DON’T BE AFRAID
“I WANT YOU TO PUSH TO DO WHAT NO ONE ELSE HAS YET DONE IN FORMULA 1. IF IT DOESN’T WORK I’LL TAKE THE BLAME”
Maranello-born power unit had practically reached the same level as the Mercedes.
Binotto is a man of few words, seemingly allergic to interviews and television appearances, and more inclined to hide himself away than put himself on show. An engineer of real substance, he has a deep knowledge of the staff at Ferrari. When he was given the job he immediately set about selecting the right people to work with him, young and largely Italian, inviting them to be brave: “I want you to push to do what no one else has yet done in Formula 1. Don’t be afraid: if it doesn’t work I’ll take the blame.”
It was from this encouragement to take risks that the SF70H’s unusual sidepods emerged, becoming an instant talking point when the car was launched in February. A gamble? Not at all. The narrow, high and extremely efcient air intakes are the product of a new way of thinking outside the box that has permeated every section of the car and of which David Sanchez has been the nest exponent.
Held in high esteem and credibility, Binotto has won the trust of everyone and become a true leader – partly thanks to his frugal way of living life, returning every evening to his house in the country in Appennino Reggiano, an hour from Maranello. Here the subject of F1 is off limits and Mattia can get away from it all with wife Sabina, a book illustrator, and their children Marco and Chiara. Binotto has just two hobbies beyond cars: jogging and football.
On the other hand, Binotto has had excellent mentors and colleagues, if we consider that he has, over the years, worked alongside Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Stefano Domenicali – as well as with engine specialists Paolo Martinelli, Pino d’Agostino and Luca Marmorini. And he is still on friendly terms with Nikolas Tombazis and James Allison.
A great observer of others at work, Binotto has learned something from each and every one of them. It is undeniable that the current winning Ferrari was born when Allison was still at Maranello and Rory Byrne was working as a special consultant, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that Binotto is his own man.
It makes things easier that, like Marchionne, Arrivabene doesn’t believe in centralisation. This is where the pride kicks in, because none of the names on the Ferrari owchart have yet won a world title, at least not anyone in a senior position. Perhaps this is why everyone is pushing in the same direction; within the company they act on the principle of ‘circulation of ideas’. This seems to have been lacking under Allison, who was used to his own way of working, namely to tell the heads of each department what needed to be done. Under Binotto, who understands the necessity of integration, a wider range of opinions is being sought, which means that all personnel of a certain level are more involved. As a result, relations between engine-makers and aerodynamicists have become much tighter.
But would we have seen such a fast and efcient Ferrari if the FIA hadn’t sent a clarication to the teams on 5 December about how suspension regulations could be interpreted, stating that suspension couldn’t be transformed into an extra element of the aerodynamics?
Charlie Whiting’s letter was the consequence of a request from Ferrari, signed by Simone Resta, about the possibility of creating a suspension based on what Red Bull, and especially Mercedes, had explored extensively throughout 2016 and before – with the FIA’s consent – which had helped to relegate the Prancing Horse to a role that was as marginal as it was mortifying.
Put in a tight spot, the FIA was forced to give a precise opinion on the matter and suddenly 2017 began with Ferrari competitive, Mercedes slightly less so compared to the previous year and Red Bull in clear difculties. Amid the resurgence of Ferrari, which was facilitated in general by the change to the regulations, this has to be taken into consideration.
Also Mercedes were perhaps a bit too daring in launching a W08 Hybrid with a long wheelbase that is harder to set up, at least during the initial phase. Either way, it’s curious to note how the weak points of the 2016 Ferrari – namely, a lack of downforce and traction, problematic entry to some corners and difculty with warming up the tyres – have been the same troubles that have plagued Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the 2017 Mercedes.
It’s also worth returning to 2016 once more and to the troubles Ferrari experienced with the different compounds of Pirelli tyre. Ferrari often needed a lap more than Mercedes and Red Bull to get their tyres at the optimal temperature, by which time their rivals were already out of sight. Binotto had noted how this aspect of performance had been underestimated and, as soon as he had taken up the reins, he set to work
on the issue. Slowly but surely, and by bringing in engineers from other teams, he created a specic structure to deal with the problem and it was brilliantly resolved with the results clear to see. The names of these engineers? Unknown. Just like all the others…
Another key point about Binotto’s leadership relates to the development of the car. Anyone who follows Formula 1 will have noticed how in the second part of every season Ferrari have suffered a drop-off in performance, while their rivals keep on moving forwards. The driver who paid the biggest price for this was Fernando Alonso, who came so close to winning the world championship in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but didn’t have a competitive car during the nal, decisive races. As a result, he was never quite paid back by Maranello for his very signicant contribution to the team over ve seasons.
Under the leadership of Arrivabene and Binotto, this latter problem (as this issue goes to press, at any rate) has not reared its head. The steps that have kept on coming, race after race, have always worked, albeit in ever more complete secrecy. And here we come to the blackout of information about Ferrari. This carries the double signature of Marchionne and Arrivabene. At the start of the 2016 season the president let y with some optimistic forecasts, saying: “We have a car to win straight away.”
It was information received from the technical staff that pushed him to make this buoyant declaration. Then, at the end of the year, he admitted his error: “I was prompted to say those things by people who knew more than I did about the car. Now there is more transparency. Intellectual honesty is fundamental for me; I made an unpleasant gaffe and it won’t happen again.” Indeed, Marchionne has mostly kept his mouth closed ever since. And so, for that matter, has Arrivabene, who has always been more circumspect in terms of what he reveals.
This means that for anyone attempting to explain Ferrari’s new philosophy, 2017 has so far been disastrous. Journalists have found themselves in crisis, with limited interviews and no further technical explanation about the parts being produced at each grand prix.
The gates have now been opened an inch or two, but it’s hard to build up the sort of rapport the press currently has with Mercedes. Dieter Zetsche, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, however, are coming off the back of years of glory and so can allow themselves more openness, jokes and big statements, and it’s clear that, to them, a competitive Ferrari makes the Mercedes victories more credible and prestigious.
Now Ferrari must think about their future. If it’s true that Vettel met up with Mercedes about his intentions for 2018 and beyond, then this thought process would have begun a few months ago. These are normal discussions that take place whenever contracts are due to expire, but if Sebastian did have some justiable uncertainty before Melbourne, his attitude has clearly changed since, as is evident from his public declarations of appreciation about the job the team are doing.
The SF70H has put the tension of 2016 rmly in the distant past – and now harmony reigns at Maranello once again, even if no one knows how long this will hold off eventual talks between Vettel and Mercedes. Lauda provided some clarity when interviewed on the subject, denying Vettel had signed either a contract or an option with Mercedes, adding: “I’ve never seen a driver leave a team that is giving him a winning car.”
If so, logic dictates that Vettel will stay put. And it also seems likely that Kimi Räikkönen will retain his drive for now, even if there are two theoretical replacements waiting in the wings: youngsters Charles Leclerc (supported by Arrivabene) and Antonio Giovinazzi (supported by Marchionne) could both be considered for a race seat if Ferrari become champions again.
But the driver line-up is the least of the discussions currently going on at Maranello. For now, it’s all about focusing on the championship. There’s no rush: a competitive Ferrari is all that matters. With that in the bag, the team will be able to attract anyone they want.
Now that he’s in contention for the title, there’s less chance of Seb Vettel handing in his notice