Ferrari went into the summer break with defiant statements that its performance in the first half of the 2022 Formula 1 season means there is “no reason why we should change” despite its fading title bid.
The recent Hungarian Grand Prix was the latest race to be led by Ferrari’s lead driver in the championship Charles Leclerc that ended with him not even standing on the podium, let alone winning.
Leclerc has scored only one podium in the last eight races – his victory in the Austrian Grand Prix – as a mix of errors from the team and himself have caused his championship challenge to crumble.
In Hungary he suffered from the latest Ferrari strategy misstep, which was to use the woefully ineffective hard tyres for his final stint.
That caused Leclerc to fall from the lead to sixth as the decision proved so inappropriate Ferrari had to pit him a third time to switch to softs.
Leclerc and Ferrari are now 80 and 97 points behind Max Verstappen and Red Bull respectively in the two championships but asked if Ferrari needs to assess changes in the summer break, or if it has just been unlucky, team boss Mattia Binotto said that is “not a matter of bad luck and there is nothing to change as well”.
“It’s always a matter of continuous learning and building experience, building skills,” said Binotto.
“Certainly, there is something in which we need to look and understand why.
“But if I look again at the balance of the first half of the season, there is no reason why we should change.
“I think we simply need to address what has gone [on in Hungary], that we need to first understand, and then to address and try to be back as competitive as it has been in 12 races so far – and [there is] no reason why it cannot be the case at the next.”
Leclerc pointed out the obvious when he said using the hard tyres was the “turning point of the race” but Ferrari’s focus afterwards was why those tyres did not work as it expected, rather than the strategic call to use them.
It was consistent with Binotto’s other responses whenever Ferrari’s strategic choices have been questioned this season.
Ferrari has famously suffered from a culture of blame and fear throughout its history and Binotto has been devoted to addressing this.
It has worked, to a large degree. Ferrari has seemed a more protected and collective operation under his leadership.
However, a no-blame culture – like the one often referred to during Mercedes’ domination of F1 in the hybrid era – does not mean a team denies the existence of problems. It just avoids attributing them to a single individual or blaming a department for a failed result.
Within that there is scope to say, ‘this needs to be improved’. For Ferrari, ‘this’ is strategy but it is arguably under too much protection. The focus on the lack of performance on various compounds in Hungary doesn’t negate the fact the strategy was poor, too.
Presumably, Binotto’s defiant stance that Ferrari does not need to “change” is a reference to personnel. On that front he is correct.
Advocating the firing of certain staff would achieve nothing mid-season and the priority should be on bringing the best out of the current team, sharpening up processes, enhancing their tools and empowering sharp, bolder decisions.
Within that there must be scope to make people aware of mistakes and work to avoid a repeat.
Ferrari does not necessarily need to acknowledge this publicly to be taking steps behind the scenes to address this. But the recurrence of problems suggests it either isn’t, or it’s just not proving to be a successful endeavour.
Only one week before Hungary, we were reflecting on another Binotto “no reason for X”, again using the inherent performance of the car as support for the argument.
After France – where Leclerc crashed out of the race – he said there was no reason Ferrari could not win all the remaining races to save its championship bid. It was a glass half-full perspective, obviously. But Hungary was a painful, immediate example of how misguided it was.
Ferrari is not as consistently sharp as it needs to be as a race team. If there’s truly no reason to change, then there is no reason to think Ferrari’s mistakes will stop.