Team principal Mattia Binotto concedes that Ferrari’s Formula 1 performance was “inadequate” in 2020, but has set loftier targets for next season with third in the constructors’ championship the minimum objective.
While he rightly concedes taking on Mercedes in 2021 is unrealistic, and that design and development work for the all-new technical regulations in 2022 is the priority, Binotto is under no illusion that Ferrari can afford to repeat its sixth place of this year.
As he pointed out several times during a ‘virtual’ version of Ferrari’s annual media Christmas lunch via video call, that’s the worst Ferrari has done since its dismal 1980 season.
Ferrari’s hopes of achieving its objectives depend primarily on the engine.
It had the weakest power unit in 2020 – the consequence of a series of technical directives issued by the FIA based on its collaboration with Ferrari over engine legality – but Binotto is confident it can at least climb that pecking order.
A huge amount of effort has gone into improving the engine package for next season, with Ferrari not allowed to make any engine gains on track during the 2020 campaign thanks to the in-season engine freeze introduced as a reaction to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will be back to being competitive as a power unit. I think it will not be the worst in the field” :: Mattia Binotto
“The engine is running well on the dyno,” said Binotto. “In terms of performance, it progressed well – significantly compared to what it has been in 2020.
“Luckily enough, we can have a completely brand new power unit in 2021, otherwise we would have kept a performance disadvantage compared to the competitors.
“Is it back to what was it 2019? I don’t think that should be the question.
“Where will we be compared to our competitors is more important because it’s all relative to the others.
“The technical directives have affected all of the manufacturers.
“I think that we will be back to being competitive as a power unit.
“I think it will not be the worst in the field, that’s the feeling I’ve got for the figures I’ve seen at the dyno, but I cannot know what the others are doing, how much progress [they will make]. Only the track in March can tell us.
“But the hope is to be back to being competitive. Maybe not the best – something which we are looking for for the future – but to be back to being competitive.”
It’s impossible to judge how big a step Ferrari will make, but Binotto’s confidence of a decent stride should be well-placed.
While it’s unrealistic to expect the Ferrari engine to become class-leading in one leap, it is feasible to eliminate a good proportion of the deficit that meant its cars – and those of customers Haas and Alfa Romeo – struggled on the more power-sensitive circuits in particular.
Ferrari did make gains with its car during the season, but it’s difficult to judge its potential given the tight restrictions on the power unit and the areas of the car that became frozen during the season ahead of 2021. That said, aerodynamic changes have remained free, albeit with limited development time.
“In 2020, if we were not frozen, the power unit would be the first we would try to address,” said Binotto.
“We would have had an upgrade certainly in 2020 before coming to the 2021 [upgrade]. The upgrade would have been at least sufficient not to be the worst power unit in the field.
“How much more would have we done in terms of chassis? Certainly we would not have redesigned it.
“But in terms of aero, we would have done some more work, which has been limited by windtunnel limitations and simulation limitations.
“Now, here at Maranello, we are all focused on 2021. And soon will be focused as well on 2022.
“We will try to do our best in order to address at least the weaknesses of the 2020 car for next year.
“When addressing the weaknesses, we’ve mentioned the power unit, but the drag of the car was very, very high in in 2020. And again, looking at 2021, the drag has been addressed.”
“Overall, it has been a very intense, dense season, difficult for many aspects, where our performance was inadequate” :: Mattia Binotto
Ferrari also hopes organisational improvement will translate into more performance in 2021.
In July, it announced that a new ‘performance department’ had been created under the leadership of head of performance development Enrico Cardile.
Binotto stressed that there are no plans to recruit a technical director despite head of chassis development Simone Resta being one of a number of Ferrari personnel moving to Haas on what is akin to secondment. This is a response to the introduction of the cost cap and the need to reduce staff numbers.
There has also been investment in the facilities at Maranello, with a brand-new driver-in-loop simulator scheduled to come online in the middle of next season.
While Binotto is inevitably going to deploy the usual rhetoric of improvements resulting from a dreadful season, there is at least evidence that Ferrari has made changes that should have a discernible impact.
