Are Ferrari finally awakening to reality of championship loss?

Thomas Maher
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, August 2022.

The extent of Ferrari’s defeat to Red Bull at Spa-Francorchamps seems to have triggered concession from Mattia Binotto and Charles Leclerc.

It is said there are five stages of grieving a loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

After the (few) ups and the (many) downs of the 2022 Formula 1 season, everything about the Belgian Grand Prix post-race interviews with Ferrari’s main men suggested they have reached the stage of acceptance that, to all intents and purposes, the 2022 World Championship has been lost.

Throughout the first half of the season, Ferrari became particularly adept at throwing away strong positions and potential, but could count on their F1-75 showing the pace to be a bother for the Red Bull team.

However, in Belgium, the greatest asset Ferrari have enjoyed all season – their car – simply failed to live with the pace of the RB18. Concerningly for Maranello, a podium might even have been impossible if Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton had not retired early on – the race pace of the W13 was, at worst, a match for the Ferrari.

Much was made of the introduction of the enforcement of Technical Directive 039 in Belgium, a directive aimed at reducing the effects of porpoising on the new 2022 ground-effect machines.

This directive put the underfloor plank and skid blocks under close scrutiny and in the run-up to the summer break, the suspicion was Ferrari and Red Bull had discovered a grey area in the regulations relating to the floor that was helping them generate more downforce than the likes of Mercedes.

Both Ferrari and Red Bull underplayed the potential effect of the directive on their car’s pace and, based on the evidence of Spa, Christian Horner’s dismissal of the TD as an issue appears to have been genuine. It is Ferrari’s apparent step backwards, into the clutches of Mercedes at a track that did not really play to the W13’s strengths, that is very eye-catching.

Charles Leclerc just ahead of a Haas. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer. One single race track does not tell the whole story and that is why Zandvoort next weekend will be very interesting.

If Ferrari are slower than Red Bull and Mercedes at the Dutch Grand Prix, does that reveal their first half-season pace was dependent on a particular floor design that is no longer permissible to use?

Losing the outright speed of their car, when the rest of the Ferrari package continues to underwhelm, will likely doom the Scuderia to third place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Mattia Binotto admits title now hinges on Max Verstappen issues

Verstappen’s peerless performance in Belgium means he now enjoys a 98-point lead over his closest ‘real’ rival (Sergio Perez being 93 points behind in second place) while Ferrari are 118 behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship.

With eight races to go, Leclerc winning every race with Verstappen in second (or even third) is no longer enough for the Monegasque to pull off an increasingly unlikely title win.

It has led Binotto to admit the attention of Ferrari needs to be on their own performance, with the team boss saying the weaknesses need addressing – albeit putting the timeline on that as being somewhat more long-term than Zandvoort and Monza over the next two weekends.

“We can only focus on ourselves, try to look at our weaknesses and try to push for developments not only for this season but for next,” he explained.

“Spa is a circuit where, if you do not have overall efficiency from the aero and the engine, we are not fast enough. That’s the point where we need to reflect [on].

“Looking at the Drivers’ Championship, the gap to Max is very high. It’s not sufficient for Charles to win all the races and finish ahead of him. So we need to count on Max not finishing races.

“And when you start counting on the others, it becomes so much more difficult. It’s more important for us to focus on ourselves.

“Look at the performance of today and the gap of performance to Red Bull and try to address them, not only for the immediate races but for the future and next season.”

Charles Leclerc realises 2022 will not be his year

“Why would we stop now?” a bemused Leclerc had to ask of his team during the Belgian GP.

After a summer break that, presumably, resulted in some soul-searching at Ferrari, it was a case of ‘more of the same’ from the pit wall as Leclerc’s engineer engaged him in a lengthy conversation about which tyres he would like for the second half of the race.

In their attempts to make things as clear as possible for their drivers, Ferrari are showing they continue to lack confidence on the pit wall.

There was also the bizarre call to bring in Leclerc from fifth place to salvage the fastest lap point, in which the team took the risk of losing the position on track to Fernando Alonso, as well as the risk of something going wrong in the pit-stop.

While Leclerc did manage to get back ahead of Alonso, there was no guarantee of that – despite Binotto’s assumed confidence afterwards. In the end, something did go wrong with the stop as well, with Leclerc incurring a time penalty for speeding. In their attempts to get a two-point swing in their favour, Ferrari instead cost themselves a further two points.

But after the despair of France, and the depression of Hungary, Leclerc seems to have reached acceptance 2022 will not be his year.

“It (the title) starts to look very difficult, especially with the pace they (Red Bull) have shown this weekend,” Leclerc said.

“It will be very, very difficult, but I’ll get my head down and try to focus race by race and do my best.”

It has been a sad and frustrating decline from Ferrari in a year that started with the Scuderia a clear step ahead of everyone.

With the title race seemingly a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Verstappen wins it, the big question is whether Ferrari are learning the lessons they need to take on board to try bouncing back in 2023.