With the red of shame on its jaws, Ferrari will start Sunday in Monza from the thirteenth and seventeenth place at the GP of Italy, the first of two home races. Next week the legendary Formula 1 stable in Mugello, Tuscany, will celebrate its thousandth grand-prix entry, but the timing is lousy.
The car is slow, lacks grip and is difficult to drive. Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc achieve disastrous results. The red brigade with the rearing horse has turned into a grey mouse in the middle leg. Ferrari occupies an embarrassing fifth place in the constructors’ championship and has to be careful that Renault doesn’t close the hole.
“This is going to be a tough race. The car is difficult to control and we are short of power,” Leclerc looks ahead to the race with a sigh. “In spite of everything, my crew is motivated. We’re putting our backs into it.”
The ‘Temple of Speed’ in Monza in 2019 was where Leclerc scored his second Formula 1 victory in a row. “The podium ceremony was the most emotional moment in my career. I will never forget it,” said 22-year-old Monegask.
After difficult years, that victory seemed to be a turning point for Ferrari. But a thorough investigation into the suspiciously powerful engines of the race stable led to a slap on the wrist and a mysterious settlement with motor racing federation FIA. Then the freefall began.
“The Ferrari engines are now the slowest engines in Formula One. Alfa Romeo and Haas also suffer from that”, Christian Horner, the team boss of Max Verstappen, analyses. “Mercedes has the best engine and I think that Honda and Renault are matched in terms of engine power”
The leader of Red Bull Racing shows no pity for the jubilee. “I see they’re having a hard time. They’ve focused on the wrong things and missed the plank.”
On social media, Ferrari is the target of ridicule:
For Horner it is clear that Ferrari’s 2019 engine was out of the question. “I don’t know exactly what wasn’t right because of the secret settlement, but it’s clear they’ve lost their way ever since. That’s sour. It means that the three grand prixs they have won are suspicious. So we could have won them.”
Ferrari experienced the toughest Sunday in years in Belgium last week. The team left Spa-Francorchamps empty-handed. “A punishment. We are far too slow”, said Sebastian Vettel (thirteenth). “Frustrating. I was constantly overtaken”, teammate Leclerc (fourteenth) adds.
But Leclerc still sees some bright spots. “We’ve found a few things we could improve quickly, but I don’t expect a miracle.”
Team boss Mattia Binotto of Ferrari is not to be envied. Since the beginning of last season the Italian has been leading the iconic race stable. “Am I responsible for the decline? Of course you are! Everyone who works here is to blame for our performance and I’m in charge. I leave it to others to decide if I’m the right man in the right place.”
According to Binotto, there is no quick fix for the form crisis. “Recovery can take years. We reorganize and restructure, but patience is a virtue.” The key question is how much time the vulnerable Binotto gets to get his simmering stable going.
The team boss confirms that the lack of engine power is Ferrari’s Achilles heel. “That’s why Monza is so difficult. It’s the fastest track on the calendar. Moreover, the development of the engines has been frozen this season. That makes a fast leap forward impossible. We can’t start much and we have to make the best of it.”
For Ferrari, the season is already lost. “We’re in the process of developing the engine for next year. That looks good on the test bench, but it doesn’t mean we are writing off this car,” said Binotto.
“In order to get a better start next year, we need to understand why the current car is so mediocre. Then we can eliminate weak elements.”
“The base must be sound. That’s where we build our future,” says Leclerc, who is committed to 2024. “I’m waiting to get better, but I won’t stand idly by. It’s also my job to keep this dip as short as possible. I have to be optimistic and believe in better times.”
Teammate Vettel sees his Italian adventure as a night out. “This won’t be a satisfactory weekend again. Of course I would have liked to leave here with a peak, but it is what it is. Plodding. I also find it very annoying that I can’t say goodbye to the tifosi here.”
Quadruple world champion Vettel starts in Monza from seventeenth place. “Seb doesn’t feel comfortable in the car and it’s our job to improve that”, team boss Binotto takes the German veteran into protection.
Vettel in turn denies rumors that he doesn’t want to finish the season. “I’m serving out my contract. I want to get out at the end of this year with the feeling that I’ve done everything and score as optimal as possible.”