After a very poor finish at Spa Francorchamps during the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, we look at the reason for Ferrari’s performance and what that translates to for the rest of their season.
The 2020 Belgian Grand Prix was a race filled with action and a display of absolute talent by unexpected teams. However, the same cannot be said for Scuderia Ferrari. The team struggled at Saturday’s qualifying with fans speculating whether the drivers would be able to go past the first qualifier. The drivers qualified at the bottom of the second qualifier with Charles Leclerc at 13th and teammate Sebastian Vettel one place behind at 14th. The race on Sunday was a completely different case. The prancing horses struggled to keep up with the other teams with both drivers being unable to deliver on the high speed straights. Problems on last year’s Belgian GP winner, Leclerc’s car called for a longer pitstop to fill air adding to the already downgrid Ferraris finishing further lower. Both drivers finished out of the points with Vettel in 13th and Leclerc, last year's winner at Spa in 14th. Thus, the question that arises is, why is last year’s dominant team struggling to even remain within the points this year?
Ferrari lacks a strong power unit
At the risk of stating the obvious, it is true. The team’s engine in 2020 lacks lustre when compared to other manufacturers. Ferrari’s cars have lost their trademarked straight line speed which is especially necessary at tracks like Spa and Monza where top speed can make or break your race. The FIAs investigation of Ferrari’s 2019 engine seems to have had a deep effect on their 2020 production. An example of this would be a simple comparison of Charles Leclerc's qualifying timings from 2019 to 2020. The pole sitter of 2019, he clocked a 1:42:519 in Q3 almost a second faster than teammate Sebastian Vettel. This year however, not only did Leclerc clock a slower time at 1:42:996 but he also took more laps to qualify a mere 13th than Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo who qualified 4th in just 11 laps.
Belgium temperatures cause tyre problems
Tyre temperatures play a crucial role in the traction a car has on the track. In Belgium's cool 16 degrees, Ferrari seemed to struggle to get heat into its tyres.
Formula 1 Managing Director Ross Brawn stated that he had in the past, found himself in a situation like Ferrari had found themselves in at Spa where the team can't get the tyres to work causing a dramatic drop in performance. Speaking about the team’s problems he said,
“They just couldn’t get the tires in the zone. The fact it was colder at Spa would not have helped either. When that happens, the performance drops off and looks horrific. If they can make that step and get the tires working properly again, I think the performance will snap back in. They still won’t look race-winning, but it will become more respectable.”
The visible inner team problems
In the recent past, Ferrari has seen a fair share of controversy for not being much of a cohesive unit. Fragile driver relations are apparent between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. From 2019 itself, the team made their switch in number one driver preference very evident. Strategic errors and poor communication are some other factors that have affected the success of the team. As a result, Vettel’s decision to leave the team has become more of a bitter divorce than a happy parting. Team Principal Mattio Binotto has also come into questioning as to his relevance in the team. Former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher wrote in an official column for Sky Germany,
“The crucial question: is Mattia Binotto ready to poach people from the outside in order to master the situation? If not, he is the wrong one in this position!”
While the Italian team struggles to perform, it does not look like a great time for their home fans at Monza this weekend. Ferrari has a lot of tweaking to do to try not to be on the backfoot in Italy. How much they can squeeze out of the car is yet to be seen.