Mattia Binotto, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2019

“Not straightforward. Not obvious”: Ferrari facing tough challenge to rescue 2019 season

2019 F1 season

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After the promise of pre-season testing, Ferrari’s season could hardly have got off to a more disappointing start. Yet the team deserves credit for the unflinching way in which it is facing the problem head-on.

No longer is it treating reasonable enquiries about its lack of performance with contempt and condescension. Post-Maurizio Arrivabene, the team under Mattia Binotto is not shying away from publicly confronting its shortcomings, however painful.

Following their fifth consecutive defeat last weekend, and the fifth straight one-two for Mercedes, Binotto offered praise for their rivals.

He then admitted that while Ferrari’s problems are “obvious and straightforward”, the causes and solutions are anything but.

“We are quite a young team”

John Elkann, Mattia Binotto, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Ferrari looked strong compared to Mercedes in testing
Aside from Sebastian Vettel’s do-or-die first-lap lunge, Ferrari never looked like challenging Mercedes in Spain. Indeed, the silver cars were further ahead of the competition than at any stage since the 2016 British Grand Prix.

The characteristics of their car befit a team whose founder once memorably opined that aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines. The SF90 looks great on the straights, but not in the corners.

Its low-speed cornering is a particular weakness. This was put into sharp relief in the final sector at the Circuit de Catalunya, and will have set alarm bells ringing for the next race at Monaco.

It’s the second time in 12 months the team has been found wanting in this way. They began last year strongly, then went down a development cul-de-sac with their car, which finished off what was left of Vettel’s championship chances.

While the team continues to bring parts to its 2019 car, its fundamental shortcoming remains unchanged.

“The limitation we had [in Spain] were present already in the first races of the season,” Binotto admitted. “I think the entire weekend certainly emphasises [it is] straightforward and obvious.”

“How long it will take [to fix] is difficult to answer,” he added, “I think more important for us is at first to understand really how to address them and then I’m pretty sure we can do it quickly.”

Depending on your point of view this either smacks of optimism – how can one know how quickly an undiagnosed problem can be fixed? – or confidence in the team’s capabilities.

Binotto describes Ferrari today as “quite a young team” who know that “in terms of process [and] methodology there is still much to learn”. However he is confident they are “improving” and its season is not yet a write-off. “If it’s a concept design [problem] obviously it depends what it is and I think there are things that you may address within a season.”

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The power unit

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Ferrari rushed in a new engine for Spain
It came as something of a surprise that Ferrari chose to introduce an upgrade to its engine at the Spanish Grand Prix. This has been the strongest part of its package so far, notwithstanding the electronic problem which cost Charles Leclerc a likely win in Bahrain.

Only its engines were replaced in Spain – not the hybrid hardware. Binotto said the change had been brought forward by four weeks once the team realised just how far behind Mercedes it was at the first race weekend of the year.

“When starting the season in Australia we realised that there was performance to recover to the main competitors,” he said. “And so it was important for us to push as much as possible on the development.

“We still believe that development will be a key factor in the season so I think whatever programme may be anticipated it’s our task and our duty to do it. So we decided very early this season to try to anticipate the programme of the engine. It has been a big effort. Not straightforward, not obvious.”

It says a lot about how keenly Ferrari are pursuing every last tenth of a second that Binotto believes the engine upgrade could be useful to them at Monaco, the least ‘power sensitive’ circuit on the calendar.

“It has been a very last-minute decision to introduce it,” he said. “We just concluded the homologation process in the last days [before the race weekend]. We did it because we are convinced that it could have been important here as well and may be important in the next races, maybe even Monaco.”

If the new engine made a difference in Spain, it was surely more a case of keeping Red Bull behind them in qualifying than putting up a challenge to Mercedes in the race. That said, Vettel did come very close to out-dragging the silver cars to turn one from third on the grid, and had he done that the race’s complexion might have been very different.

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The tyres

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Ferrari isn’t the only team puzzled by Pirelli’s 2019 tyres
Most teams have found Pirelli’s new generation of thinner 2019 rubber challenging at some point, though Mercedes is a conspicuous exception. Binotto believes this is an important aspect of the overall picture.

“Tyres certainly are difficult to manage,” he said. “I think tyres are a significant, key performance factor. [The] management and optimisation is key for the overall performance of the car itself.”

Again, Binotto stressed the difficulty of working out how to optimise Pirelli’s latest rubber.

“The tyres this year are behaving differently compared to last year,” he said. “From the Pirelli point of view they achieved their targets. The tyres are not blistering which certainly from the safety reason is good.

