Ferrari: Failure or Fortune in 2021?

2020 was a pretty bleak year for everyone, but none more so than the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team and all Ferrari fans across the globe. The team finished 6th in the championship, which was only the third time they have finished outside the top 3 in 40 years and this was their worst season in those 40 years. Their season got off on the wrong foot before the first race in Austria, with the announcement that Sainz was replacing Vettel in 2021. This led to a frankly frosty and hostile relationship between Vettel and his Ferrari crew in 2020, with some fans accusing Ferrari of deliberately hampering Vettel’s season. Personally, I think this is a load of boswollocks but people love to put their tin foil hats on. Ferrari’s season went from bad to worse, and apart from a few well-earned podiums, Ferrari offered very little in 2020. Ferrari fans are known for their passion and when Ferrari is doing well, they have huge support and admiration. But when Ferrari aren’t doing so well, this support turns to displeasure and anger. Ferrari need a much better season in 2021 to please both the fans and their shareholders, however will they be successful next year or have another season of poor performance and disappointment?



Scuderia Ferrari Instagram

New engine in development

The main problem for Ferrari last season was their distinct lack of straight-line speed, which was in stark contrast to their 2019 engine. In the summer of 2018, Ferrari made significant power gains increasing their power outage by 38 horsepower. This was a huge improvement and raised eyebrows in the paddock. Despite this, Ferrari’s engine continued to improve throughout 2018 and 2019, with Ferrari having clearly the best engine on the grid and winning three races in 2019. Ferrari’s rivals maintained that the team had designed a system to hold the fuel in the car in a different way, thus ‘hoodwinking’ the sensor into registering the correct numbers. The FIA began investigating Ferrari’s engine at the US Grand Prix in 2019, where they issued a technical directive outlawing certain settings related to fuel flows which is strictly regulated. This culminated in the FIA issuing a statement saying they had concluded an analysis of Ferrari’s engine and reached a settlement with the team. Suspiciously, during preseason testing in 2020, Ferrari’s engine suffered from a significant loss of power and this continued throughout the season.

 

Ferrari released a vague statement saying that they agreed “to a number of technical commitments that will improve the monitoring of all Formula 1 power units” and that this loss in power was because of ‘experimental settings’ in their set-up, leading to a trade-off between grip limit and power limit. However, Ferrari must have been ‘experimenting’ all season as their car remained slow and sluggish throughout the season. Rival teams are furious that this analysis has not been released yet; Ferrari are blocking the release of details on intellectual property grounds. It’s all very suspicious, yet it seems like Ferrari haven’t done anything illegal (otherwise they would have been given a bigger punishment) but they almost certainly have done something wrong (otherwise their engine output would have remained the same). It’s like completing your homework at school, but all you’ve done is copied the answers from your friend; you’ve still completed the homework as asked, but you’ve completed it in an unlawful manner.

 

Ferrari have announced that they have developed a new engine for 2021 and then there will be an updated version in 2022- which they will have to use until at least 2025 due to the recent engine freeze. There are promising signs from mechanics and the drivers that this engine will be much more powerful than last years, but we aren’t going to know until Bahrain whether Ferrari have made significant power gains or not. Still, it’s a good sign that Ferrari are creating a new engine and realising that this was a huge problem. If the engine can produce more power and be more reliable, then it will definitely be a step in the right direction and hopefully enable Ferrari to move back up towards the front of the grid.

 

 

Restrictions on technical developments

Due to cost cutting regulations, the cars in 2021 are remaining very similar to their 2020 counterparts. This is bad news for Ferrari as not only was their engine sluggish last year, but their car also lacked downforce and drag, which meant it wasn’t particularly fast through the corners. Teams are permitted to spend a certain number of ‘development tokens’ to improve the car and looking at Ferrari’s car, they’ve seemed to spend their tokens focusing on the rear and changing some elements of the front wing. Hopefully (paired with their new engine) this will allow Ferrari to be more competitive. Personnel at Ferrari certainly believe they have made significant gains in downforce with their improved design of their 2020 car and there is a positive vibe surrounding the Scuderia.

 

However, other teams have been allocated the same development token allowance which means they can possibly make as much gains as Ferrari have made aerodynamically. For teams with a lower budget, they wouldn’t have been able to spend as many resources on their development meaning they might not be able to make as many gains. For McLaren, (who’ve switched from Renault engines to Mercedes engines for 2021 onwards) they’ve been restricted in their use of development tokens as they’ve had to spend their tokens changing the rear of the car, to accommodate the different shape and design of the Mercedes engine. But, for teams with a similar budget to Ferrari- such as Mercedes, Red Bull and even possibly Alpine or Aston Martin- they’ve been able to spend a lot of money and resources on their developments and possibly could have made similar gains to what Ferrari have made during the winter. This could possibly cancel out any significant gains Ferrari have made and halt their progress back to the front of the grid.

