While Lewis Hamilton versus Max Verstappen takes centre stage in this year’s Formula 1 World Championship battle, Ferrari’s much-hyped revival was dealt a massive reality check on Sunday.
Admittedly there were hints of a stronger Ferrari (than last year!) during the first two races of the season, but the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend offered the great Italian team nowhere to hide their inferiority which local media noted.
Ferrari specialist writer Leo Turrini wrote on his well-respected blog after the race in Portimao: “Unfortunately an undeniable step backwards for Ferrari. Modest pace, beating McLaren postponed.
“An uncomfortable feeling of a performance deficit that is not easy to overcome. In Portugal, we saw a dominant Mercedes, with Red Bull on the ropes. And Ferrari did worse than Portimao 2020.”
That’s the reality check.
With their woeful SF1000, last year Leclerc managed fourth place while Sebastian Vettel brought in a solitary point for tenth. This year the pickings were far more meagre with a supposedly better package.
In 2020, Leclerc took fourth place 65 seconds behind race winner Lewis Hamilton. Fast forward and the deficit to the same winner in 2021 was 55 seconds. Give or take, here or there, the numbers suggest the Reds are pretty much where they were last year.
While sobering, the result comes as no real surprise as it is hard to believe anything that comes out of Maranello these days, or in other words, it’s hard to believe they actually do what they do under Mattia Binotto’s watch; from Mick Schumacher’s misplacement at Haas to the direction the team has taken over the past few years.
Ferrari have trumpeted their ‘revival’ by hailing steps taken since testing through the first two races, their drivers even buying into the hype, with Leclerc more than once declaring the SF21 is far better than its troublesome predecessor. Not on Sunday in the Algarve hills it wasn’t.
Furthermore, for a team of Ferrari’s stature – the most successful and widely supported team in the sport – there is no time for restructuring and rebuilding anymore. Those days are over, after all Binotto has been at the helm for well over two years now
Currently, they have two great young drivers in the Red cars, among the best of this new generation, yet they do not have the tools to even sniff a podium.
Speaking after the race in Portugal, Binotto said: “Not what we were expecting. We were unable to capitalise on the potential seen in qualifying and that cost us a lot of points in the Constructors’ classification. Charles drove a very solid race, making up some of the ground lost yesterday. Carlos had a difficult race, especially in the second stint.”
Meanwhile, much earlier in the year Binotto covered his back when he opted for the next best excuse from the ineffective hand he is playing: Focus on 2022! As if their rivals are not on that timeline too.
Mauro Coppini director of FormulaPassion, wrote an editorial for Corriere dello Sport about the plight of Italy’s National F1 team which Ferrari is: “2021 should have been some kind of intermission. A pause for reflection for a Formula 1 bent by the effects of the pandemic and exhausted by the supremacy of a Mercedes with a guaranteed podium.
“Too bad that Ferrari really believed in it because, at least judging by the first three races of the year, the current one appears to be one of the most exciting championships in the history of Formula 1.
“The result of a commitment that the majority of the teams have pursued by interpreting an apparently frozen technical regulation as a welcoming sauna, ale to resurrect a dead person.
“Ferrari has interpreted the regulatory break as an oasis in which to find refuge, forget the criticisms that have hit it and recover the stress accumulated in a disastrous year. Unhappy and discontented, looking forward to that year to come when the sun rises on a generous 2022.
“So we arrive at the Portuguese Grand Prix where Lando Norris’ McLaren relegates Charles Leclerc to sixth-place and Carlos Sain limping out of the points, overtaken by Alpine veteran Fernando Alonso,
“The idea of the sabbatical has never rewarded an F1 that cannot escape those innovation processes that are almost never the result of a choice but rather of an unavoidable necessity. Not to mention that Ferrari has the strongest pair of drivers on the grid today.
“But as for innovation, drivers are also a currency subject to the risk of devaluation. They feed on successes, almost never doubts,” concluded Coppini.
And that’s not even delving into Ferrari’s beleaguered customer teams – Alfa Romeo and Haas – the two worst teams in this year’s pitlane powered by the Prancing Horse.