De­spite a num­ber of high-pro­file team staff changes, the Scud­e­ria’s lack­lus­tre form con­tin­ues. Re­spected Ital­ian jour­nal­ist Pino Al­lievi analy­ses the chance of a turn­around


Judged by their own starry stan­dards, Ferrari’s 2016 per­for­mance was woe­ful: thumped by Mercedes, over­taken by Red Bull, no wins and a lack­lus­tre third in the cham­pi­onship. But, worse still, there seems lit­tle im­me­di­ate prospect of a turn­around in their ail­ing form

“This rule – the one that says who­ever nishes rst is the win­ner – is denitely pe­nal­is­ing us.” Those sur­real words were spo­ken by Ital­ian co­me­dian Mau­r­izio Crozza in a per­fect par­ody of Ser­gio Mar­chionne on a pop­u­lar TV show in Italy. The Ferrari pres­i­dent was sit­ting in the au­di­ence for Crozza’s show, and en­joyed wit­ness­ing his al­ter ego – al­though, as he later elab­o­rated to the as­sem­bled me­dia at Ferrari’s tra­di­tional Christ­mas lunch: “Crozza’s good, but I denitely pre­fer it when he im­i­tates Luca di Mon­teze­molo in­stead!”

What this proves is that F1 in gen­eral, and Ferrari in par­tic­u­lar, re­main as present in the Ital­ian pub­lic con­scious­ness as ever, de­spite the fact that the Pranc­ing Horse haven’t won a world cham­pi­onship in ten years. Af­ter the Schu­macher era, de­spite the eet­ing ec­stasy of Kimi Räikkö­nen’s 2007 driv­ers’ ti­tle, Ferrari have been miss­ing in ac­tion, hav­ing failed to re­dis­cover their ti­tle-win­ning ways. It’s a com­mon fea­ture of the cycli­cal his­tory that char­ac­terises not just F1 but all forms of sport.

One rea­son for this fail­ure is, per­haps, that there have just been too many changes at the heart of Ferrari in re­cent years. These ranged from Mar­chionne, who took over di Mon­teze­molo’s role as pres­i­dent, through a suc­ces­sion of team prin­ci­pals (Ste­fano Domeni­cali, Marco Mat­ti­acci and now Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene), to the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tors who have come and gone like foot­ball man­agers: Aldo Costa, Pat Fry and James Al­li­son, with Mat­tia Binotto the present in­cum­bent. Last but not least, there are the driv­ers: brought in suc­ces­sively to take on a chal­lenge that has so far failed to yield the de­sired re­sults, due to the fact that not enough time was taken for ev­ery­thing to sta­bilise. Yes, Fer­nando Alonso nished sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship three times in ve years for Ferrari, but the re­sult ex­pected on each oc­ca­sion was one bet­ter than that. As Enzo Ferrari fa­mously said: ‘Sec­ond is rst of the losers.’

And Se­bas­tian Vet­tel? Third in 2015, fourth in 2016, and 2017 a leap into the un­known. It

“I def­i­nitely pre­fer it when he [co­me­dian Mau­r­izio Crozza] im­i­tates Luca di Mon­teze­molo in­stead!” Ser­gio Mar­chionne

could all come good, but it might also be the year – which would not sur­prise any­one, if the car is again un­com­pet­i­tive – that Vet­tel de­cides to leave Ferrari to seek his for­tune else­where.

At 29 he still has time on his side, and re­mains true to him­self, am­bi­tious and com­pet­i­tive. He’s un­likely to wait as long as Fer­nando Alonso did for the Pranc­ing Horse to break into a gal­lop. Alonso’s re­la­tion­ship with Ferrari’s pow­ers-thatbe de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly be­tween mid-2013 and 2014, due to a car that fell short on per­for­mance and a tense work­ing at­mos­phere that was felt by ev­ery mem­ber of the team. Yet to­day, there are some who would still turn back time: Alonso’s un­de­ni­able speed al­lied to his im­pla­ca­ble calm in mo­ments of cri­sis, not to men­tion his as­tute set-up skills, left their mark, and, to some ex­tent, a hole in the cur­rent struc­ture.

