Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019

How did Ferrari go so long without a win in 2019?

Dieter's Inbox

Posted on

| Written by

Ferrari’s breakthrough first victory of 2019 at Spa last weekend will have come as a huge relief to the team, to say nothing of their millions of fans.

Even so, it required the use of Sebastian Vettel as a sacrificial pawn to achieve a maiden win for Charles Leclerc. Despite locking out the front row, the red cars sandwiched the two Mercedes at the finish.

Why did it take so long? If we cast our minds back to pre-season testing, Ferrari were the pace-setter. True, the team faltered in Melbourne but came back strongly in Bahrain – only to blow that race through mechanical misfortune. On two other occasions – Canada and Austria – the team was strongly in the hunt but ultimately lost out to, respectively, Mercedes and Red Bull.

When the championship resumed at Spa last week the score was Mercedes 10, Red Bull 2, Ferrari 0. Clearly Ferrari had to win, or face its home race in Monza with the longest win-less streak since 2016. Equally, it has gone eight years without an Italian Grand Prix win, equally its eighties slump.

Although Ferrari failed to win a race in 2016, during the subsequent two seasons it had at least posted strong early showings, taking four wins through to the Hungarian Grand Prix in both 2017 and 2018 versus zero until this year.

Clearly that is an unacceptable situation given Ferrari has the largest budget, receives $100m per year simply to show up and in Vettel has a four-time world champion on its books…

Mattia Binotto, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Binotto has faced political distractions…
The reasons for the (non) performance of a team are both varied and complex, but ultimately boil to one core factor: management. Am I therefore blaming Mattia Binotto, who took over as team principal in January? On the contrary, I firmly believe the Swiss is doing a fine sporting job under the circumstances with which he has been saddled.

As always, ultimate blame lies at the top of any organisation, and in my opinion the buck stops on the desk of Louis C Camilleri, Ferrari CEO, or even a level up in the heady office of president John Elkann. They collectively made the appointment of Binotto as replacement for Maurizio Arrivabene, the gruff, bearded former Marlboro Marketing Man, who failed to maintain the all-important political relationships within the sport.

Camilleri and Elkann installed Binotto unto the grand plan designed by Sergio Marchionne, the corporate whirlwind who ruled Ferrari (and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and much more beside) with hard-headed logic until his untimely death in July last year. The Italo-Canadian planned to retire from FCA duties in early 2019, staying on as CEO of Ferrari, having spun off the company on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Marchionne planned to focus purely on Maranello, retaining a hands-on executive role and having a number of senior managers report directly to him. Binotto would have responsibility for sporting side, but, crucially, not Formula 1’s complex commercial or political activities. These the battle-hardened taskmaster would handle himself, leaving the clearly capable Swiss engineer to focus on nuts and bolts.

Jean Todt, Ferrari, 2005
…which Jean Todt was insulated from
This would have been not unlike the plan adopted by Luca Montezemolo during Ferrari’s halcyon days: the aristocratic Italian busied himself with F1’s political and commercial aspects, while Jean Todt masterminded Michael Schumacher’s routing of the opposition.

When Todt – now FIA president – left, he was replaced by Stefano Domenicali, but the modus operandi stayed the same. Any wonder Marchionne planned Ferrari’s future around this proven structure?

But in July last year the man dubbed ‘one of the boldest business leaders of his generation’ by Financial Times died unexpectedly. Camilleri was hurriedly appointed in his place, but he brought comparatively less contemporary F1 insight, having stood down from his Philip Morris chairman/CEO role, where Ferrari’s commercial partnership fell indirectly under his control, in 2013.

Right now, F1 is undergoing the most crucial phase of its pots-2020 ‘new era’ negotiations, with its technical/sporting, governance process and commercial agreements – and Ferrari’s controversial veto power – all under review. These issues Marchionne would have dispensed with before breakfast, yet Binotto is now charged with navigating the Prancing Stallion through some choppy waters in F1’s piranha tank.

This explains why Ferrari’s on-track performance has slipped. Binotto has been forced to take on two crucial – yet totally divergent – roles, having been tasked at extremely short notice to lead Ferrari on-track and into F1’s (as yet) undefined and complex future?

Arguably the same key performance areas not also apply to Toto Wolff, who is currently leading Mercedes to unprecedented levels of on-track success, while simultaneously playing a major role in defining F1’s future. But there is a crucial difference between the two: When Toto slid his feet under the silver desk in late 2013, F1’s 2013-2020 structures were in place, and he had gained an insight into the processes while a Williams shareholder from 2009.


Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Dieter’s Inbox

    Browse all Dieter’s Inbox articles

    22 comments on “How did Ferrari go so long without a win in 2019?”

    1. Vettel must be feeling pretty crushed right now…
      If the next win is lec’s and not Vet’s, then Seb will see out the year and RETIRE November.
      Just a guess

    2. Is Binotto Swiss or Italian? I’m confused.

      1. Swiss, born in Lausanne to parents from Italian part of Switzerland

        1. According to the corrieredellosport his parents are from Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, which is in Italy.

          It happens every time someone pops up with a multinationality, whether its Verstappen or Rosberg, there is always a discussion about it :P

        2. Seb was not a sacrificial pawn, the journo wow factor kickin in. Unquestionably Seb ended up helping quite a lot, they did try to give Seb a race. A sacricial pawn has his race built around the opponent.
          Coincidentally on c1 c2 c3 weekends he’s been very slow. strategy was fine, ended up pitting a bit too early, for himself and the sacricial pawn claim. Even with sc, 1 stop strategy worked for only a few, the medium was too hard yet did not have the longevity.

    3. Excellent analysis. That was exactly what I feared at the start of the season.
      Binotto is a great technical leader, but definitely NOT right for the team principal position imo.

      The position needs to be filled with a strong manager, who knows the sport and politics very well, so that the technical team can focus on their work.

      Adding to those issues, they went the wrong direction on front wing design.
      It works great on power-dependent circuits like Bahrain, Montreal, Spa & Monza, but the performances are worse the more downforce is needed.
      That’s also their main problem in the races. The lack of downforce is killing their tyres (especially on front-limited circuits).

    4. It is a team problem but a shame Ferrari couldn’t match Mercedes from the start of the season. It looked so good at Barcelona. I am not a Ferrari fan or Leclerc’s but as a racefan it is a pity. It has been too “easy” for Mercedes and Ham untill now.

      1. Post Monza it is going to be easier to wrap Wdc and Wcc for the Silver Arrows.

        1. Yes, it’s not even a question who will win the titles, but I expect more competition from red bull, and there might be some, than ferrari in the races after monza.

    5. Even so, it required the use of Sebastian Vettel as a sacrificial pawn to achieve a maiden win for Charles Leclerc.

      I see the Twitter brigade heralding Seb’s supposed martyrdom but on here? Really?

      Seb was not “put on” a 2 stop strategy, he could not mantain enough tyre life in either stint to achieve a 1 stop strategy.

      And regarding his “brave” blocking of Lewis was that the case or did he need to eke out a minumum number of laps regardless to give him a chance of FLAP in the second stint with the corresponding lower fuel?

      I suppose with Max out of place and Albon not a threat a 4th place was inevitable either way, whether a quicker 2 stop with some blocking or an arduous 1 stop. Is that the logic here? Someone please enlighten me if i’m missing something here.

      1. *Max out of the race

      2. Seb was not “put on” a 2 stop strategy, he could not mantain enough tyre life in either stint to achieve a 1 stop strategy.

        Hmmmm, maybe. But that was definitely not the reason for the timing of his first pit stop. If you look at the lap charts, there was no indication of his tyres losing performance (in fact, the 2nd half of his first stint was quicker than the early laps. Laps 8 to 14: 1:49.9 | 1:49.9 | 1:49.8 | 1:49.6 | 1:49.2 | 1:49.2 | 1:49.3, his gap at that stage steadily increasing by 0.2-0.3 seconds per lap). So, I have to disagree: The main purpose Vettel’s early pit stop was indeed covering a possible undercut by Mercedes.

        And regarding his “brave” blocking of Lewis was that the case or did he need to eke out a minumum number of laps regardless to give him a chance of FLAP in the second stint with the corresponding lower fuel?

        Again, not really compatible with the available data. He was under absolutely no threat from outside the top 4 (Norris in 5th was almost 40 seconds adrift near the end of the race), so Ferrari would’ve been able to pit him a third and fourth time to be absolutely sure he gets the fastest lap, without sacrificing track position.
        Also, his approach to the 2nd stint tells a very different story from your interpretation: He began the stint with pretty quick lap times (up to 2 seconds quicker than the top 3) and only started easing off after reaching Hamilton’s VSC pit stop window on lap 21 (lap 21: 1:47.5, lap 26: 1:48.6). That phase is where the tyre saving took place, which doesn’t make any sense as a self-interested race strategy, considering the had pushed for the first 6 laps of that stint.
        Then, starting with lap 28 (which, probably not coincidentally, was the exact moment Hamilton’s gap had come down to just over a second), he picked up the pace again and lowered his lap times by roughly 0.5-0.7 seconds compared to what he was doing while Hamilton was still a few seconds behind.

