The ongoing Formula 1 season is a perfect time to evaluate the performance of the Scuderia Ferrari team. As the Italian Grand Prix draws near, comparisons between the current Ferrari‘s performance to that a year ago appear skewed, causing a disconcerting concern for fans and pundits.
In stark contrast to their standing at the same point last season— when Ferrari was in second place in the constructors’ championship with 135 points behind Red Bull — this year has been less successful. The Italian team now languishes in the fourth spot, trailing by a mammoth 339 points. In terms of the drivers’ championship, Charles Leclerc, the team’s top driver last year, was sitting comfortably in the second place with a 109-point gap to Max Verstappen. Fast forward one year, the Scuderia’s best driver, Carlos Sainz, is lingering in the fifth position, lagging by a larger margin of 237 points. Moreover, Ferrari‘s winner mantle is lying untouched, while only three podium finishes from 13 races haunt their record.
A noticeable regression is prevailing in Ferrari‘s performance graph vis-à-vis the corresponding period last year. Evidently, the team’s aspirations of reversing their constructors’ championship drought — a draught stretching since its last victory in 2008 — seem farfetched.
The recent unfolding of events mandated Leclerc to present an unambiguously candid account of the Scuderia’s odds at bridging the gap with Red Bull ahead of the anticipated 2026 F1 regulation changes.
In his frank admission preceding the Dutch Grand Prix, Leclerc indicated that “(working towards the target isn’t easy)… they have a really big margin and it’s going to be very difficult to catch them before the change of regulations.”
For Ferrari, this season has been a rollercoaster ride with a few bright spots, such as the pole positions in Azerbaijan and Belgium. However, these milestones do not mask the ground lost to Red Bull during races, nor does it conceal the relative underperformance compared to Mercedes, Aston Martin, and McLaren. According to Leclerc, the aspiration of reclaiming a genuinely competitive spot does not appear feasible in the near term.
To delve into this descension from the podium, it is crucial to reflect on Ferrar’s initial robust performance in the face of F1‘s new technical regulations of 2022. The team clinched two wins out of the first three races and captured pole position 12 times over 22 qualifying rounds that year. Yet, certain evident weaknesses, including reliability, in-season development, and operational shortcomings, became glaring under the duress of Red Bull‘s rising potential in the latter half of the year.
The technical pitfalls brought about changes in the team’s management, with Fred Vasseur replacing team Principal Mattia Binotto. Despite the managerial shuffle, the crux of this season’s car building decisions had been made beforehand.
With the new season, Ferrari was hopeful about addressing its weaknesses and putting itself in the title race. However, a significant leap in performance observed in Red Bull during the preseason testing phases quickly dashed these aspirations.
The Ferrari SF23, this year’s model, was noticed to have critical shortcomings, primarily its proclivity to deplete tyres when carrying heavy fuel. Similarly, inconsistencies in performance emerged when the car operated under the turbulent tailwind of other vehicles.
Springing from the cockpit, Sainz acknowledged these erraticities, admitting that “since we were in Bahrain testing, we saw something in our car that we didn’t fully comprehend.” He conceded, “we very quickly identified what the main weakness of the car is.” Moreover, issues with wind sensitivity and track temperature also perturb the car’s performance.
While Ferrari battles these demons, arch-nemesis Red Bull is comfortably keeping the championship curtain at bay. Mercedes, another key player in the juggernaut, is also struggling to countermand Red Bull‘s dominance. Red Bull ended 2022 on a high note with a win in Brazil, a hope Mercedes echoed but faced curtailing during this year’s preseason trials.
Among others in the circuit, two noticeable performance climbers are Aston Martin and McLaren; both seem to have effectively leveraged some winning strategies from Red Bull. On the other hand, Ferrari and Mercedes have adhered to their individual design blueprints, locking themselves into particular developmental pathway decisions.
Enrico Cardile, Ferrari‘s head of aerodynamics, is optimistic about implementing a major performance overhaul next year. He maintains that the team has a clear understanding of this year’s inconsistencies vis-à-vis performance.
“It’s not a matter of understanding what we should do. Now, for the future, it’s a matter of delivering a good product which will cope with the targets we have,” Cardile affirmed.
Despite current downsides, the seasoned engineer views the lessons from this year as invaluable insights that could lay the building blocks for future designs. Team principal Vasseur shared the sentiment, endorsing the adage that all improvements in Formula One are gradual, and further adding that he trusts his current team to be in a better position next year.
In conclusion, while Ferrari grapples with these performance hurdles, they should remember that the formidable Red Bull advantage needs to be bridged, not worried about. A relentless commitment to overall development by capitalising on all fronts, translated into immediate gains or evolutionary innovative leaps, is the key to fast-track progress in the subsequent season.