Fac­tors lead­ing to the cer­tainty that Vet­tel would not be adding to his col­lec­tion of ti­tles in 2016 have been well doc­u­mented. And no­body has tried to deny them. First and fore­most, this was down to the car: the SF16-H, which, on pa­per, ini­tially looked as if it could take the ght to Mercedes. The rst race in Aus­tralia, atyp­i­cal in that aero­dy­nam­ics have a lesser inuence at Al­bert Park, at­tered the il­lu­sion: Vet­tel was run­ning third, 9.64 sec­onds be­hind the Mercedes – but a tyre strat­egy er­ror cost him a chunk of time. As the sea­son pro­gressed, de­spite the podi­ums that were picked up along the way by both driv­ers, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that the gap to Mercedes was just as big, if not big­ger, than in the pre­vi­ous year. Devel­op­ments were in­tro­duced that didn’t work, and sus­pi­cions grew that the car had al­ready reached its ceil­ing. Mean­while, Red Bull gallingly went from strength to strength – to the point where Vet­tel’s former team ac­tu­ally man­aged to over­haul Ferrari in the end-of-year stand­ings. It was a shock for the Scud­e­ria, who never be­lieved that the cars of Ric­cia­rdo and Ver­stap­pen could be­come such a thorn in their side.

Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene’s un­for­tu­nate quote in Monaco (“If I think that Red Bull is go­ing to be a prob­lem for us, I may as well go home now”) not only came back to haunt him, but was also the rst sign that the SF16-H was full of hid­den lim­its that no­body had an­tic­i­pated. The rst was down to aero­dy­nam­ics, ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly, be­cause the sim­ple truth was that the car just never felt very bal­anced. Then there was tyre strat­egy and man­age­ment, ar­eas where Ferrari were never quite as good as their ri­vals: less re­ac­tive and a lit­tle bit be­hind when it came to try­ing out new ideas. These fac­tors inuenced both qual­i­fy­ing and races.

And nally there was a se­ries of tech­ni­cal fail­ures that should never have hap­pened: from Vet­tel’s bro­ken valve in Bahrain, to the two gear­box swaps for Räikkö­nen, plus the three for Vet­tel that sent him to­wards the back of the grid in Rus­sia, Aus­tria and Great Bri­tain, as well

“If I think that Red Bull is go­ing to be a prob­lem for us, I may as well go home now” Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene, May 2016

as the anti-roll-bar fail­ure in Sin­ga­pore, which meant he started from 22nd place.

With the gear­box, the big­gest mys­tery was why no long-term so­lu­tion had been put in place over the course of ten months, given that its prob­lems were rst noted in pre-sea­son test­ing last Fe­bru­ary. There was noth­ing wrong with the de­sign and it coped ne with tor­sional load. It was more down to de­fects in cer­tain com­po­nents, mean­ing a num­ber of ex­ter­nal sup­pli­ers were un­able to re­act quickly. This is one of the many prob­lems that Ferrari are now try­ing to solve.

Some of the so­lu­tions were put in place dur­ing the re­struc­tur­ing that fol­lowed Ferrari’s break with their Bri­tish tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, James Al­li­son, who was sub­se­quently re­placed by one of their home-grown engi­neer­ing tal­ents: Mat­tia Binotto, 47, who has spent the past 16 years at Ferrari, hav­ing joined fresh from Lau­sanne Univer­sity in Switzer­land, where he had grad­u­ated in me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing. Binotto, a man whose ac­tions speak louder than his words, was pro­pelled to the top spot by Ser­gio Mar­chionne, who had no­ticed that in re­cent years it was the engine de­part­ment, un­der the lead­er­ship of Binotto, that had made the most progress, com­ing clos­est of all to the high stan­dards set by Mercedes.

Binotto is not a de­signer. Rather, he is an able man­ager who also has a good knowl­edge of ar­chi­tec­ture; it was he who de­cided where all the dif­fer­ent de­part­ments should go in the Scud­e­ria’s im­pres­sive new head­quar­ters. He also con­ducts him­self with a phleg­matic calm that al­lows him to get on with ev­ery­body, so he was duly put in charge of im­ple­ment­ing the team’s new ‘hor­i­zon­tal struc­ture’ that had been de­signed at length by Mar­chionne and Ar­riv­abene.

