With the 2022 World Championship eluding Ferrari once again, Friday October 21st marks an unwelcome reminder of how long ago title glory has been…
The 2022 F1 World Championship has been decided in Max Verstappen’s favour, as the Dutch driver romped home to an easy win at Suzuka last time out to wrap things up with four races remaining.
It’s not that long ago since Ferrari had a large lead in the Drivers’ Championship, as Charles Leclerc’s near-perfect start to the season netted him a 43-point advantage after his untouchable performance in Australia.
However, the season slipped through Ferrari’s fingers – numerous reliability issues, strategic mis-steps, and driver errors contributing to an underwhelming championship challenge and eventual defeat.
Leclerc’s defeat now means it’s a decade and a half since the Scuderia actually managed to wrap up a Drivers’ title. The now-retired Kimi Raikkonen, who turned 43 earlier this week, remains Ferrari’s most recent World Champion – snatching a title as the underdog in the season finale back in 2007.
Kimi Raikkonen nips the title away from McLaren
The 2007 World Championship was one of the most dramatic in living memory, as F1 behemoths Ferrari and McLaren slugged it out on track. It was a year marking a generational change, as Michael Schumacher retired (for the first time) after a decade of leading the Scuderia’s charge to five Drivers’ Championships and a further four title challenges.
The man who toppled him, Fernando Alonso, moved to McLaren as a two-time World Champion – seemingly set for a comfortable lead role at Woking alongside rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, while Kimi Raikkonen took over Schumacher’s vacated Ferrari alongside Felipe Massa.
The F2007 and MP4/22 proved very comparable machines, with the advantage to-ing and fro-ing between the two outfits as the championship battle heated up.
While Ferrari’s driver pairing worked together amicably as Raikkonen settled into life at Maranello, McLaren’s championship began to implode. The relationship between Alonso and Hamilton quickly began to come apart at the seams as Hamilton quickly established himself as being equally capable as the Spaniard – a situation Alonso quickly soured on.
With McLaren allowing Hamilton to challenge Alonso, the partnership deteriorated to the point of hostility as the season progressed, although never quite reached the point of on-track collisions. However, off-track, a whole separate storyline sensationally exploded during the latter half of the season as McLaren were found to be in possession of car design blueprints belonging to Ferrari.
The well-documented details of the SpyGate saga could fill a book in their own right, but the end result of the FIA investigation resulted in a monumental fine for McLaren as FIA President Max Mosley hit the Woking squad for $100 million. Adding insult to injury was the team’s disqualification from the Constructors’ Championship. But, crucially, the two drivers were given immunity – neither Hamilton nor Alonso were banned from continuing to fight for the Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton could have wrapped up the title with a race remaining at the Chinese Grand Prix, but a strange decision from McLaren to keep him out on track on heavily worn tyres resulted in him sliding off into the gravel in the pitlane entry – resulting in him getting stuck and forced to retire. Raikkonen had been leading the race at that point, and his win ensured he kept his title chances alive into the finale.
But the odds were still stacked against him. In those days, the race win counted for 10 points, second place eight, and third place six. Hamilton led the championship on 107 points, four clear of Alonso, and seven clear of Raikkonen. This meant the Finn needed a huge slice of luck if the McLaren drivers were to finish low enough for the Ferrari driver to clinch the title.
Qualifying certainly seemed to go McLaren’s way, despite Felipe Massa clinching a popular pole position for his home race. With Hamilton qualifying second ahead of Raikkonen in third and Alonso in fourth, all was in hand for the rookie to win the title at his first attempt.
At the start, Massa held the lead as Raikkonen jumped ahead of Hamilton – capitalising on the McLaren driver being held in place by the Brazilian driver. Worse came for Hamilton moments later, as Raikkonen’s slow course through Turn 2 allowed Alonso to get a run on his team-mate. Eager to make up for the two lost positions, Hamilton locked up at Turn 4 and sailed off the track – falling down to eighth.
The title was still within Hamilton’s grasp despite the messy start, but the death knell came on Lap 7 as he encountered a mysterious gearbox issue – Hamilton was forced to coast for about 30 seconds as he attempted to reset the issue and get going again. This he managed, but he had fallen down to last due to the problem.
Up front, the Ferraris had the pace to manage any challenge from Alonso as they pulled away from the McLaren. A longer stint from Raikkonen allowed him to pull out enough of a gap on Massa (no doubt with some co-operation from the Brazilian), with the Finn coming out in the lead. Victory, with Massa in second and Alonso in third, would be enough for Raikkonen to clinch his long-awaited title – dependent on where Hamilton finished.
Raikkonen duly crossed the line and his engineer Chris Dyer got on the radio to count down the finishing order, reeling off the list down to Hamilton coming home in seventh and confirming him as World Champion.
“I need to give big thanks to the team, I love the team,” Raikkonen said after the win.
“I have such a good time, I enjoy F1 much more than last year and much better feelings this year than any other year. All the people who helped me – thanks to all them.
“For sure, there has been hard times in my career but that’s normal for everybody. This is what I always wanted, and now I’ve got it. Anything that comes after this is a plus. We’ve just gotta go again next year and try again, it’s going to be difficult but we’ll see what we can do.”
