Has panic set in at Ferrari after Monaco defeat?

Editor
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz leads Red Bull's Max Verstappen during the Monaco Grand Prix. FIA Monte Carlo, May 2022.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz leads Red Bull's Max Verstappen during the Monaco Grand Prix. Monte Carlo, May 2022.

Are Ferrari beginning to panic after the Scuderia weren’t able to turn a front-row lock-out into a victory at the Monaco Grand Prix?

“Not the result we had hoped for,” was the title of Ferrari’s post-race press release to the media, after coming home in second and fourth places.

That could be something of an understatement, given that Ferrari had led the race from first and second at a track where track position is everything.

So difficult is it to clear another car on the streets of Monte Carlo, that Daniel Ricciardo was able to win in 2018 with a car lacking 160 horsepower after an MGU-K failure early in the race.

All the hard work was done – getting through practice, locking out the front row and weathering all the variables and hurdles that Monaco qualifying can throw at a team, and then leading away the field after having the uncertainty of a standing start removed.

But, for only the second time in the last 15 years, rain decided to strike Monte Carlo and ensured that Charles Leclerc didn’t get the straightforward race he so desperately wanted.

“You couldn’t make it up, the guy (Leclerc) was on fire all weekend, incredible pole lap, when did it decide to rain all week? 3 o’clock,” former Red Bull F1 driver Mark Webber said on Channel 4 after the race.

“So that is the last thing you want on pole position here, even though he’s driving so well, but it just brings in so much jeopardy to the race and confusion, big decisions.

“Because guess what, when you’re at the front, pole, there’s only one way you can go and that’s back through the field if you get something wrong.

“So it happened, they exposed themselves again, panicking, not making the right decisions and Red Bull were there to absolutely drive home those errors and get in the victory.”

For the second time in three races, Ferrari failed to win from a front-row lock-out, with Red Bull claiming their fourth consecutive race victory.

Little wonder then, that Ferrari’s immediate response to such a loss was to storm off to the stewards to protest the two Red Bulls for that most serious of transgressions – that of barely clipping the pit lane exit line. Protests that were quickly thrown out by the stewards as having no real grounds. Anything to distract from their sub-par performance.

It’s astonishing how quickly Ferrari’s 2022 campaign appears to be falling apart, given the obvious speed of the F1-75.

Kicking off a new regulation cycle with aplomb, Leclerc has stepped up to the mark and is delivering what all World Champion-level drivers are capable of doing when they’re handed machinery capable of championship glory.

All the early indications were that this was a Ferrari revitalised. Composed and calm, the team that saw off Red Bull with ease in Bahrain, were pipped to the post in Saudi Arabia, and unstoppable in Australia. After a tremendous start, Leclerc had a 46-point lead over Max Verstappen, and Ferrari had a 49-point lead over Red Bull.

But Red Bull putting the RB18 on a diet to shed some excess weight transformed the car in Imola, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez getting the better of Leclerc as the Monegasque made his first (and so far, only) mistake in a race in 2022.

 

A front-row lock-out in Miami was a minor inconvenience for Verstappen, who jumped one Ferrari at the start and overtook the other a few laps later before sprinting off into the distance.

Spain could have, and should have, been a Leclerc victory after Verstappen slid off the road in the early stages, only for the Ferrari power unit to let their driver down. And Monaco? Well, Ferrari simply showed the same strategic nous that would have Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso nodding their heads knowingly.

It’s perhaps not a surprise that Ferrari’s Championship challenge has stumbled so badly so quickly. After all, it’s 15 years since the team last won the Drivers’ Championship, and 14 since the Constructors’.

The team has been through several changes of regime since, even since their last title challenge in 2018, and this tumultuous approach to racing is in stark contrast to the staggering stability of Red Bull’s upper management – Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, and Helmut Marko are doing exactly what they did during Red Bull’s very first season back in 2005.

2022 was the big year of opportunity. A new wind tunnel facility at Maranello was brought online, the engine department recouped the losses of whatever changes were made to the engine post-2019 (post-FIA arrangement…), and the chassis department had the benefit of extra wind tunnel and CFD time under the Aerodynamic Testing Regulations sliding scale due to their poor 2020 and ’21 seasons.

And, even better, Red Bull and Mercedes’ development was surely distracted by the intensity of their ’21 title challenge – a fight Ferrari had no reason to worry about.

The only issue for Ferrari is that they are up against a Red Bull squad who are at the absolute top of the game in terms of operational sharpness.

After a few years of pestering Mercedes and Ferrari with a sub-par power unit, their terrier-like relentlessness carried through to yield great results in 2021. Having toppled Mercedes, that sharpness has carried through into 2022 and, even more importantly, Newey, Paul Monaghan, and Pierre Wache have designed a car that they clearly have a good understanding of.

Added to Ferrari’s recent downward spiral is the fact that the media pressure is ramping up. Now that it’s clear the F1-75 is a hugely capable car, Ferrari are expected to win races. No longer is this a ‘year of re-building’ with an eye to the future, the time for performing is now. And they are failing to do so.

Mattia Binotto’s calm, methodical veneer began to slip in Monaco, with the team boss visibly irate as he spoke about the Red Bull pit exits to Sky Sports, while Leclerc himself castigated his team for “too many mistakes”. It was a race Ferrari desperately needed to win, and they couldn’t.

Binotto and Leclerc are just the latest incumbents in the Ferrari roles that have failed to win since 2008. Think back to Maurizio Arrivabene, Marco Mattiaci, and Stefano Domenicali. Think back to Fernando Alonso, and Sebastian Vettel – two drivers who were more than capable of landing titles with the right teams. All prominent names and yet, aside from Domenicali taking over from Jean Todt in 2008, all unsuccessful.

The problem for Ferrari is that they can see their initial advantage has vanished. Not only in terms of a points lead, but in terms of car superiority.

The unchanged rules for 2023 mean that, budget aside, there’s no reason for the chasing teams to switch focus. With Mercedes starting to nip at the heels of the leading pair, will Lewis Hamilton and George Russell eventually start playing a role in the outcome of the title?

Monaco was the weekend Ferrari needed to steady the ship and bounce back into an authoritative position over Red Bull. Their failure to do so, from such a commanding position, is more damning than at almost any other venue.

“When you start with your two cars on the front row and you don’t win, it means something went wrong from our side,” Binotto said after the race.

“I think we made a few poor decisions and we paid the price. Mistakes can happen, but it’s important to learn from them and take it as an opportunity to improve.”

It’s crunch time for Ferrari and their obviously quick car and drivers.

It’s time, in particular, to start showing some of the operational strength that Mercedes and Red Bull continue to have an advantage in, and show that the Scuderia are able to be a top team in every way. Because, if the team can’t deliver titles with what appears to be the quickest car on the grid, then who will be next to be shown the door at Maranello?

 

Ferrari cost themselves the race win

Ferrari had the makings of a perfect Grand Prix, but the rain mixed things up, and ultimately they ruined the race for themselves.