For Ferrari, simply competing is not good enough.
This is a team that is etched into Formula 1 history, a team that has the whole of Italy behind it, and against it on occasion. A team about which a Hollywood blockbuster was made during the winter break.
Regardless of where Ferrari may have finished the year before, heading into a new season the expectation is always the same – glory.
It has been a good few years since that glory was last tasted in Maranello. Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory remains the team’s last Drivers’ title, their last Constructors’ title came in 2008. Failure to win the Constructor’s crown this year will see the team match the longest drought in history of 1983 to 1999.
But despite the challenges faced since they were a guaranteed title contender, there is a renewed sense of optimism within the walls of Maranello. Fred Vasseur, installed last year as Mattia Binotto’s replacement, spent his first campaign eradicating the mistakes that had made Ferrari a laughing stock in 2022 and has now promised a radically new car.
Ferrari are not the only ones to suggest such a thing. Both Stake and Alpine said their new design was “aggressive” while Aston Martin’s was a “strong evolution”, but in Ferrari’s case, they have ripped up everything they thought they knew and gone back to the drawing board.
The SF-23 was undoubtedly a quick car, securing the second most poles of any team, but it was on the Sunday when metaphorically and physically the wheels came off. The Ferrari would burn through rubber far quicker than the RB19, meaning any chance of beating Red Bull was an uphill battle to begin with.
Ferrari did manage it once of course, the only non-Red Bull team to do so, but that was more due to Red Bull’s downfall than Ferrari’s improvement.
So where does expectation lie for 2024? Wrestling the title away from a team that just won 22 of 23 races seems difficult but there were signs in the backend of 2023 that Ferrari could be the best bet to do that.
Early messages out of Maranello have also been encouraging. The new SF-24 is said to be a drastic improvement on its older brother and bold design may not be confined to just the team’s livery.
Of course, the team have been in the headlines for very different reasons this month with Lewis Hamilton announcing his decision to leave Mercedes in favour of the Prancing Horse, but there is still a full season of competition left and plenty of things to prove.
One man with something to prove is Charles Leclerc. Entering into his seventh season, Leclerc’s performances swing far more wildly than any other Championship contender. If Hamilton and Max Verstappen are able to mount consistent title charges, Leclerc still seems suspect to a derailing, momentum-killing mistake.
At 26, just 16 days younger than Verstappen, Leclerc would have wanted more than just the five wins he has acquired to date. His talent is there to see, especially evident in qualifying where he has a good claim of being the quickest driver, but World Championships are not won on the Saturday.
For the first time, Leclerc faces a question of his seniority within the Ferrari team. Hamilton arriving is different to Leclerc’s partnership with Sebastian Vettel. It was the German who was the established presence and Leclerc grew to overtake him as Ferrari’s golden boy.
This time, he would never admit to it publicly but, Leclerc will see himself as number one within Ferrari. Hamilton’s arrival questions that.
Leclerc then will want a year of consistent performances and one that firmly establishes his lead driver credentials before Hamilton arrives. The Monegasque has youth over Hamilton but Ferrari would not be paying him all that money if they did not think he stands just as much chance of winning the title as Leclerc does.
There are even more questions hanging over Carlos Sainz. The man left standing after Hamilton kickstarted an early season game of musical chairs now finds 2024 being his audition year, a chance to prove to any potential suitors that he would represent a valuable signing. Lest we forget, Sainz is the most recent Ferrari winner so his stock is by no means low, but his unceremonious exit from Ferrari will have stung regardless of what takes place between now and the end of the season.
He has at least time and opportunities on his side. 12 drivers remain out of contract at the end of the year and with Fernando Alonso hinting he would consider an Aston exit, that is another potential seat open to his compatriot.
There is nothing Sainz would want more than to outscore Leclerc but to do that, he will need a quick car and that is something everyone in Ferrari red can get behind.