Raikkonen’s title win remains the Scuderia’s most recent, despite several strong title challenges since.
The 2007 win could be seen as the last achieved by the team that had been put together under team boss Jean Todt – the Frenchman stepping aside at the end of ’07 to hand the reins to Stefano Domenicali, while long-time technical director Ross Brawn opted to sit out ’07 after Schumacher’s retirement.
Ferrari’s title challenges since 2007
Ferrari have managed to fight for several titles since Raikkonen’s run to glory in Brazil. In fact, they carried on the momentum of 2007 into 2008, with Domenicali overseeing his first title campaign as boss of the Scuderia.
However, despite a strong start to the year, Raikkonen’s own title bid floundered with some curiously off-colour performances mixed with bad luck. An innocent victim of Lewis Hamilton’s infamous pit-lane mistake in Canada was followed by a failed exhaust in France, while Massa took a clear step forward to begin asserting himself as the Scuderia’s title challenger.
Raikkonen fell into the supporting role by season end, but Massa himself encountered misfortunes – the most damaging of which was an engine failure with three laps remaining at the Hungarian Grand Prix as he led by a country mile.
Massa’s Singapore race was undone by Ferrari releasing his car with the fuel hose still attached – causing him to fall down to last. This stop was triggered by Renault’s Nelson Piquet crashing his car on purpose, a tactical move to help team-mate Fernando Alonso to take the lead as the Spaniard had already pitted.
Massa took the title fight to the final race, where he convincingly won ahead of the helpful Raikkonen, but title success escaped him as Hamilton clinched the fifth place he needed at the final corner of the final lap – the infamous “Is that [Timo] Glock?!” seared into the minds of every F1 fan who watched that season finale. As scant consolation, Ferrari did win the Constructors’ Championship.
With a massive regulation change coming for 2009, Ferrari fell away from the front that season. But Alonso’s arrival for 2010 coincided with a much more competitive car, and he kicked off his days with the Scuderia by leading home Massa for a 1-2 in Bahrain. Embroiled in a tense title fight with the Red Bull drivers, Alonso took the battle to the final race in Abu Dhabi.
As Mark Webber led the Red Bull title charge, Ferrari focused their strategy on covering off the Australian – losing sight of where Sebastian Vettel was in the process. Alonso emerged from his pit stop stuck in traffic, and famously wound up cooped up by Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. Vettel, the underdog, came home as the race winner to sneak the title away from his team-mate and Alonso, as the Spaniard lost his cool with Petrov on the cooldown lap.
It was 2012 before Ferrari could try again, with the chaotic nature of that season resulting in neither Alonso or Vettel gathering any momentum in terms of victories. Alonso’s metronomic consistency was tempered by a four-race win streak from Vettel late in the season, and the title fight went to the final round in Brazil.
A first-lap collision for Vettel handed the advantage to Alonso as Red Bull evaluated the damage to the German’s car by looking at photographs of the sidepods. Vettel’s pace was still intimidatingly strong as he recovered back to sixth as Alonso came home second – enough to give the Red Bull driver his third successive title as Alonso gazed off into the distance in disbelief at another failed title campaign.
It was Alonso’s last genuine attempt at a title, as Red Bull proved too strong in 2013, and Mercedes kicked off the hybrid era by trouncing the field in 2014.
Ferrari’s recovery began in 2015 with Vettel taking over Alonso’s seat, but it took until 2017 for the Scuderia’s next genuine title attempt. Vettel led the way for the first 12 races of the season, but power unit issues in Malaysia and Japan severely hamstrung his title bid – ultimately losing out to Hamilton with two races remaining.
In 2018, Vettel had a similarly strong start to the season and kept up the momentum through the summer as Ferrari looked to have Mercedes genuinely on the ropes. But Vettel’s campaign started to fall apart when he made an error while leading the German Grand Prix – handing the win to Hamilton.
While Vettel steadied the ship with victory at the following race, Mercedes’ pace proved too much in the closing races of the year – Hamilton winning six of the final eight races, while Ferrari only managed one and with Raikkonen instead of Vettel…
Germany marked the beginning of the end for Vettel at Ferrari, the team bringing in Charles Leclerc for 2019 as they looked to the future. After a ‘private arrangement’ was reached between Ferrari and the FIA regarding their 2019 engine performance, the Scuderia were nowhere in 2020 – leading to a complete breakdown in the relationship between Vettel and Ferrari.
Concentrating on the new regulation change for 2022, Ferrari came alive once more as they kicked off the campaign with two wins from the first three races, only for Red Bull and Max Verstappen to turn their season into a relentless juggernaut and wrap things up with four races to go.
Raikkonen’s dramatic underdog win in 2007 is an eternity ago at this point, although the evidence shows Ferrari still have the capability of fighting at or near the front of Formula 1 – the big question is whether they can continue their recent upward curve to rectify the weaknesses in their organisation and challenge the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes operationally.
Until the current team, led by Mattia Binotto, swallows their pride and makes the necessary changes to complement their obviously strong design and power unit teams, Raikkonen could remain their most recent World Champion for a long time to come…