But that man­age­ment struc­ture was re­ally an en­forced choice, made at the mo­ment when Ferrari re­alised they couldn’t hire a tech­ni­cal su­per­star so had to rely on the many young tal­ents al­ready within the team. Each one of these peo­ple was given a chance and fully in­volved from the de­sign to the pro­duc­tion phases. Then, af­ter a few months, the rst signs of im­prove­ment started to show.

Binotto was duly put in charge of im­ple­ment­ing the team’s new hor­i­zon­tal struc­ture

Small steps, but the po­ten­tial was clear. Whether or not that trend will con­tinue and some proper re­sults will emerge is some­thing we will know only in a year’s time and not be­fore. If things go well, then per­haps Ferrari are on the verge of another cy­cle of suc­cess. If they don’t go to plan there will be yet another re­struc­ture, with more new man­age­ment, en­gi­neers and driv­ers. And this would in­evitably be a painful process.

“In 2016 we were weak on aero­dy­nam­ics, but I re­ally don’t be­lieve that English en­gi­neers have a mo­nop­oly in that area,” pointed out Mar­chionne. “We’ve got some ex­cel­lent en­gi­neers in Italy and we have com­plete faith in them.”

As part of the shake-up, Dirk de Beer, who had ar­rived at Ferrari at the same time as Al­li­son, was re­moved as head of aero­dy­nam­ics. Un­der the new man­age­ment struc­ture, the new chief aero­dy­nam­i­cist is David Sanchez, a French­man who has been at Ferrari for a num­ber of years and has re­mained in the shad­ows up un­til now. He and his col­leagues will re­port in to En­rico Cardile, who now heads up the whole de­part­ment, hav­ing moved over from Ferrari’s GT rac­ing di­vi­sion.

Ferrari could have pur­sued other lead­ing en­gi­neers, but the very best gen­er­ally have at least one year of gar­den­ing leave writ­ten into their con­tracts. And at Maranello, things need to hap­pen right now. What’s more, their ethos has changed: Ferrari no longer want for­eign mer­ce­nar­ies to swoop in with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, get paid a for­tune, and then de­part af­ter a cou­ple of years with­out leav­ing any kind of cul­tural mark as had some­times hap­pened pre­vi­ously. Which is another rea­son why Ferrari have placed their trust in these com­par­a­tively new names, who have grown up within Maranello’s unique at­mos­phere, re­ly­ing on the no­tion that there is sufcient ex­ist­ing ex­per­tise to help them de­velop as lead­ing en­gi­neers.

Much has also been said about James Al­li­son’s de­par­ture. On the hu­man side, the tragic death of his wife last March, and the needs of his three chil­dren liv­ing in Eng­land, were, of course, his pri­or­ity. But there is another, less well-known fac­tor on top of that, which is that Al­li­son never re­ally clicked with ei­ther Ar­riv­abene or Mar­chionne, prob­a­bly be­cause he didn’t feel that ei­ther was qualied enough for him to talk to at a pro­fes­sional tech­ni­cal level. Those on the re­ceiv­ing end soon de­tected that at­ti­tude. And when, be­tween the grands prix of Spain and Azer­bai­jan, Mar­chionne be­gan to ask Al­li­son ex­actly why the car wasn’t com­pet­i­tive, the ex­pla­na­tions given weren’t sufciently ex­pan­sive. As a re­sult, Al­li­son’s fate was de­ter­mined be­fore the Ger­man Grand Prix: Mar­chionne didn’t ac­cept be­ing kept in the dark for so long about the real prob­lems af­fect­ing the SF16-H. One of the things Mar­chionne wanted was for de­vel­op­ment lead times to be short­ened, par­tic­u­larly in the light of the re­lent­less progress from Red Bull. He also didn’t like the fact that Al­li­son wanted to be re­spon­si­ble for the chas­sis

“In 2016 we were weak on aero, but I don’t be­lieve the English have a mo­nop­oly in that area” Ser­gio Mar­chionne

in ad­di­tion to the aero­dy­nam­ics. But, most of all, he felt tricked af­ter Al­li­son told him at the start of 2016 that the car about to make its de­but would be highly com­pet­i­tive.

