Sebastian Vettel counts Bernie Ecclestone as a close friend, confidante if you wish, but the former F1 supremo is wondering if the German is capable of returning Ferrari to championship glory as his legendary compatriot Michael Schumacher did two decades ago.
Speaking to La Gazzetta Dello Sport ahead of season final Abu Dhabi weekend, Ecclestone was asked for his thoughts on Ferrari’s failure to win the championship despite apparently having the best package to do so since the advent of the turbo hybrid era.
Ecclestone admitted, “I really thought Ferrari would do it this year and really don’t know where they lost their way, at what point they lost it and there was no valid reason. I don’t know.”
“Sebastian made mistakes, the team made mistakes. On some tracks, Mercedes were stronger but in the end, on average, Ferrari had the better car.”
Vettel was not able to maximise the package at his disposal and made big mistakes – throwing away victory at his home German Grand Prix while leading comfortably. Thereafter there were too many niggles and fumbles which agitated the German.
Perhaps most surprising has been the emotional instability of the four times Formula 1 World Champion, not the cool calculated stereotype German. Instead, he was an emotional hothead, reacting to pressure in ways expected of those brought up closer to the Mediterranean.
Bernie: Sebastian is not the finished product, he is just disoriented
Ecclestone continued, “At Red Bull, Seb was well loved, something he got used to. He spoke with everyone, everyone talked to him. He felt comfortable within that team.”
“I think Ferrari has not been like that. This has affected his focus and concentration. It should not have happened, but Sebastian showed an emotionally sensitive side to his character, which is strange for a German…”
“Vettel must harness his inner strength, look at things with greater calmness. He is not the finished product, he is just disoriented. He has everything in his power to recover and find himself again. We miss the real Seb!”
Vettel and Ferrari started the season with a bang, winning both races and gaining an early advantage over Mercedes until things started to go seriously pear-shaped.
After the summer break, Mercedes closed the gap, while Ferrari fumbled race after race, the rest is well-documented history: the Silver Arrows are double F1 champions, their tenth title in five years. The red team again empty-handed.
Invariably when Ferrari performance in Formula 1 is measured, the benchmark will always be the golden years of Schumacher at Maranello with the three wise men Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne returning the team to the top and triggering five years of dominance.
Bernie: They have to look carefully at the team and determine if the right people are in the right places
Ecclestone recalled, “Michael took Ferrari on his shoulders and drove them out of that crisis. He was a leader, Vettel is not like that.”
After ending the Luca di Montezemolo era at Ferrari, the late Sergio Marchionne appeared to galvanise the team with his brash fire and brimstone style. His sudden absence a clear blow to the team in a time when strong leadership was required.
For now, his successors John Elkann and Louis Camilleri have been virtually invisible, apparently hands-off, unlike the former chief. The two now in charge have been conspicuous by their silence.
Asked if Marchionne’s death cost Ferrari the title this year, Ecclestone replied, “I really think so. He was a man who inspired and was respected. His presence would have given everyone more confidence to reach that goal.”
As for the new leadership, the 88-year-old Briton said, “They have to look carefully at the team and determine if the right people are in the right places.”
“Today’s Reds remind me of the mid-nineties when I convinced Todt to go to Maranello. It is a typical Italian problem, at Ferrari they have numerous valuable assets but we need someone to channel them to make them yield.
“I do not know who that might be, but it must be someone who speaks Italian and is willing to be at the factory 24-hours a day. You do not need an advisor-type or one who gives orders and then disappears.”
Finally, with regards to the Scuderia going against their drivers’ tradition next year and taking on young Charles Leclerc while dropping their veteran Kimi Raikkonen, Ecclestone warned, “This was a step backwards and seems a shame to me. I would have kept [Kimi] at Ferrari.”