It sounds like a boring refrain but too often these days we ask ourselves what Ferrari needs to do to get its season back on track following a start to the 2023 Formula 1 championship that was unexpectedly bad and didn’t live up to the high expectations created during the winter. There could be many solutions to the various problems that the Maranello team now encounters too frequently.
Ferrari, to return to being a strong team, must restructure itself from an organizational point of view, there is no other solution. This can also happen through the “de-Italianization” of the team. It will seem paradoxical because the Prancing Horse is an Italian excellence, but perhaps it is precisely the very solid link with the territory that afflicts and mortifies the leaps towards victory.
Ferrari: a look at England for returning to the top of Formula 1
The operational base of Formula One is England, with all due respect to other theories. All the teams, with the exception of Ferrari, partly AlphaTauri which depends in many things on Red Bull, and Haas, which is closely linked to Maranello, have their operational headquarters in a very narrow geographical area. And this area is precisely in Great Britain. This is where skills, know-how and human resources lie. But also valid operating methods.
Mercedes, a German competitor, is not by chance based in Brackley. Red Bull, an Austrian franchise, has its home in Milton Keynes. And we’re talking about the two teams that have literally monopolized the last 15 years of Formula One, leaving nothing for the rest of the competition.
Jean Todt’s Ferrari, the guiding star that Fred Vasseur must and perhaps wants to chase, was more British than one might have imagined. The French manager, in fact, relied on the group that made Benetton great, which had its base in Enstone. Rory Byrne, chief aerodynamicist, and Ross Brawn, technical director, were the two reference figures of the “British school” who knew how to revive the fortunes of a team that was going through a very difficult time.
A few weeks ago, speaking on the matter, Flavio Briatore, an Italian who has done very good things in Great Britain, explained that the Prancing Horse must not only establish an English-style mentality to be able to compete where they are expected to do so, but must also a massive recruiting campaign to bring overseas expertise to Maranello.
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The Italian manager had cited as an example what Aston Martin did: Lawrence Stroll’s team was able to bring many experts and aerodynamics engineers, who were poached above all at the expense of Red Bull. A move that allowed them to make a decisive step from one year to the next, a situation that very rarely can be seen in Formula One.
Pedro de la Rosa, someone who knows how things work at Ferrari, having been a test driver in the two-year period 2023-2014, conceptually expressed himself more or less like Flavio Briatore when he alluded to Ferrari as a difficult environment in which it is not easy to manage the pressure that the media and the fans impose and that increases when, as happens today, the results don’t arrive.
“One of the reasons foreigners do well at Ferrari is because they are not so influenced by the Italian press, mainly because they don’t understand it,” the Spaniard explained to F1 Nation. “Foreigners are one thing, but Italian engineers, mechanics and all the staff feel the pressure particularly. It’s not just about the language, but about the deep meaning of Ferrari”.
Ferrari and that inability to create capable politicians
Ferrari should also be able to compete at another table, namely that of politics, because to win it is not necessary to know how to only create a car that is up to the task, withstand pressure in difficult moments, as explained by Flavio Briatore and Pedro de la Rosa, but also being skilled at the meetings in which the rules of the sport are written.
Maranello has often shown a lack of ability in this regard. Mercedes, thanks to Dieter Zetsche, was instead able to convince both the International Federation and the owners (at the time this was Bernie Ecclestone, it is good to remember this when the aging former manager lashes out against the current category that he himself helped create), but also the other teams to go towards a direction that Mercedes had already begun to trace a few years earlier. Hence the great advantage that the team was able to exploit in the following years, starting with the 2014 Formula 1 campaign.
It took a long time for the competition to bridge that gap and it is clear that sporting triumphs depend directly on that regulation framework set up with such care behind the scenes by Mercedes. So you have to take your hat off to those who have been able to operate on the technical-political double track, something that Ferrari was unable to do at the beginning of the 2000s. And that the Italian side still doesn’t seem to know how to approach. The case of Technical Directive 039 and the regulation changes that resulted from it in 2023 is emblematic. Maranello was in an actually good position from a technical point of view in the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season, but the changes limited part of the advantage that the team had gained.
Clearly, we must avoid the idea that this is the only element for which Ferrari fell behind during the 2022 world championship. Because so many mistakes have been made both in the sports management of the team and in terms of reliability, which has been deficient and it represented one of the most serious and limiting reasons why the team was overtaken and beaten by Red Bull with such a huge gap.
Benedetto Vigna and John Elkann, rather than making improvised internal revolutions, must put those who work in sports management in conditions to be able to have a strong point of view in the meetings that decide the fate of rules and regulations. In a nutshell and without launching into mileage analysis, Ferrari must rediscover that spirit that Jean Todt was able to build when he was entrusted with the task of restructuring the Ferrari Racing Division and returning to the center of the Formula One world. A challenge that Frédéric Vasseur seems to have accepted, but in order to win it will take time, energy and patience. Even that of the fans.