We tried to do it while the championship was in progress, starting with the technical office, but I simply think that in 2020 we paid for the need to reset and reorganize ourselves. In 2019 we won some races, we had a good car, but in that moment we completely mixed the organization and the team itself, paying for this phase the following season. In addition, in 2020 and 2021 we had few opportunities to develop a difficult car, and I feel I can say that the results obtained in these seasons have not reflected the real value of the team. As I said, the team has always tried to progress since 2017, and we continue to do so, we progressively improve, and I believe that 2020 was useful to understand what were the weaknesses and consequently the areas in which it was necessary to intervene. We have made some changes in the organization and now there are clearer roles, clearer responsibilities, we have a new simulator, we have identified the weak points trying to tackle them all, without exception, and I think a good job has been done ”.
There are those who argue that Ferrari’s return to the top was not such a surprise, considering that you were able to start working a little earlier than your direct rivals on the 2022 project, enjoying even more hours in the wind tunnel. Is this a fair assessment or not?
“I don’t think it’s unfair, but it’s not correct either. We started developing the 2022 car all in the same period, i.e. January 2021, when it was finally possible to start simulating and entering the wind tunnels with the new cars. We couldn’t do it before. So it’s a question of how many resources and priorities are assigned to the project. It is likely that the two teams that were fighting for the 2021 championship had to make further developments over the course of last season, but we also worked harder than expected on last season’s car as we were battling with McLaren and we were involved in that battle until the end of the championship. There is a chance that Mercedes and Red Bull have put some more energy into 2021, but for the rest of the teams all have had the same resources as us and let’s say the same options, that is to give priority to 2022, but the results have been different “.
When did you realize the F1-75 was a good project?
“Not in the Barcelona tests or even in Bahrain, where we were aware that what awaited us would be a very demanding challenge. We have set ourselves very high goals in terms of car performance, but when all the teams have a project that started from scratch there are no references, we had no idea where our rivals would be. Did we make the right choices? We couldn’t know. We had more indications about the potential of the power unit, because the regulations had not actually changed. Also on this front we had set some very important objectives, and I can say that what we were able to develop during the last season in view of 2022 on the power unit front, is something that I have ever seen during my 25 years spent in Maranello. It is an example of what this team is capable of doing.”
“The work done on the power unit is fantastic, I saw the dynamics in terms of engineering developments, the conversations and interactions between the groups and when I observed the same dynamics between the engineers and the chassis department I had the certainty that we were working well. It’s something you can see, you can feel, you can even measure. And when you see that steady progress of the car in performance over the weeks, it means you are hitting the goals. So I knew the team was doing well and I knew we were hitting the goals we set ourselves, but you never know what the opponents are doing, only the first race gave us the certainty of the strength of the car”.
Regarding the power unit, the growth in terms of performance has been impressive, but reliability has failed. Did you push hard on the performance front due to the freezing of the engines at the beginning of the season?
“I don’t think we pushed too hard because pushing performance is never enough, but we certainly prioritized performance over reliability. What it means: that we have probably reached the limit of time for approval. Then it must be remembered that also on the power unit front there was a restriction on the number of hours that can be used on the test bench, and these restrictions have had an impact on our work. When there were no limits, it was enough to increase the work on the test benches, both in terms of performance and reliability, but today, being constrained by hours, you are forced to make choices “.
“We pushed the limits of performance beyond what would have been a normal reliability plan, and this is because we knew it would be important to close the gap on the competition before the development freeze for four seasons, knowing that reliability issues can always be resolved later. This is not to say that we arrived at the first race thinking we were completely unreliable, that was not the case. In the winter tests no problems emerged, but we knew we did not have an ideal situation. The problems we had on track which had not emerged in the bench simulations, I think they are typical unexpected events of a new project, and we have to take them into account, I’m not entirely surprised by what happened ”.
How do you live those moments when Charles is the leader of the race and suddenly his engine fails? What goes through your mind in those moments?
“It is very difficult for two reasons. When it comes to engine failures, well, I’ve run that department myself in the past, and seeing smoke coming out of the car is never nice. And this is more of a feeling of depression. When you are leading the race, as Charles was leading in Baku but we can also mention Carlos in Austria, these are problems you would never want to see. I stay calm, but believe me, in those moments I am depressed, it takes a while to try to react, but then you understand that you have to think about the next steps, what needs to be done. And not only in technical terms, but also in terms of the team. And then you think: how can I help? So I immediately begin to make sure that everyone remains calm and focused, and also protected from attacks and external comments ”.