“But understanding and addressing or optimising the performance is part of our job, and if I may see that, certainly it’s not obvious, not straightforward and not an easy task.

“[Last] weekend we had various situations, track temperatures quite different from Saturday morning to the afternoon to today and again I think that part of the data we need to analyse through the weekend to understand our car behaviour.”

Ferrari may be more forthright about the problems they are experiencing this year, but it’s clear those problems are multi-faceted and complicated. This does not sound like a team which is one bright idea away from turning its season around.

2019 F1 season

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28 comments on ““Not straightforward. Not obvious”: Ferrari facing tough challenge to rescue 2019 season”

  1. I thought it was a cylinder failure that cost Leclerc a likely win in Bahrain.

    1. @jerejj – that’s right, it was a cylinder’s ignition that wasn’t working, but that had its root cause in the Control Electronics (not in the spark plug/leads). That’s why the CE is something I feel will be crucial for Ferrari and their customers, as the fix for that pushed all of them onto their second CE package allowed for the season.

  2. Binotto describes Ferrari today as “quite a young team”…

    So can Liberty chop off the LST bonus? 😊

    …who know that “in terms of process [and] methodology there is still much to learn”

    Humour aside, seriously? So they are lacking in institutional knowledge. That is never a good thing.

    I think this is the big difference with another “young team” – Mercedes. Their process and methodology has always on point and exemplary – for instance, their performance in Singapore over the years is probably the best demonstration of this. Not to mention how efficiently they often iron out their car over the three-day race weekend.

    That said, I appreciate Binotto’s openness with the media, particularly in these turbulent times for Ferrari. I can’t help but think that under Arrivabene, in similar circumstances, they would have retreated from the media into a red-coloured shell festooned with Winnow branding.

  3. Step 1: Overpromise and oversell at winter test
    Step 2: Fail miserably in 1st half of season
    Step 3: Abandon the season and start “working” on next season
    Step 4: Haphazardly fire personale and restructure the team.

    Repeat steps 1 thru 4 every year and still claim its their right to claim “bonus” and veto.

    1. Pehaps after the ending of the Schumi/Brawn/Byrne era it is just Ferrari’s recessive Keystone Cops gene returning to dominence once more.

  4. Allocate most of the resources to the 2021 car as soon as the regulations are finalized in June. There is no point in burning most of the resources to this and next year’s cars.

    Of course they will not do it, 2021 is too far ahead.

    Hamilton 7 times in 18 months… who would have thought in 2013.

    1. there’s no shortage of resources there, they can allocate as much as they want to multiple projects and still be well inside their budget, probably

      1. I think it’s human resources that’d be the constraint, not technical/financial resources, which – as you rightly say – Ferrari have a lot of. The same skilled people we’d want fixing this year’s car are the ones we’d want them using on the 2021 design.

    2. Hamilton 7 times in 18 months… who would have thought in 2013.

      7x what?

      1. 7 time WDC by the end of next season

    3. @f1mre

      I think they’ve been skipping to the next regulation set for a while.

      They need to improve their operations, processes and understanding of aero within the next two years, and they can’t do that if they’re sitting still on car development for the next season and a half.

      There’s no guarantee they’ll be a winning team in 2021 either.. so the least they can do right now is not have a quitter’s attitude.

  5. It’s disappointing that Pirelli have completely messed up this season with their tyre compounds. All to stop blistering so they could save face.

    That being said, had Ferrari made better ( or I should say quicker ) strategy calls, the gap between them and Mercedes would not be so massive.

    So go ahead, tell us that it will take time to fix the car, but for goodness sake improve your strategy and team management. That you can do immediately.

    1. All the other nine teams have to do is build a car that has the same hereditary tyre-life issues as the Mercedes.

      Easy-peasy. ;-)

    2. I have no idea why Pirelli are still in F1 when they keep getting the blame for F1 coming up with terrible tyre specs. They are only allowed to provide what the rules call for.

      If F1 would just tell Pirelli what they want the tyres to do, there would be no problem producing those. But instead F1 keeps making rules about compounds and carcass thicknesses and so on, which the rulemakers obviously don’t understand as well as a tyre manufacturer.

  6. how can one know how quickly an undiagnosed problem can be fixed?

