Binotto’s exit shows Ferrari lost more than just a championship in 2022

Sportem
Sportem
10 Min Read

Ferrari improved their position in the constructors’ championship for the second year in a row in 2022. On the face of it, that makes team principal Mattia Binotto’s decision to resign, announced today, a questionable one.

The team slumped to a woeful sixth place in 2020, but rebounded quickly, rising to third place last year. A place among F1’s ‘big three’ teams has to be considered the minimum of what a team with Ferrari’s gigantic resources is capable of.

They appeared to build on that this season by climbing to second place in the championship. But Ferrari’s ambitions are far greater than that, and their failure to deliver a title this year has to be considered in terms of the scale of the opportunity they missed.

When Binotto took over in charge of the team at the beginning of 2019, some of the ingredients of success were already in place. Sebastian Vettel finished runner-up in the 2017 and 2018 title fights, and the team did likewise in the constructors’ championship, winning 11 races over those two seasons.

Leclerc delivered Ferrari’s first victory under Binotto

Ferrari began their first year under Binotto once again rivalling Mercedes for wins. But Red Bull, who had switched to Honda power units during the off-season, were first to beat the silver team to a victory.

Binotto saw Ferrari miss opportunities to win over the first dozen races due to unreliability, driver errors and strategic slip-ups. The latter was highlighted in Monaco, where Vettel’s new team mate Charles Leclerc was eliminated during Q1.

As the season went on, the increasingly impressive Leclerc posed an obvious challenge to Vettel’s supremacy at the team. This generated considerable friction, several rows over team orders and one collision between the pair. Nonetheless Ferrari managed to claim three consecutive wins in spite of this, and second in the constructors’ standings again.

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But their cars’ straight-line speed had also become a focus of speculation and this posed a greater threat to their competitiveness. Following a lengthy investigation, the FIA came to a private agreement with the team under which new checks on power unit legality for the whole field were introduced. This was announced on the eve of the 2020 campaign, during which Ferrari’s straight-line speed was a persistent weakness and the team slumped to sixth place in the championship.

Dismal 2020 campaign prompted Ferrari to focus on new rules

The start of the season was delayed by four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the outbreak, Formula 1 postponed the introduction of radical new technical regulations, by a year, to 2022. This presented an opportunity for Ferrari to refocus their efforts on the coming overhaul of the rules.

Binotto took the logical decision to prioritise the development of Ferrari’s new car for those rules. He shook up the technical team, reorganising it into new sections which reported directly to him.

He also made a major call on the future of the team’s driver line-up. Having originally planned to keep Vettel, during the pandemic hiatus Binotto hired Carlos Sainz Jnr from McLaren to replace him in 2021.

The changes appeared to pay off. Ferrari went into 2021 with an improved power unit, Sainz and Leclerc proved an effective partnership, and the team immediately returned to the top three in the constructors’ championship. With Red Bull and Mercedes fighting each other for the title until the final race, Ferrari – who threw their efforts into their next chassis early – looked in ideal shape for 2022.

At the end of the year Binotto declared Ferrari had laid a “solid foundation” for future success. Part of this involved encouraging the team to view errors as opportunities for improvement. “It’s trying to understand it’s an opportunity,” he said. “No blame, no finger-pointing.” But an error-strewn 2022 campaign put that to the test and likely cost them a return to title-winning success.

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For the first time under Binotto, Ferrari won the opening race of the season with its much-admired new F1-75. A second win in the third round showed the team were championship contenders once again. But three races later Verstappen and Red Bull were leading the standings, and Ferrari let a series of opportunities to bag more points slip away from them.

The team made a winning start to 2022 – but soon faded

Errors and questionable calls from the pit wall made the team a focus of criticism. No doubt that in some of these cases the team faced invidious, potentially un-winnable calls, such as when the Safety Car was deployed while Leclerc was leading at Silverstone. On other days they plainly erred, however: failing to contain the Red Bulls after locking out the front row in Monaco, calling Sainz in so late at Zandvoort his crew weren’t ready for him, or sending Leclerc out to qualify using intermediate tyres while on a dry track at Interlagos.

The drivers contributed mistakes of their own, no doubt. But more points were lost elsewhere. Several technical failures struck in the first half of the season, costing Leclerc potential wins in Spain and Azerbaijan.

These problems largely related to the power unit, and after the season was over Binotto admitted Ferrari had to reduce their engine performance as a result. In the second half of the season, Ferrari were less often contenders for victory and found it harder to beat the resurgent Mercedes. As the season ended, they hadn’t won a race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July.

Ferrari may have improved to second place in the championship, but the real story of their 2022 season was their failure to capitalise on the scale of the opportunity presented to them. Having won twice in the opening three races, they only won twice more all year, but could easily have taken twice as many victories before the summer break alone.

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They didn’t just fail to win the championship in 2022. The introduction of new technical rules coinciding with their principal rivals fighting each to the final race of 2021 handed them the opportunity to become F1’s dominant team to beat once more.

Red Bull’s Horner will face a new rival at Ferrari next year

Instead as 2022 ends that position belongs to Red Bull, who won all bar one of the 10 races held since the summer break, while Ferrari lost four from pole.

Binotto’s departure as Ferrari team principal is therefore reminiscent of his predecessor Stefano Domenicali’s eight years earlier. Then as now, Ferrari greeted a major change in the regulations as an opportunity to become championships contenders once more, only to see another rival beat them to it. Domenicali left at the beginning of 2014 as Mercedes replaced Red Bull as F1’s dominant force; in 2022 those two teams have essentially swapped again.

Ferrari is now heading for a fourth change of team principal since Domenicali stepped down. Whoever gets the job will face the challenge of regaining the initiative lost since the 2022 season began, knowing another wholesale change in F1’s rules isn’t due until 2026.

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