Ferrari. The oldest and most respected team in Formula 1. They’ve won the most number of Drivers’ championships (15x times), and they’re the team who’s won the most amount of Constructors’ championships (16x times).
Since the sport’s inception in 1950, Ferrari was there. They’ve created a mystique around the team, and is it every driver’s dream to drive for the Reds at some point in their careers. To be associated with Ferrari comes with guaranteed satisfaction that can’t be explained, but the last few years that’s not been the case.
Ferrari’s been dropping the ball quite a bit since 2004, and every year since, bar 2007 and 2008, was a near-miss for the team as they seek to retrieve their glory years. 2019 seemed like the year that all the hard work of the last 15 years would finally pay off, but it all unravelled in what’s now become typical Ferrari fashion.
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2019: Intra-team battle
During pre-season testing, Ferrari looked to be the team to beat in 2019. Their cars were the fastest, the most consistent in terms of lap times and reliability, and they had the advantage of one of the best driver pairings of the year. Sebastian Vettel would lead Charles Leclerc, the latter a then 20-year-old drafted in from Alfa Romeo to replace Kimi Raikkonen.
It all looked great, and Leclerc made good on his promise to repay Ferrari for trusting him. In fact, over the first few days of 2019 testing, Leclerc set impressive times and topped the timesheets on a few occasions. Finally, a driver who can assist Vettel in bringing home the bacon.
Image: Getty Images
However, Leclerc outpaced and outraced Vettel on a few occasions in 2019. During the opening races of the season, he was so brilliant and good at what he does, that it left Vettel scratching his head.
Leclerc came into the team knowing he’d be the second driver, but why sacrifice your speed if the lead driver can’t keep up with the front-runners? It left Ferrari in a predicament because they’ve invested heavily in Vettel. They’ve poured millions into this driver in a bid for the two entities to win both championships.
Instead of being open with Vettel and having a discussion that it’s about the greater good of the team, Ferrari allowed their drivers to race each other on track. It resulted in the two men driving into each other, comprising one another’s race, and Vettel was often the one who’d cause the damage.
Leclerc wasn’t innocent, either. He, too, made mistakes and drove into Vettel. And this past Sunday, during the closing stages of the Brazilian GP, Vettel again drove into his team mate with no consequences to follow.
But that’s where the issue lies. While Mercedes-AMG and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing would reprimand their drivers and enforce the good of the team on them, Ferrari seems to look the other way. It hurt the team more than they realised, which allowed Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG to romp away to another championship.
A recurring pattern
Ferrari last won the Constructor’s championship in 2008 and the Drivers’ and Constructors’ in 2007, but they had really been at the forefront last in 2004.
In 2007 they won because of the intra-team battle at McLaren-Mercedes between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso (sound familiar, ala Leclerc and Vettel).
In 2008, Felipe Massa lost the Drivers’ to Hamilton by onepoint because of driver errors over the season. Come on, let’s be honest: Massa lost the title on his own. Timo Glock didn’t show Hamilton any favours.
Image: PEDRO PARDO / AFP
After the 2008 season, Ferrari’s cars all lacked in some way or form. Whether it was reliability creeping in or the car just not being competitive enough, Ferrari, quite honestly, played a catch-up game since 2009.
Even when Alonso joined the team in 2010, he was doing the most to secure that year’s title. And he almost did it, but the team’s strategists dropped the ball and Alonso lost the championship to Vettel by four points. Alonso led the majority of the season, only to see everything fall apart at the last race of the season. All thanks to the Ferrari team.
The pattern continued over the next few years. Either the driver would falter in some way or form, or the team would get the design of the car or the race strategy completely wrong.
In 2019 Ferrari had the best car, but the lack of a sole authoritative voice and strategic errors wreaked havoc on the team’s chances of winning both championships.
This season was perhaps Ferrari’s best chance to secure at least one of the two championships since 2008, but until the team gets on the same page, winning will remain a dream. And every season another near-miss.