Ferrari explained that every time they thought they had Red Bull on the ropes in 2022, they landed a Muhammad Ali-esque counter punch.
With the regulatory reset which Formula 1 underwent for the 2022 campaign, Ferrari saw that as a golden opportunity to return to fighting for wins and titles. The early signs were very promising.
Winning two of the opening three races while Red Bull battled reliability issues, Ferrari appeared to be firmly in control, until they were not as Red Bull swung the situation in their favour, helped by Ferrari shooting themselves in the foot several times.
And for much of the second half of the season, Red Bull also enjoyed the dominant challenger as well as the RB18 went on to win 17 of the 22 grands prix, 15 of those going the way of Max Verstappen in a record-breaking campaign.
Ferrari meanwhile hit the cost cap and concluded development work on their F1-75, seeing off the lingering threat of Mercedes to claim P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, while a solid performance from team and driver saw Charles Leclerc finish P2 in Abu Dhabi and secure the same spot in the Drivers’ Championship.
Jock Clear, Ferrari’s senior performance engineer and driver coach, explained how Red Bull were like Muhammad Ali, using their title-winning knowhow to be flexible enough to rock Ferrari with that heavy blow every time they thought they were in control.
“I think that’s probably been Red Bull’s strength this year, as they seem to have been flexible,” said Clear, as per Motorsport.com.
“There were times when it was a bit like Muhammad Ali. It seemed like you had them on the ropes, they’d twist a little bit and they’d come out and ‘bang’. And you’re like, ‘my God, where did they get that from?’
“I think it’s the experience they’ve gained as World Champions. And that’s what we have to get used to doing. This year has been a great help. We’ve been at the front, we’ve been fighting. We’ve learned a lot and we’re on a steep learning curve, like all teams.”
Clear feels that Ferrari must also learn from 2022 when it comes to their development path against the budget cap, making sure they are as efficient as possible.
Soon-to-be former Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto has spoken of how as well as the team running out of money for development, their road to improving the F1-75 was also not as clear as the path which Red Bull had, admitting that Ferrari’s development was perhaps not sufficient.
In Clear’s opinion, with the benefit of hindsight, Red Bull found the right balance while Ferrari probably pushed too early with their upgrades, and Mercedes too late.
That being said, he stressed that the progress for the Scuderia in 2022 has been clear, a positive trajectory which they must continue on.
“The difficulty is knowing where you are going to spend the money in the most efficient and effective way, and that takes a bit of planning,” said Clear.
“Of course, as that planning develops you realise that in the beginning you maybe made some wrong decisions to finally get to a path that you’re on now.
“Red Bull obviously did a very good job of reacting when they saw the pressure, but not losing sight of the fact that they had to focus on just bringing performance to the car.
“And I think from our point of view, we’ve done everything we’ve planned to do this year.
“So yes, we have underperformed compared to Red Bull in the second half of the year, but you can also say that Mercedes have left everything to the end, if you know what I mean.
“Between the three teams, maybe we pushed too early, Mercedes pushed a bit too late, and Red Bull found the right balance. And we have to learn from that.
“We’ve definitely taken a big step forward this year. We came into the last few races and thought ‘oh, what could have been’, but it’s amazing how quickly targets reset.
“If they had offered us this 12 months ago, we would have ripped their arm off. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved this year. It’s a big, big step forward. Now we have to maintain it.
“We stopped developing this car at the beginning of the season with a view to staying competitive next year, and we hit the nail on the head at the first race.”
Abu Dhabi must be start of new norm for Ferrari
Strategy, reliability and driver error all played key roles in bringing an early end to Ferrari’s title hopes, but the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP showed what Ferrari are capable of doing when all parts of their race operation are working as intended.
Leclerc drove a faultless race, helped along by correct calls from the Ferrari pit wall and a reliable power unit. Red Bull were forced into a two-stop strategy with Sergio Perez as Leclerc clinched P2 with the one-stopper, at no stage really threatened by Perez as they reached the chequered flag.
Leclerc did not have the pace to challenge Verstappen, but assuming Ferrari will be able to produce a 2023 challenger which brings them back into the fight with Red Bull, then making the most of that by avoiding mistakes and breakdowns is key to sustaining a title challenge.