 

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An incredible plethora of talented drivers

The Ferrari car might lack pace and be as slow as last year, but one thing’s for certain; their drivers in both the team and their academy are fast, very fast. Ferrari offer potentially the best driver line-up on the grid this season in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. With a combined age of 49, it is Ferrari’s youngest ever driver line-up and a distinct change from their usual of having a more experienced driver, paired with a younger racer.

 

At 26, Carlos already has 6 years’ worth of experience in Formula 1 and 2020 was his best season to date, gaining a podium (nearly a win), 6th in the drivers’ championship and being a key component in helping McLaren to gain 3rd in the constructors’ championship. He’s incredibly fast and a smooth operator when it comes to managing tyres and making a race strategy work. Charles Leclerc is heading into his 4th season in Formula 1, after what could be argued was his best Formula 1 season to date. Despite not achieving a win, he did attain two very impressive podiums and consistently outperformed both Vettel (his teammate) and the car throughout the season; his qualifying lap at the Sakhir Grand Prix was particularly special, being only 3 tenths slower than Bottas on pole. He achieved almost triple the points than Vettel and provided us with some quality entertainment. Apart from a few mistakes, such as in Styria and Turkey, Leclerc had a pretty flawless season and will be heading into 2021 with a lot of confidence.

 

Ferrari also have some promising talent in their academy, notably Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott. Both were competing for the F2 championship last year, with Schumacher winning the championship by 14 points to Ilott. This gained Schumacher a drive with Haas for this season, whilst Ilott is racing again in F2 and will be Ferrari’s reserve driver this year.  Both are incredibly talented drivers and will be racing together in F1 in the near future I’m sure. Schumacher seems to be Ferrari’s main focus (probably helps that his dad is a Ferrari legend) and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in a Haas, that is one of the slowest cars on the grid. I, for one, think he’ll massively outperform the car and give Binotto a headache when choosing his drivers for 2023- but maybe I’m also a bit biased as a Schumacher fan.

 

Ferrari also have Robert Shwartzman, Marcus Armstrong and Leclerc’s younger brother Arthur in their academy, all of whom seem to be fast drivers and emerging talents. It’s clear that Ferrari’s drivers will not be a problem for some time, but this doesn’t mean that other problems might occur in Ferrari’s workforce.


 

Poor strategic decisions impeding the team’s progress

Whilst Ferrari’s drivers may be absolutely top tier, other personnel at the team have dropped off the mark a bit. Many strategy calls made during the 2020 season were extremely questionable, and left fans wondering how on earth they got it so wrong. I remember on countless occasions Leclerc being left out on the wornest of tyres and Ferrari just expected him to make it work. Surprisingly, Leclerc was often a sitting duck and it ended up completely ruining his race. Vettel questioned many strategy decisions during the races and on most occasions overruled them, deciding his own strategy. That shouldn’t be the case. The driver shouldn’t be doing the job of the strategy team; they must have their input on the strategy, but the strategists should also know what’s best.

If Ferrari are to succeed in 2021 and beyond, they must rid of these errors and start making strategy calls that can gain them valuable podiums and even potential wins; much like Turkey when Ferrari played an unbelievable strategy to get 3rd and 4th. This has been the Achilles heel for a while at Ferrari so let’s hope this problem has been ironed out. Ferrari have indeed moved personnel around the team into different roles, so let’s hope this change can spark some positive change in the team.

 

 

 

We won’t know Ferrari’s true 2021 pace until qualifying in Bahrain. In pre-season testing they looked okay, but not much more than that. It’s clear that their new engine is much improved, with Alfa Romeo impressing in testing using the new Ferrari engine. It could have been the case that Ferrari were ‘sandbagging’ and gaining their engine data from their customer teams. If this is the case, Ferrari could return to the top 3 of the grid and even potentially get some wins if Red Bull and Mercedes both have bad days. If this isn’t the case, well then I think Ferrari fans are in for another disappointing season, where Ferrari could potentially finish outside of the top 4 again.

 

One thing is for certain, it’s imperative that Ferrari start performing again soon; Formula 1 without a fast Ferrari near the front just feels wrong.


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