The Maranello-based outfit displayed a great deal of negative symptoms throughout the Japanese GP weekend, as it continues to ruinously deteriorate at a rather worrying pace. The FIA sensor-related drama stretching back to Sochi obviously did not mellow out the tense atmosphere inside the team, with speculation sprouting minute after minute.
Ferrari landed in Japan hoping for a hearty payback against themselves, as their own structure, management and top driver turned out to be their biggest enemies. In order to bounce back from July’s dreadful and unsuccessful losing streak, with Spa being the only exception, the team went for literally every risk it could take.
The Intermediate tyre blunder was enhanced by the rivals entirely going on Slicks, accordingly with the radar prediction, which made Ferrari’s gamble look even more pointless than it could ever be. Sebastian Vettel did not put the blame on anyone, as he claimed the decision was shared by both the drivers and the pit wall. However, Arrivabene drifted off from his usual approach and exploded, labelling his team’s strategy as ‘unacceptable’. The lack of an old hand, embodying the guidance Ferrari needs after the major shake-up it underwent over the past few years, might be culpable of their recent and repeated mistakes resulting in all-round failures.
On the other hand, Ferrari is no stranger to rain-induced strategy errors, especially during qualifying. In 2014 both drivers were knocked out in Q1 at Silverstone, without even risking it. Wrong call, wrong timing, rain incoming. There was not even the same amount of pressure, as the car was nowhere close to challenging Mercedes or Red Bull for a win based on its pace alone. Through this throwback, my aim was to prove that Ferrari’s lack of guidance has been seamlessly going on for years, and the 2015 takeover did not uproot the old problems for good.
It is now unfathomably clear that Marchionne’s passing threw Ferrari into a detrimental spiral, polarizing Arrivabene and Binotto’s figures, but the main issue is deeply entrenched in the new turn Ferrari took for 2015. Arrivabene was appointed back then, not yesterday, and what is currently happening is just a natural consequence of Ferrari’s debatable choices. The comparison we could easily draw between Toto Wolff, an icy cold-blooded and straightforward team guide, versus the hot-tempered Arrivabene, who is certainly a gifted, charismatic orator, appears rather merciless.
Ferrari needs a dictator-like persona, who must act as a firm pillar to the team. Forget any gimmicks, performance has to be done on the track, not outside of it. There is no other canvas where teams and drivers have to prove themselves by drawing the best picture of their skills.
Coming to the drivers’ matter, Sebastian Vettel has certainly being drawn towards the eye of the storm lately, being called out to explain the truth behind the several mistakes he put his trademark on so far this season. At the Japanese GP the German crushed his own podium hopes by colliding into Max Verstappen in the attempt of overtaking him, going for that gap, as Senna said. I could commend him for being courageous and willing to risk, but at this stage he simply should not have pushed it, especially being aware that Verstappen had been handed a penalty.
Pressure played a significant role as well, bearing in mind that through Ferrari’s pace he could have eventually upstaged Bottas for P2. However, it is as predictable as it gets with the umpteenth error by Vettel. And if we do the maths correctly, Hamilton is on the verge of winning his 5th title in Austin, wrapping up the season even earlier than last year, which makes this year’s Fer-Merc turnaround immensely striking.
Adding up to the human issues, Ferrari cannot spare itself from having tech-related hassles. As I mentioned before, Ferrari’s performance drop between Monza and Singapore, affecting their tyre management as well, has been linked to the FIA installing the notorious two sensors, but the issue might be different. In fact, it has to do with Mercedes genuinely outdoing them on the efficiency side as for the upgrades. Moreover, MotorsportMagazine's Mark Hughes remarked on self-imposed limitations to allow higher-mileage engines to be used until the end of the season. In other words, Ferrari is running de-powered cars to save up on their engines’ longevity as much as possible, while working towards reducing any kind of damage or fatigue sign. As we can be inferred from such an enlightening point, Ferrari might have been ahead in the first half of the season, but it was born flawed as it is now, otherwise this extreme device would not have been needed by any means. Indeed, this sort of issues could not surface earlier, as the end of the season acts as an assessment itself. At this stage they cannot afford running full-powered, while the opposition successfully translated their ingenuity into effective updates.
In conclusion, Ferrari's 2018 situation is definitely peculiar and almost uprecedented, considering the way it ws battered from various standpoints since mid-summer, but the problem has to be found upstream. Upstream means can mean before 2015, as well as at the beginning of the current season, resulting in a mind-blowing eye opener on Ferrari's competitiveness.