Ferrari appears close to free-fall as it retreats to its home base in Maranello to try and recover from a disastrous start to its 2020 Formula One campaign.
The red racers have been slow and embarrassing through the first three meetings of the season and there is no solution in sight.
Even rushed aero updates to the latest SF1000 made no difference at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where Sebastian Vettel was at least able to qualify fifth and finish sixth at a favourite circuit as Charles Leclerc qualified sixth and trailed home a miserable 11th behind Kevin Magnussen in a Ferrari-powered Haas.
How bad are things? Really?
Vettel was lapped by race winner Lewis Hamilton.
The Hungarian disaster followed the Styrian Grand Prix – where Leclerc managed to drop his Ferrari onto the tail end of his team-mate’s car at the second corner of the first lap to put them both out of the running.
Don’t forget, either, that Ferrari has already dismissed Vettel and only Leclerc will be continuing into 2020 with the oldest team in Formula One, with Carlos Sainz arriving from McLaren to partner him.
“After three races, it’s clear that we are in worse shape than we expected and we need to react without delay,” admits Ferrari’s team principal, Mattia Binotto.
“An extremely disappointing Sunday and the result is very hard to swallow. In qualifying, we had got the most out of the car as it is at the moment, but in the race that was not the case. To be lapped is very painful for us and our fans.”
The delayed, shortened and compacted 2020 season leaves Ferrari with only days, not weeks or months, to try and salvage something from the SF1000 and the latest campaign.
“Now we return home after this very long trip and we have to try everything we can to improve as much as possible in every area,” says Binotto.
Racing resumes at Silverstone with the British Grand Prix on August 2, the first race in a doubler-header at the UK track before a trip to Barcelona in Spain without a break.
Then there is the spectre of Ferrari’s 1000th race on September 13, at the Mugello circuit in Italy that the company owns.
Mugello has, in the past, been the scene for Ferrari’s end-of-season celebrations in front of a packed audience of its most-enthusiastic tifosi followers.
Binotto says there has to be a change of direction.
“The entire car project has to be revised, while taking into consideration the limits currently imposed by the regulations. I am well aware there is no magic wand in Formula 1, but we have to step up a gear to turn things around, both in the short and the long term,” he says.
Watching from home, and seeing the lacklustre straight-line numbers for the SF1000 – as well as the poor performance of the Ferrari-powered cars at Haas and Alfa Romeo – it’s easy to assume that Ferrari needs more power.
Pitlane insiders speculate that Ferrari has gone backwards since last year in the engine room, hinting that a penalty-free deal with the FIA over its 2019 power-plant, but nothing is proven.
Ferrari is not being specific about the revised and re-focussed campaign for 2020, but Binotto hints that heads could roll.
“It might also be necessary to look at our organisation to improve and strengthen our working methods where the need is greatest. But first, as a team, we need to understand the dynamic that led to this situation,” he says.
Yet, ironically, one of the shortcomings could be that he did not replace himself with a new Technical Director after being promoted to team leadership after the end of the polarising leadership of Maurizio Arrivabene following a lacklustre 2018 season.
Vettel is clearly not happy with the situation but has some positives for Ferrari after the Hungarian race.
“We are not where we want to be just now, but at least we did everything we could today,” he says.
“It was a very complicated race. I’m not sure what happened, because we didn’t make changes to the car, but it was extremely hard to drive.
“We were just slow. There’s lot of work ahead of us,” he says.
The meetings at Maranello have already begun with the team debrief by Binotto, but there is nothing concrete on what is to come.
But Binotto is standing by his team.
“I have confidence in the people who work in the Gestione Sportiva: we have started out on a long process that should lead to another winning cycle. It will take a while, but the whole company understands and supports this vision. That’s why I find it amusing to read some stories that are doing the rounds: it’s not by sacking people that you make a car go faster…”
“Everyone will have to analyse their work and have the courage to change course if necessary, because the current dynamic is unacceptable. There is no other solution to fix this situation.”