Ferrari is statistically and historically, one of the most if not the most successful team in F1. Entering the 2019 season, almost all the winter testing analysis established the team was the ultimate favourite in the bid to the world title. They looked as unsinkable as the Titanic, before the iceberg.
Alas, the season started with five Mercedes doubles and ten wins over twelve, with Redbull scoring the other two non-Mercedes victories of the season. That urged Ferrari to bring radical upgrades during the summer break. Those upgrades saw the Scuderia score four pole positions and three wins in a row, from Belgium to Singapore, despite having been lapped by Mercedes and Redbull in the previous race in Hungary. Just like that, their engine advantage was estimated to be 0.8 seconds over their closest competition - Mercedes. In this hybrid era, that was unprecedented, to say the least.
Those sudden gains led the entire paddock to be quite speculative, and the Austrian stable Redbull Racing led the charge of a round of clarifications queries to the FIA. The regulatory body duly responded by issuing a technical directive about fuel-flow regulations. That directive was immediately followed by a drop-off in Ferrari’s form as soon as the US grand prix. Little did we know that worse and worse performances were still to come.
At the time, the Redbull driver Max Verstappen, referring to Ferrari’s sudden loss of form, dared to suggest: this is “what happens when you stop cheating", to which both Ferrari’s drivers replied with a sense of scorned dignity. Charles Leclerc scathingly replied : “I think it’s a joke to be completely honest. He has no clue. He’s not in the team. So we know exactly what we are doing and I don’t know why he’s speaking, he doesn’t know anything about us”. Sebastian Vettel on the other hand was a bit more diplomatic : “Everybody is free to say what they want, and if that's what he thinks, that's what he may think, but obviously we have a different opinion". He also brushed off the idea of their poor performance to be related to the new engine restriction by adding: "On Sunday we probably struggled with more than one thing, conditions, tyres, set-up, which are things we need to work on, but calling it that far is just not right. On top of the fact that we have a performing engine, we always have a car that is very efficient, compared to say Mercedes and Red Bull, they have more downforce than us, but maybe they create it in a dirtier way. So you can always argue which is the better package but I think it is a good sign, should we have the strongest engine [...] it is a great achievement by us, by our engine department. And for the last five years, we had Mercedes with the strongest engine, so if it is now for a couple of months we are ahead, then hopefully it stays like that for the next five years, and I don't care what people think or say”. Those comments didn’t age well, did they?
One season and a secret agreement with the FIA later, the conclusion leaves very few room to doubt. Ferrari stands 5th in the constructors standing, behind McLaren and Racing Point, Redbull and Mercedes. Historians might fault me, but I can’t recall the Scuderia ever being this low. That boat has truly sunk, to the utter despair of Tifosi. To illustrate Ferrari’s misery, in Belgium, Sebastian Vettel was dead last in FP3, and both Ferraris were unable to make the cut to Q3. It is a massive slump, when you consider they had the front row secured at that same circuit a year ago. By Leclerc’s own admission, there was not much more he could do. An admission of helplessness.
So, one has to wonder, what exactly happened to that team which happens to have the biggest means of them all? Well, the award-winning F1 journalist and F1 team manager Peter Windsor gave some hint. According to him, it all started in 2019, when [Maurizio] Arrivabene was asked to leave, and replaced by Mattia Binotto as the Scuderia Ferrari’s team principal. The main fallout was a couple of key group leaders at the team left, and presumably joined Mercedes. Those key people might have explained to Mercedes how Ferrari did to bypass the speed restrictions on fuel flow. Allegedly, Mercedes then went to the FIA saying “we won’t protest this, but unless we get clarifications on what is allowed or not on this specific matter, we are going to replicate Ferrari's trick”. That move might have played a part in Ferrari being tied in the secret agreement that we know so few about.
Unfortunately for Ferrari, their engine isn’t the only thing to be underachieving. The SF1000 chassis isn’t doing much better either. In races, both Vettel and Leclerc struggled against other Ferrari-powered cars, with the latter admitting that even with the DRS, overtaking on the Kemmel straight was a frustrating exercise. Kimi Raikkonen even brought home his Alfa Romeo in 12th, ahead of both Ferraris.
As if having a poor engine and an ineffective chassis weren’t enough, the Scuderia has also to deal with questionable strategies, a driver’s line-up change, and a freezing of the range of developments for 2021. Regarding the perspective of Sainz’ arrival at Ferrari, Lando Norris jokingly said that he will wave when he will pass his soon-to-be former teammate on track. That light joke encapsulates perfectly the situation of a team that used to be frightening, but which has lost its stature.
Although Ferrari’s struggles often give the audience a much welcomed drama in a season that some call boring, it is difficult to not feel for the 2880 tifosi expected to attend the Mugello GP. On the 1000th anniversary of the Scuderia, they might witness Hamilton, their archenemy, potentially equalling the record of the number of wins in a career that has been held for so long by one of Ferrari’s greatest hero.
However, despite its huge step backward, the team has every intention and is determined to bounce back. The Scuderia called the Tifosi through their social media platforms, saying they are needing their support now more than ever.
Not a good weekend but we will keep not stop fighting. It’s not the first time in our history that we’ve struggled, but we have always come through. In moments like this we need our fans more than ever. Thanks to all of you who are sticking by our side. #essereFerrari 🔴 pic.twitter.com/CvFEXoQZ8C— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) August 31, 2020