    Even a diagnosed problem can be difficult to fix, so yes, one can’t predict how long it will take to fix an undiagnosed problem. Look at Williams, they’ve been struggling for several years with unresolved problems.
    The first step is can you reproduce the problem? If you can then normally you should be able to fix the problem. However, if the problem happens in some awkward real life situation, e.g. flying around a corner at 350 km/h, and especially when you can’t reproduce that situation in a “test” environment, then that does make things difficult.
    Another aspect is I suspect the problem in F1 is that any “fix” for a problem is just not acceptable, only a fix that gives you at least that gives you the performance you originally intended to have is the bare minimum. Okay, maybe you’d live with a tiny loss in performance if you gained a lot in reliability, but anything more than that tiny loss in performance (terms and conditions apply) wouldn’t be accepted.

    1. @drycrust: That’s good news for Williams. They have been able to reproduce the problem multiple seasons. Just for verification purposes.

  7. Frankly, I find this whole criticising/praising Ferrari for their handling of the PR side of things quite navel-gazey. I’m sure it’s great for the journalists in the paddock if they can get quotes from the team now, but outside of that, I doubt there are many people who care about that particular issue.

    Not giving enough belly rubs to the press might not have helped Mr Arrivabene, but he ultimately lost his job because the team didn’t live up to its (and his) lofty goals. In the same vein, I don’t expect Mr Binotto’s charm offensive to be particularly helpful to his job prospects if he manages to oversee a campaign of humiliating losses.

    1. @proesterchen – good point.

      1. Soo true!!!
        And soooooo Much hate for ferrari all around the net.
        BUT on a next note, if ferrari don’t win a single race this season then someone has to pay for that. Mattia would have been heavily involved in the development of this 2019 car so for it to be so wrong aerodynamically quite frankly is shocking. Ferrari made great strides the last 2 season and in all honestly should have won the DC last season. Driver errors, bad calls from the pitwall all contributed along with updates that just did not work and they had to remove them which in turn brought the car back to life.
        Still I can’t understand with all the resources that ferrari have they still claim to not know what the problem is (and I don’t for 1 second believe that)

  8. There is the only way for Ferrari, like Merc did last year.
    – They have to change tyres set up so they are blistered all the time and Pirelli has to save their face changing the tyres again.

  9. Ferrari are in big trouble. The car is not good enough to beat RBR with a Honda engine and they are struggling on drivers as well.

    The 4 time champion seems to be just going through the motions at this point. Leclerc is not talented enough to push the champion to higher levels.

    1. I think Leclerc seems Ricciardo level over all, i.e. enough to beat Seb Vettel, not aggressive or all-round talented (e.g. in the rain) enough to be at VER or HAM level of the current bunch.

  10. I thing=k the Scuderia should focus on racing RedBull[Verstappen] because if they try and design their strategy to beat Mercedes, they’re going to mess it up trying to keep up with the faster team and will end up losing more than what they could’ve gained. At this point, without the strategy muck ups, Vettel and Leclerc should be ahead of Verstappen in the standings. If Gasly improves and Ferrari doesn’t change, Red Bull will beat Ferrari in the constructors and we’ll end up with another 2016 season.

  11. @keithcollantine, @dieterrenken. Could you please clarify what was actually said?
    You have the headline as a quotation apparently from Binotto “Not straightforward. Not obvious” which tells us one thing. But in the text he is quoted as saying that Ferrari’s problems are “obvious and straightforward”. Did Binotto actually say “Not straightforward. Not obvious”?

    1. @nickwyatt – The key bit is in this paragraph in the introduction:

      [Binotto] then admitted that while Ferrari’s problems are “obvious and straightforward”, the causes and solutions are anything but.

      The problems are cornering downforce, tyre handling, etc. That’s the obvious and straightforward bit. However, what is causing them is likely to be a multiplicity of factors, and fixing them is complex (e.g. addressing one aspect of the car can result in side effects elsewhere, especially when it comes to tyre handling, as that depends on complex suspension setup).

    2. Also, the headline appears to be inferred from these quotes, and is not verbatim.

      “I think the entire weekend certainly emphasises [it is] straightforward and obvious.”
      “How long it will take [to fix] is difficult to answer,”

      Your question/observation is a good one, since the quotation marks indicate a direct quote.

  12. It’s odd seeing how Ferrari is now, compared to winter testing. Their car was the most balanced then, which gives its virtuous circle benefits with cornering speed, tire life, etc. Now it’s like reading about a totally different car.

    They increased the wheelbase this year, right? Maybe they’re just in a dead zone, in between the Mercedes’ lwb low-rake & Red Bull’s (and theirs, formerly) swb high-rake concepts. It’s difficult to fathom.

    1. they increased the wheelbase last year, I believe it is now just 4mm shorter than the Mercedes now, where it was 100mm shorter when it was dominating tracks like Singapore and Monaco.

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