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”

F1 Racing - - MY DREAM JOB - MATTIA BINOTTO

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 efcient 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 efcient Fer­rari if the FIA hadn’t sent a clarication 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 difcul­ties. 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 difculty 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 specic 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 signicant 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 justiable 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

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