Will we see a new ERS after the summer break?
“Yes, we expect developments on the hybrid before the development freeze period begins, we are working on it, but it will not be a turning point.”
Mercedes last year took Hamilton within a whisker of the World title using six power units. Do you think this could also be a strategic choice?
“I don’t think it’s a strategy, but a consequence. It was a consequence for them too, I don’t think it was planned. It is always better to have the best engine in terms of performance but also of reliability ”.
One of the most evident aspects in your first part of the 2022 season is the ability to start the weekend with a good car setup. In the past, at the end of Friday practice, there were often big changes in the set-up, while this year everything seems to be more under control. What has changed?
“Let’s take a step back, to the Barcelona tests at the beginning of the season. I have always maintained that when a new car takes its first steps it is very important to check the correlation between the track and the instruments such as the wind tunnel and the simulator. It is a crucial step, and this year there was correlation. This is what I pointed out a little while ago, that is, it was a long journey that began in 2017, underlining the importance of organization, tools, simulation. When I said that 2020 was important to fix our weaknesses first hand, I meant this, the correlation with the wind tunnel and simulator track was one of the points on which it was important to focus, and we have worked hard to improve our skills, our tools, our understanding “.
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“By succeeding, we felt stronger. In the Barcelona tests we had a chance to see that the car was performing well, but beyond that, it correlated well with what we were simulating at Maranello, and it was very important to verify it, so it was nice to see the results. It has been a great team effort, and when you see that things are going in the right direction, you are somehow happy for the people who have worked on it and who have put so much effort and time into it. “
How do you evaluate the strategy mistakes that occurred in the first part of the season? Do you think changes are needed on this front?
“First of all, I believe there is always a way to improve, you cannot be perfect and you never will be. I have no doubts about the need to always make progress, we need to improve on aerodynamics, on the chassis, on the power unit, on the strategy and all the aspects that can be improved. Having said that, I think I have a great team dealing with strategy and I don’t think that’s our weakness. Races like Monaco, Silverstone or Paul Ricard were judged to be problematic on this front, but I don’t see the group as a problem, because I believe we have also made the right decisions. “
“I’m not convinced that what we did was wrong, I think we made the right decisions at that moment, and sometimes they turned out to be unfortunate, not wrong. And if we look at the work of our team of strategy, sometimes they also did great things, better than their opponents. For example, in Austria we had the right strategy, unlike our opponents, just as we had probably the best strategy in France before Charles’ mistake. At Paul Ricard we have had the courage to bring two sets of mediums into the race, and to make a choice like that you don’t have to be not only good, but brave too, so overall, we have a good team and I don’t think that’s a weak point. We could start to discuss, once again, Monaco, Silverstone and Paul Ricard: from my point of view I think they were difficult decisions, perhaps unfortunate, but not always wrong. Therefore I don’t think this is one of our weaknesses in this moment”.
Do you think there are similarities with what happened last year to Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi GP? The pit wall made the right decision, which in hindsight turned out to be wrong.
“I also believe that that was the right decision for Lewis. Max was right, he won the championship, but if the opposite had happened (Hamilton makes the pit stop, and Verstappen stays on track) how would the world championship have ended? We will never know. So if Charles had entered the pits at Silverstone, with Lewis probably staying on track with fresh tires, how would the race have ended? I do not know. Everyone thinks they can somehow discuss what we decided at Silverstone, but the reality is that we will never have the answer ”.
On several occasions you have stressed the importance of the checks that must be carried out on the budget cap front. How do you think the work is progressing?
“The budget cap must be supervised and monitored. I fully trust the FIA, but the financial regulation is completely new. If we observe the technical or sporting regulations, they have been in force for many years but there are still areas that need to be monitored. The financial regulation is completely new, both for the teams and for the FIA, and it will take time to get to know it, interpret it, clarify it, supervise it and monitor it. If I look at what is currently the FIA control team on this front, the group is made up of 4 or 5 people, compared to 10 who are dedicated to the technical front. I think in a few years we will see ten people also dedicated to financial monitoring, but in the meantime there is a big question mark, so we know we have to address it. I think it is part of the FIA’s task and the duties of the teams to try to speed up correct monitoring as much as possible, but we must all be aware that at this moment there is a big question mark. “
Have there been any particularly difficult moments since you have been at the helm of Scuderia Ferrari?
