Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has won a thrilling Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix after the Ferraris collided and Mercedes’ six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was demoted from third to seventh.
Ferrari – with its current structure, team bosses, strategists and drivers – will never be in the position to win a Formula One world championship without substantial change behind the scenes.
The disaster that was the Japanese Grand Prix is evidence of their inability to progress as a team at the same rate their car has.
With the 2019 season coming to an end, Ferrari have found themselves finally seeing the pace that was promised in pre-season testing. The Ferrari power unit has steadily become a force to be reckoned with, now demonstrating a clear margin over the Mercedes engines, and this progress has now put the Ferrari at the top of the pile in terms of pure pace.
The run of form in the last few races that has seen them claim the last five consecutive pole positions shows how strong the car is over one lap.
However, despite having the fastest car at several races this season and being close at a lot of others, the fact they have only won three races to Mercedes’ 12 shows just how far the gap is when it comes to operations off the track.
Ferrari have found ways of letting races slip through their fingers with great consistency over the past few seasons, and the recent calamities in Russia and Japan indicate that things don’t seem to be getting better, despite now having the advantage of the dominant car.
Firstly, there have been the bad strategy calls that have plagued the team for years. The ponderous decision-making in Spain where they dallied for multiple laps in their decision to switch the drivers around, despite being on clearly different strategies, is a prime example of this. While it didn’t cost them the race, it’s the kind of mistake Mercedes aren’t making, and it is indicative of a team with no clear vision or leadership.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if they had demonstrated a desire to learn from obvious mistakes, but not only did they double down and defend this decision making post-race, they have continued to have problems coordinating their drivers since, culminating in the disaster that occurred at Sochi. Ferrari are not a team who seem capable of recognising failures and correcting them.
There have also been the failures of the drivers to contend with. Charles Leclerc has risen to de facto No.1 driver status throughout the course of this season, with his run of pole positions and calm controlled driving. This, however, has put him at odds with Sebastian Vettel, the actual No.1 driver, and the rising tensions between the two has meant that the team is slowly losing control over their drivers.
This conflict – however blown out of proportion it may be – doesn’t serve to build team harmony, and may have led to Leclerc’s decision to ignore his team’s orders in Suzuka and continue to drive with a broken car, and suffer a penalty as a result (not to mention risking far more than that). If the driver cannot trust his own team, how can it perform at its best?
And then there is Vettel, who has seemingly gone from one mistake to another. There was the mistake in Canada, under pressure from Lewis Hamilton and losing control of the car, that cost what should have been an easy win. Not to mention all the other tangles he’s had over the past few years. Accident-prone when under pressure seems to be a running theme of late for him, and the terrible start at Suzuka is just the latest error to have cost the team vital points.
Ferrari may have the fastest car, but wholesale changes need to happen elsewhere in the team if they want to have any chance to capitalise on that. Ferrari need to start now in finding a vision for the team in 2020 if they are serious about having a successful title challenge.
They need to think carefully about how they want to manage their drivers. They need to find new strategists and be more proactive and decisive on the track. They need to leave the politics away from the garage and not cloud their drivers’ judgement with unnecessary team orders and plans.
They can’t rely on Mercedes to slip up. There is no doubt Mercedes will fight back with updates of their own, and as long as it remains closely matched on the track, it’s going to take work behind the scenes to push ahead.
To progress, they must admit the mistakes of the past, in order to ensure they don’t happen again. They need to take a leaf from Mercedes with regards to their philosophy. Mercedes are a well-oiled machine, constantly innovating, while Ferrari continue to live in the past.
Until this change in philosophy happens, Ferrari will continue to gift Mercedes points and wins, and continue their wait for glory.