Speaking to the media in an end-of-season event arranged by Ferrari on Friday, team principal Mattia Binotto admitted their performance in 2020, which saw them fall to sixth place in the constructors championship, was “very bad”.2021 F1 season.
However he defended Ferrari’s decision to accept rules which will require them to continue using much of their uncompetitive 2020 chassis next year. Binotto said it was a sacrifice Ferrari had to make for the good of Formula 1 when the pandemic forced the postponement of this year’s championship.
“It has been very difficult for Ferrari,” Binotto admitted after a season which saw the team fail to record a single win for the first time since 2016. “It has been very difficult for all of us, myself too.
“We finished sixth in the constructors and that’s the worst position in the classification since 1980. So it has been a very hard season, even harder than expected.”
The team’s plight became clear in pre-season testing, though the championship did not begin for four months due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“We knew last winter that the car was not performing as we were hoping,” said Binotto. “We understood very quickly during the winter testing that the car would not have been fast enough.”
After the pandemic struck, F1 teams agreed to delay the introduction of new technical regulations for the 2021 F1 season, and continue using their current cars for another year with limited modifications. Binotto said Ferrari accepted this for the good of F1 despite knowing they would be left at a disadvantage.
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“At the time of the lockdown, Ferrari acted really in a very responsible manner for the good of motorsport, for the good of F1, accepting to postpone the 2021 [rules] to 2022 while we were fully investing in our 2021. Accepting to freeze a car where we knew that we are not competitive for cost reasons to help the smallest teams, trying to help the general situation.
“Believe me that when we were discussing and we accepted to freeze the situation, it was a very difficult decision. But we believe that we made it with a full sense of responsibility towards motorsport and F1.”
Although the team expected a difficult season with the SF1000, Binotto admitted it proved even worse than they feared.
“I don’t think we were expecting overall such a difficult season, not only from the performance point of view, but if we look obviously back on the Covid pandemic and all the situations we had to face, the level of our performance has been inadequate for what should be the standard of Ferrari.
“We are very disappointed for it. We feel the full responsibility. We are sorry for the company. We are obviously sorry for our fans. But I’m pretty sure that this year will make us stronger for the future.”
The setback led Ferrari to reappraise their plans for the future. During the hiatus Binotto took the decision not to renew Sebastian Vettel’s contract for 2021. The four-times champion, who will join Racing Point next year as it becomes Aston Martin, subsequently endured a poor 2020 campaign.
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“Sebastian had a very difficult season this year,” said Binotto. “He never felt right with the car, never found the right confidence. It’s not been easy for him.”
His place will be taken at the team by Carlos Sainz Jnr.
“I think that overall the decision we made has been the right decision, looking ahead to the future,” said Binotto. “It’s important for us to try to create solid foundations for the future and I think the best you can do is try to create them with two young, talented drivers, who we’ve got here today. So I’m very happy for that.”
Sainz will join Charles Leclerc who had an impressive second season at the team, scoring nearly three times as many points as Vettel. “Charles had a great year,” said Binotto. “I think he developed throughout the season.
“We know that he’s a very talented driver. He has been always very fast, he is good in racing, overtaking, defending.
“But as I often say, even if it has been a difficult season on track for him, he has developed as a person. He has developed as a leader and I think that today in the team, the engineers, all the members see him as an important reference point for the future.”
The recruitment of Sainz is part of the team’s effort to “invest in the future”, said Binotto, which it is also doing by developing its resources and infrastructure.
“During the season we invested a lot in our developing our simulations, developing our tools, our assets. We have a brand new simulator, which at the moment we are building and will be hopefully ready by the middle of next year.”
The introduction of a budget cap for next year has prompted Ferrari to change its relationship with customer teams such as Haas. “We tried to create new synergies with our customer teams as well looking at the future,” said Binotto.
“You’ve seen that recently, for example, a technical senior person, Simone Resta, has moved into the Haas organisation, having there certainly an important and clear and significant role, a technically significant role. He is not the only one that will move into the Haas organisation. A few other technicians will move, reducing our organisation, which is required for the budget cap, but strengthening the organisation of our customers and, I would say, partner teams.”
Ferrari “learnt a lot” from its 2020 setback, Binotto believes. “It’s a season where I think we had a lot of patience, because when you do not have the results and the car was frozen for the season ahead – most of the car, power unit, the chassis, car components – it was important to be patient.”
Despite an “intense and difficult” season, Binotto hopes the groundwork has been laid for Ferrari to make its way back to the front in the coming years.
“It has been a very intense, dense season, difficult from many aspects. As I said our performance was inadequate. Finishing sixth in the constructors is very bad, as since 1980 that was not happening.
“But it’s a season where I think we invested a lot in the future, we’ve got patience, stability where I think as Ferrari really we are trying to create the solid foundations which are required to become again very competitive and hopefully to open a new cycle for the future.”
Mercedes dominated the 2020 championship, winning 13 out of 17 races. Binotto sees no realistic chance Ferrari will be able to rival them next year.
“We need to be realistic as the gap to the best team today is very big. I think obviously the [team] who won today will be again very strong next year. Already during the season, I don’t think they’ve brought a lot of developments on track because they were certainly focussed on 2021. So I’m expecting this team to be very strong again next year.
“I think there is no surprise that to say we can be back on track next year and to battle for the championship would be unrealistic. But if we look at the past seasons, in the last five years, if I do not consider 2020, we always finished second except once third. We have been the only team challenging Mercedes for at least a couple of years for the title, we have been the closest, trying to challenge and to fight with Mercedes.
“So the team that has been capable in the past five years to to finish second or once third, I think this objective would not be impossible for the same team.”
However Binotto pointed out the development restrictions in place for next season will make it hard for Ferrari to immediately rebound back into the top three places in the constructors championship.
“We know that there are plenty of difficulties looking at 2021. There is cars which are still partially frozen in many of the components, as first the chassis. The wind tunnel activity is reduced to 60%, so it’s almost half of what we were capable of doing in the past and that’s not only in the tunnel but in simulations. You know that the capacity of development for next year is reduced.
“I’m not saying here that we may finish second or third. But I think the same team has being capable of doing it in the past and I believe that we can do a better season compared to what has been in 2020 and try to recover positions on the classifications and to be certainly closer to the top compared to what we have been today.”
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