A sentence I never thought I’d utter, never mind write down for the whole F1 world to see: Ferrari should NOT chase the 2024 Drivers’ Championship title. And here’s why.
Who would’ve ever dreamt that after Michael Schumacher ended Ferrari’s 21-year drought, the German winning the 2000 World title to secure the team’s first of six Drivers’ crowns in eight years, a new 15-year slump would follow?
They say success breeds success but, on the opposite side, failure breeds failure. Just ask the Tifosi.
From expectations to misery, dreams to nightmares, one title quest has disintegrated after one, dissolving in a spiral of fumbles and fallacies, mistakes and missed opportunities.
This year the dream has to be consistency and improvement, and then the results will come. Establish more of a threat in the Constructors’ Championship first, then maybe Drivers’ Championship silverware will follow next year.
But, right now, the deficit to Red Bull is too big, so more small steps forward in the here and now to achieve the long-term objective.
Capitalise on opportunities
Ferrari dropped the ball last season as they gave Red Bull one open goal after another, so much so Ralf Schumacher dubbed the Scuderia Red Bull’s “B team or C team”.
They not only recorded two DNSs – Carlos Sainz out of the Qatar Grand Prix due to a fuel leak (even though it was discovered four hours before the race) and Charles Leclerc did not line up in second place on the Brazilian GP grid when a hydraulic issue caused him to crash on the formation lap – but they also had a DSQ in Austin.
And those were just three instances where points were lost.
Leclerc didn’t finish in Bahrain or Australia and also received a grid penalty in Saudi Arabia for new engine parts, despite that being only the second race of the season, while an error-strewn Dutch Grand Prix weekend ended with his retirement.
Sainz retired from the Belgian and Abu Dhabi races. That’s five retirements and three non-scores in a season where the championship winner recorded 22 podiums in 22 races.
It was points thrown away through unforced errors, opportunities lost, that team boss Fred Vasseur says they have to capitalise on this season.
“You can do the list. Trust me, I have done the list a couple of times and have it in my head the classification without the issues,” he said.
“For sure, we gave up more points than our competitors and that means it is another topic that we need to work on for next year, to be more opportunistic and more efficient. It is where we have to improve. It is clearly a huge potential in terms of points.”
Those lost points, which often benefitted Mercedes, meant Ferrari lost second place in the Constructors’ Championship by a measly three points.
Confidence in the drivers
Although Ferrari announced earlier this week they would continue with Charles Leclerc for several more years, the Scuderia’s faith in the five-time Grand Prix winner comes with many question marks.
Leclerc has made a number of high-profile mistakes over his five Ferrari years with former F1 driver Johnny Herbert rightly telling PlanetF1.com those “mistakes are something you don’t see from Max, you don’t really see that from Lewis”.
It begs the question, can Ferrari count on Leclerc when it matters most?
Although arguably one of the fastest drivers over a single lap in Formula 1, when it comes to the races, Leclerc’s temperament can and has led to silly mistakes resulting in a reputation as a fast crasher, too.
As for Carlos Sainz, he may be a little bit more consistent and last year in Singapore he put in the best drive Formula 1 has ever seen from him, but he too can throw in a disaster or two. Or even worse, string them together.
The drivers want consistency from the team, but the team needs the same back from them.
Eradicate the car’s ‘peakiness’
But what both the team and the drivers need is a car that’s consistent and eradicates the SF-23’s fickleness.
One of the drivers’ most vocal complaints last season was that the car was inconsistent, even over the course of one Grand Prix distance its characteristics would change depending on the tyre compound. Sometimes Leclerc and Sainz even experienced contrasting feelings.
The car was not a bad car per se, but too often it was found seriously wanting. And Ferrari couldn’t predict when those times would come.
From grip in corner entry to no grip by the mid-corner, Charles Leclerc questioned if his car was broken, such was the stark loss in performance.
Added to that, the wind-sensitive SF-23 burned up its tyres with the balance and driveability befuddling the team as it bounced in and out of its working window.
Ferrari did make improvements as the year progressed but, blighted by the slightest change in wind speed or temperature, Leclerc declared it was still a “very difficult” car to drive.
Dubbed “peaky” by Sainz, Vasseur has vowed an almost complete overhaul of the car over the winter with Ferrari changing “95 per cent” of it.
The five per cent that will be staying is said to be the front push and rear pull design, but even that has been tweaked with a “sort of keel”, as it has been called in the Italian media, to increase the airflow towards the Venturi channels.
Changes to the gearbox layout and the introduction of a by-pass duct are reportedly just two big changes Ferrari will introduce as they bid to close the gap to Red Bull.
Imagine preaching from the summit about a car of “unprecedented speed” and then losing the opening race of the campaign by 50 seconds.
Or declaring you’ll fight for the World title but you never even feature in the podium battle in the standings?
Or how about speaking of being more competitive, more wins, more this, more that, and instead your stats – every single one of them – decline?
That was Ferrari’s 2023 pre-season build-up in a nutshell.
The good news this year is it seems they may have taken to heart the lesson that hype doesn’t win races, it only destroys confidence.
According to reports, Ferrari will be doing everything they can to not talk up their 2024 chances, so much so they’ll be putting out a few photos and quotes for the launch and then let the car do the talking on the track.
While that won’t take the spotlight off the Scuderia entirely, after all, they are Italy’s national team if not religion, it will take an ounce of pressure off the shoulders of everyone within the team.
If the drivers and team can iron out the inconsistencies that cost them dear in 2023, then Ferrari can build the strong platform via the Constructors’ Championship to then launch an all-out assault in 2025.
Conquer the Mercedes-McLaren-Aston Martin battle first, then go win the Red Bull war.
The Tifosi have waited this long, one more year won’t hurt.