“Every single day. I think it was not an easy journey since I started in 2019, when I was appointed team principal. We have gone through 2020, a very difficult period, and also that we are fighting for the highest goals we have experienced races in which we have not been able to achieve what the potential of the car would have allowed. So it’s not easy. But I can say that I am happy in my role, I am happy because I know I have a great team, very united. And it’s nice to see how everyone works together ”.
Are you surprised by the popularity that Charles has achieved?
“It’s great to see, and it’s great to see the excitement. It’s Formula 1, it’s Ferrari, and it’s Charles too. I think he represents well what we mean by #EssereFerrari, it’s a question of passion, it’s about the way you behave, how you run, and I think he’s definitely doing well. People love him, and it’s good for, just like it’s good for him. It raises expectations even further, and of course that’s pressure on our shoulders, so it’s always good news and there are even more difficult moments behind it. But overall I think he is a fantastic driver, no doubt the way he races, the way he fights on the track, the way he defends or attacks, is exceptional. And I think that’s what people and fans like to see ”.
After the win at Silverstone we saw a more relaxed Carlos. Is this also the case within the team?
“I think Carlos is a strong driver. He has shown this in the past, and it is no coincidence that we wanted him with us, and he reiterated it last year in his first season at Ferrari. He has always been consistent and strong, scoring many points that also helped us take third place in the Constructors’ championship last year. This year has had a difficult start to the season, but he has studied and worked a lot, and the developments we have brought to the car have helped his driving style. Now he has more confidence with the car, and is proving to be very steady and fast, but again, it is not a surprise for us, it is what we expect from him. If I look at the very close confrontation in the championship and the battle for the Constructors’ classification, it is certainly very useful for Ferrari to have a driver like Carlos at its disposal ”.
Do you think there is something the team will have to do differently in the second half of the season?
“No, I think we simply have to continue our path of continuous improvement, step by step, focusing on every single race. I am convinced that we have the potential to win races, and it does not mean that we have to change our approach, there is no magic wand in Formula 1. We have shown that we can do a good job and these goals can be reached step by step, by gaining experience and growing.”
What do you think about the possible technical changes that the FIA could introduce in 2023 for the porpoising issue?
“I hope there won’t be any changes, I don’t see any real reasons to make changes to the technical regulations for safety reasons, especially if we look at the latest races. In addition, if the aerodynamic regulations were to change for 2023 it would be a considerable problem considering the time of year we are in, there would be very little time to change the concept of the new single-seater. And, I repeat, there are no reasons to introduce changes to the technical regulation by citing safety reasons. So, I think it can’t happen, and if it does, we’ll try to figure out how to stop them ”.
The ‘porpoising’ issue has led to a singular alliance between Red Bull and Ferrari. What do you think of the relationship with your main opponents of the season?
“We are opposed in the fight for the championship, but when it comes to regulations and the future, I think there should only be common sense, for the good of Formula 1 as a whole. I have no idea if any changes to the regulations would be in our favor or in favor of Red Bull, I don’t know and I don’t care. If you think in this way on every single topic, then it becomes lobbying, a certainly not a positive attitude for sport in the medium and long term, and as Ferrari we certainly have the responsibility to look also to the medium and long term. I believe it is very important to always have a responsible and balanced approach when evaluating and making crucial decisions for the future of this sport ”.
The goal at the start of the season was to get back to fighting for the top spots. Do you think the pressure around the team has increased too much today precisely because you are fighting?
“Our goal was to be competitive again, and be competitive for the whole season. We started well, and so far we have remained competitive thanks to a good job of developing the car. So yes, up to now we are achieving what were the initial goals. The pressure… well, if you are Ferrari there will always be, it is something we cannot change because it is part of what this brand represents in terms of history, and it is obvious that there are always high expectations. We just have to live with the pressure, because it will never go away. And I think that this aspect is also part of a team’s ability to leave the pressure outside and stay focused.”
How would you describe your type of management. Some team principals are a bit brutal, others seem to read management books …
“I try to value and trust the people around me. I don’t think I’m brutal, but I’m strict, and the people around me know I can be very strict. But I always try to push them, to provide them with everything they need to do the job at their best, and I trust the people around me a lot. I don’t like going into detail about everything, I focus on myself making sure everyone has what it takes to perform at their best. I know how important the mood is in the team, as well as the mental approach and culture. We are working hard on it within the team, trying to have the right attitude, and I see that the team is somehow very united, and it’s something you get through transparency, which involves everyone, including me.”