“Ob­vi­ously there was a block­age in the ow of in­for­ma­tion some­where, which is no longer the case,” Mar­chionne said. “If one of my guys tells me, for ex­am­ple, that we’ve got a car that is four sec­onds quicker than any­thing else, I have to be­lieve him. In­tel­lec­tual hon­esty is es­sen­tial. And so I ad­mit, I looked stupid. Since Au­gust, our way of work­ing has changed: now we are ex­pend­ing money and re­sources in the right di­rec­tion. Yes, we’ve lost a few en­gi­neers who we didn’t want to lose, but that al­ways hap­pens in any team. Paddy Lowe? The idea was talked about, but we’re sufciently cov­ered and what we don’t need is a su­per­hero to step in and solve all the prob­lems. I’m condent that our own en­gi­neers will come up with the right re­sults. But if things go badly, there will be only one per­son re­spon­si­ble – and that’s me.”

When it comes to on-track or­gan­i­sa­tion, with Jock Clear now conrmed as head of race ac­tiv­i­ties, there will be a few de­tail changes, in­clud­ing a new chief me­chanic in place of Francesco Uguz­zoni, who, af­ter 21 years, is giv­ing up all the travel to work back at the fac­tory. But what hap­pens on the track is not felt to be the prob­lem. De­spite a few strat­egy er­rors – which Mercedes, and to a greater ex­tent Red Bull, have suf­fered from as well – Ferrari are happy enough with their on-site line-up. It’s enough to look at the time taken to change a gear­box, engine or other com­po­nent, which Ferrari man­ages even quicker than Mercedes, ac­cord­ing to those in the know. The same is true of the pit­stops, which are nearly al­ways ex­e­cuted with con­sum­mate skill – Kimi Räikkö­nen’s un­safe re­lease at the 2016 US GP be­ing the no­table ex­cep­tion.

So will Se­bas­tian Vet­tel be able to rely on the lat­est Ferrari to help him take a fth world ti­tle? The an­swer is as un­cer­tain as his fu­ture fol­low­ing the ex­piry of his cur­rent con­tract at the end of this year. Mar­chionne pointed out: “We owe Vet­tel a lot but at this point it’s vi­tal that he has a com­pet­i­tive car, be­cause that’s what he de­serves. And, in return, Seb must drive with seren­ity.”

His com­ment refers to the Mex­i­can Grand Prix, where Vet­tel un­leashed a tirade of in­sults di­rected at race di­rec­tor Char­lie Whit­ing. The in­ci­dent didn’t please Ferrari at all, al­though the team stood by their driver as far as the FIA was con­cerned. To tell the truth, Ferrari were not overly im­pressed with Vet­tel’s ma­noeu­vre at the start of the Bel­gian Grand Prix ei­ther, in which he closed the door on his team-mate. The mat­ter was played down, but it re­vealed a ques­tion­able as­pect to Vet­tel’s na­ture that hadn’t been par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent be­fore. In the same way, Ferrari didn’t quite ex­pect Vet­tel to lose his sang-froid dur­ing the SF16-H’s weak­est mo­ments and push be­yond the lim­its of the car, lead­ing in­evitably to some ill-judged mis­takes.

It hap­pened a lot last year, but no­body re­ally blamed the Ger­man su­per­star de­spite the collision with Ros­berg at the rst cor­ner

“At this point it’s vi­tal that Vet­tel has a com­pet­i­tive car… that’s what he de­serves” Ser­gio Mar­chionne

in Malaysia (and a sub­se­quent penalty for Ja­pan), the other clash with Räikkö­nen in China, the shady move on Ric­cia­rdo in Mex­ico, and the spin on a wa­ter­logged track in Brazil. Those who took Ar­riv­abene at his word though, when he said in Ja­pan that “Vet­tel needs to earn his seat at Ferrari as well”, were mak­ing a big mis­take. The point he was ex­plain­ing was that ev­ery­body at Ferrari needed to do enough to guar­an­tee their fu­ture em­ploy­ment – him­self in­cluded.

Ar­riv­abene thinks ex­tremely highly of Vet­tel, but would pre­fer him just to carry out his role as a driver rather than try to be an en­gi­neer or PR man, which goes be­yond his re­mit. And a num­ber of en­tirely in­no­cent chats Vet­tel had with peo­ple from Mercedes and Red Bull, dur­ing some of the most del­i­cate mo­ments of the sea­son, were taken the wrong way: per­haps de­lib­er­ately so. In any case, just as Mercedes called Lewis Hamilton to heel a num­ber of times and asked him to fo­cus calmly on his job, why should Ar­riv­abene not do the same with Vet­tel?