“It’s a season where we learned a lot,” says Binotto. “It was important to be passionate to try and invest in the future and that’s what we did.
“We invested a lot of hours developing our simulations, developing our tools, our assets, the brand new simulator, which at the moment we are building and will hopefully be ready by the middle of next year.
“We’ve tried to create new synergies with our customer teams. A senior technical person like Simone Resta has moved into the Haas organisation, having technically a significant role.
“He is not the only one that we move into the Haas organisation, a few other technicians will move, reducing our organisation – which is required for budget cap – but strengthening the organisation of our customers and partner teams.
“Overall, it has been a very intense, dense season, difficult for many aspects, where our performance was inadequate.
“Finishing sixth in the constructors’ is very bad as since 1980 [pictured below] that had not happened.
“But it’s a season where I think we invested a lot in the future. We are trying to create the solid foundations which are required to become very competitive and hopefully to open a new cycle for the future.”
While Binotto ruled out taking on Mercedes, given the all-round strength of F1’s dominant team, he has set a minimum objective of third in the championship next year.
It’s perfectly achievable as, after all, Ferrari was 71 points behind third-placed McLaren this season and picked up some decent results on the less power-sensitive circuits.
Aerodynamic progress was made throughout the year and the hope is that further gains in terms of downforce and rear stability, reduced drag and greater power should translate into a significant step forward.
Given Ferrari’s resources, there should be sufficient gains to take third. And it surely has to. Ferrari cannot afford to wallow in the midfield wilderness for another year.
But Binotto accepts the opposition will be strong, with McLaren switching to Mercedes engines and both AlphaTauri and Racing Point benefitting from the chance to upgrade from 2019-specification parts supplied by Red Bull and Mercedes respectively to 2020 ones without spending precious development tokens.
“Third is not impossible, I think that should be our minimum objective for next season,” says Binotto.
“It will not be an easy job. Finishing third will be difficult because teams like Racing Point that I’m pretty sure will be very strong next year have free tokens, which is a competitive advantage.
“I think that McLaren will be very strong again, they get an upgrade on the power unit.
“So overall, a difficult objective but still I believe that as a minimum objective, we should try to achieve it.”
While development of the 2022 car will be the main priority, Binotto said that the way ongoing 2021 development and 2022 work will be balanced “will depend a lot on our competitiveness in winter testing and the start [of the season]”.
Asked by The Race to set the parameters for how its competitiveness would impact that resource split, Binotto hinted that a repeat of this year’s struggle could lead to a little more than planned being thrown at 2021. But he does not expect that to be necessary.
“As Ferrari, we cannot accept a similar season to 2020, so we need to do something better,” said Binotto.
“I look at the way we are developing the car, I’ve got some hope that the season can be better but you can never know up to the point you are on track and you are comparing yourself to the others.
“It will be important not to have such a difficult season as we had in 2020, so the minimum would be competing for a better position.
“I think 2022 [development] will be more important than 2021, because in 2022 we are opening a new technical era [pictured above] and if you are already have a gap to be closed by the start of 2022 it will be more difficult.
“So certainly ‘22 will be the top priority in 2021 and eventually if we are doing some work on the 2021, it’s only because the situation is more bad than expected or because some activities are required on the 2021 for learning in trying to do something better for the 2022.”
Therefore, 2021 will not simply be written off. Not only will engine improvements be directly transferable to the year after, but progress – or the lack thereof – in other areas of the car will reflect the effectiveness of the reshaped team.
That could also be seen as a test of Binotto’s effectiveness as team principal, especially at a time when there are question marks over the impact of Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri’s unexpected retirement.
After all, Camilleri was a supporter of long-term stability, so despite Binotto insisting that the remaining Ferrari top brass have the same perspective, he has lost a close ally.
As Binotto admitted, “my time is not infinite” and therefore both he and the team need to provide on-track evidence of progress in 2021.
Another “inadequate” season will not be tolerated by Ferrari as a whole or Binotto himself.