        And, finally, the final stint with the fastest lap: It didn’t even look as though he were trying. 1:46.409, a measly 0.056 seconds faster than Bottas had gone 9 laps earlier (i.e. with circa 20 extra kilos of fuel on board), on the harder compound. Or just 0.678 faster than Vettel’s own previous fastest lap, set 19 (!) laps earlier (i.e. with circa 40 (!) extra kilos of fuel on board), also on the harder compound. I don’t know, could be just me, but to me, this looks like a fairly normal lap fresh out of the pits. Add to that the fact that 4 out his next 5 laps were sub-1:47 as well, and you rather get the impression that was by no means struggling to set a new fastest lap of the race. Which is hardly a surprise, considering that his final stint was just 11 laps long (beginning with circa 25 kilos of fuel), compared to the 15 laps he did on the same compound at the start of the race (100-65 kilos of fuel), during which there were absolutely no signs of critical tyre wear (as mentioned above).
        Or the fact he had enough of a gap to make one or two additional pit stops without losing any more places. And the list goes on.

        I’m afraid pretty much every single available snippet of information goes against what you said.

        1. Hmm ok I’ll take your word for it, thanks.

    6. It took them this long because of Leclerc having a problem in Bahrain and most of the races the strategy is stupidly poor.

    7. Ferrari hasn’t got the largest budget, Mercedes with their 1000 strong team and a GP would disagree and obviously Red Bull with 2 teams and a GP. Canada was lobbied out of their hand surely because Ferrari is the team with the biggest budget. Sponsor teams hold more influence than regular racing teams as seen by the last 10 years.
      Binotto has failed to understand and correct Ferrari’s problem, car problems, strategy and he is powerless against the 2 f1 behemoths of Mercedes and RB, these 2 have decided everything concerning f1 in the past 10 years.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        5th September 2019, 15:44

        “Canada was lobbied out of their hand surely because Ferrari is the team with the biggest budget.”


      2. @peartree always dependable for a laugh haha, good one.

      3. @peartree, now, in the past Dieter has presented his figures that support the assertion that Ferrari has a larger budget than Mercedes, and has been steadily outspending them for multiple years now (as an aside, Ferrari also has a head count that is pretty similar to Mercedes – until pretty recently, they’ve actually had a higher head count than Mercedes have had, which would support Dieter’s side rather more than your assertions).

        At a pretty fundamental level, you’ve not even stated what you think the budgets of those two teams are – you’ve proclaimed that Mercedes must be spending more simply as an act of faith, and we need something more substantial than “because I say so”.

    8. Great read, some interesting insight into Ferrari’s troubles. This makes Sergio Marchionne’s untimely death even more sad.

    9. Ive been saying this the whole time. The problem a Ferrari is the power vacuum left by the death of Marchionne. Ferrari is an organization that has run under a dictatorship since its inception. If history has taught us anything, when dictatorships fall, chaos ensues. a funny sort of way, Fernando has been proven right, Ferrari have still not won a championship.

      1. He was proven “right” because many of his fans, or not only, I’m not an alonso fan, believe he’d have got the title with 2017 (stretch) or at least 2018 ferrari, that is ofc if he doesn’t have a negative effect on development, you need BOTH alonso and the 2018 performance to win!

    10. How did ferrari go so long without a win? By first of all building a car whose only strong point is the engine, this is not an airplane, it’s a f1 car, there’s a lot of turns!

      Therefore, they could only really compete in bahrain, baku, canada, spa and should be able to do so even at the coming monza race, bahrain vettel was slow + spun and leclerc had a problem in the end; baku only leclerc had enough pace to possibly get pole and win but ferrari and his inexperience ruined that by sending him out again when his time was good enough already in q2 with the slower tyres, forcing him to push more, ending up with a mistake; canada vettel basically won, leclerc didn’t have enough performance to help him against hamilton, vettel just made a small mistake which was punished too heavily by the stewards and ended up 1st at the flag; spa finally a good strategy, everything spot on for ferrari except the basic flaws of the car: it can’t keep up with merc’s race pace, probably again because of the engine-only idea, and austria, I don’t see it as a missed win for ferrari tbh, I’d have seen it as a missed win for red bull given the bad start if verstappen hadn’t overtaken leclerc in time.

    Comments are closed.