Yet it’s un­de­ni­able that we saw an ag­i­tated Vet­tel last sea­son, com­mit­ting the sort of in­dis­cre­tions that in­vari­ably hap­pen when­ever vic­tory takes a sab­bat­i­cal. He’s un­doubt­edly got a deep-rooted de­sire to prove he can win with Ferrari as well, hav­ing for­merly tri­umphed with a Red Bull team that en­joyed a no­table mar­gin of su­pe­ri­or­ity over their ri­vals at the time.

Al­li­son’s de­par­ture would have been hard for Vet­tel to stom­ach. But it’s worth mak­ing the point that when Michael Schu­macher ar­rived at Ferrari he brought with him all his most trusted lieu­tenants from Benet­ton, whereas Vet­tel came to Maranello on his own. And with the bene t of hind­sight that was a mis­take, be­cause the cracks in the struc­ture at Ferrari were al­ready ev­i­dent back in 2014, when Vet­tel was ne­go­ti­at­ing his move. Schu­macher had the ad­van­tage of be­ing able to con­vince Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne to join him, whereas Vet­tel wasn’t able to do the same with Adrian Newey and Peter Pro­dro­mou, re­gard­less of their con­trac­tual sit­u­a­tions.

But all of that is in the past. Look­ing ahead, Vet­tel is hop­ing that 2017 will be dif­fer­ent. Right now, Ferrari can judge from their dyno tests, sim­u­la­tions and wind­tun­nel num­bers ex­actly what can be ex­pected of their lat­est chal­lenger.

Dur­ing the re­struc­tur­ing, some cre­ative think­ing and orig­i­nal ideas emerged: in the last few races of 2016, Ferrari bridged the gap to Red Bull, and in Abu Dhabi clearly beat their di­rect ri­vals. Yet no­body knows ex­actly what sort of Ferrari we will see in 2017. So there will be no great procla­ma­tions, no hopes man­i­fested this time. The cur­rent Ferrari is a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to that of the past. And what if the rev­o­lu­tion nally emerges from this new, tight-lipped in­car­na­tion? Stranger things have hap­pened.

Pino Al­lievi is the dis­tin­guished For­mula 1 cor­re­spon­dent of Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport

Ar­riv­abene would pre­fer Vet­tel just to carry out his role as a driver rather than try to be an en­gi­neer

Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene (far right) is the most re­cent in a suc­ces­sion of Ferrari team prin­ci­pals, fol­low­ing hot on the heels of Marco Mat­ti­acci and Ste­fano Domeni­cali

Luca di Mon­teze­molo, Ferrari pres­i­dent for 23 years

Ser­gio Mar­chionne, Ferrari chair­man as of 2014

Ferrari pit­stops are usu­ally well ex­e­cuted, but on Räikkö­nen’s fi­nal stop at the 2016 US GP he was called back and Ferrari were fined for an un­safe re­lease

Ar­riv­abene hadn’t guessed the SF16-H’s lim­i­ta­tions

When driv­ers tried to push the car past its lim­its, it led to er­rors such as Räikkö­nen’s collision with the bar­ri­ers and sub­se­quent bro­ken wing in Monaco

James Al­li­son was pushed out in the sum­mer of ‘16…

…and im­me­di­ately re­placed with Mat­tia Binotto

De­spite mak­ing a ter­ri­ble start, Räikkö­nen put in an ex­cep­tional drive at Bahrain in 2016 to fin­ish sec­ond, be­tween the Mercedes of Ros­berg and Hamilton

Jock Clear joined as head of race ac­tiv­i­ties in 2016

A bro­ken anti-roll bar – just one of many un­for­giv­able tech­ni­cal fail­ures in 2016 – meant Vet­tel started from P22 on the grid at the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix

Vet­tel needs his team to help him to a fifth ti­tle

With the hopes of a coun­try rid­ing on them, Vet­tel and Räikkö­nen were just P3 and P4 re­spec­tively, be­hind Mercedes, at Ferrari’s home race at Monza in 2016

They know how 2016 went. So what next in 2017?

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