Ferrari’s 2016 season was a slip back from the resurgence of 2015. Elle Haus looks at what went wrong for the Scuderia and how they may struggle again to reach the top.
The name Ferrari is synonymous with Formula 1. The oldest surviving and most successful team in the sport, they have competed in every world championship since 1950 and have won a record 16 World Constructors’ Championships along the way.
But behind their triumph and passion Ferrari can also be their own worst enemy, self-destructing when things don’t go to plan.
2016 saw the powerhouse winless for only the second time in over 20 years; not since 1993 and 2014 had they failed to reach the top step of the podium in a season.
They had taken a step backwards after their resurgence the previous year. In 2015, after signing quadruple World Champion Sebastian Vettel to join fellow title holder Kimi Räikkönen, they showed promise; their star recruit delivered three long overdue victories, and a revamped management structure with Sergio Marchionne and Maurizio Arrivabene – taking over as president and team principal respectively – seemed to re-energise, almost reinvent, the Scuderia. The Tifosi were confident the Prancing Horse was finally back on the Championship winning path.
Ferrari expected to capitalise on these gains, with their president predicting real championship contention against Mercedes even before the season began. But 2016 was a major disappointment – plagued by reliability issues and poor strategy calls, their star drivers secured only twelve podiums between them. The team’s overall performance was lacklustre, and embarrassing for the world’s most iconic motor racing brand.
As early as the third round in China, Marchionne started calling for immediate results, adding pressure to the already besieged team. It was a very different rhetoric than a few months prior when he was talking up their title chances.
Ferrari are notorious for playing the blame game and imploding during periods of poor performance, thus causing unneeded tension and disharmony amongst the ranks. When things are good at Ferrari, they are very good. But when they are bad they have a history of turning on their own.
Vettel’s first-lap crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix saw the Italian media pull out the knives as they questioned both his skill and value.
Ferrari’s inability to own their failures saw them find an easy scapegoat in Vettel, with Arrivabene launching an uncharacteristic vocal assault to the Italian press ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Responding to the question by Sky Italia about whether an early contract renewal like the tactic previously used with Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher might be what was needed to boost the German’s confidence, the team principal replied:
“Sebastian now has a contract with us,” he said. “We work together this year and again next year. Then during the next season, we’ll see.
“Each of us has goals, I have them, the team has them, Sebastian has them, we all have them. So it is only right that anyone, no matter who it is, earns their place and their salary.
“Sebastian just needs to focus on the car. He is a person who gives so much, and sometimes this means he is interested in a bit of everything. Sometimes you have to re-focus him, remind him to be focused on the main job.”
Taken in context the comments overall were fair and showcased the strain the Maranello team boss undoubtedly felt from above. But the suggestion that it wasn’t Vettel’s place to micro-manage the team outside of the car was the most cutting. And is a big mistake.
With morale low, adding further distance between driver and team will not yield victories and improve their confidence and belief.
Vettel, like his close friend and idol Schumacher, is more than just a driver. He knows the ins-and-outs of his car better than most, and much of his success at Red Bull can be credited to working with the mechanics and engineers as a tight-knit team. His opinions and ideas were respected and accepted and resulted in four consecutive World Championships. He knows how to get the best out of a team – when he is afforded the opportunity to do so.
But Ferrari’s problems do extend beyond their apparent lack of team stability and cohesiveness. They have the financial resources needed to be serious Championship contenders each year, but their long-held deficit in their aerodynamic design is a major failing. And with 2017’s cars being more reliant on aerodynamics they will continue to play catch-up to Mercedes and Red Bull.
While Vettel’s childhood dream was to drive for the Italian giant, likening his first experience in the car to a “fairy tale”, he perhaps underestimated the politically-charged, single-minded environment at Maranello. The reality of which, on face value, may end up being more of a nightmare.