Max Verstappen is on the cusp of claiming a second drivers’ championship with surprising ease, and Red Bull Racing will return to constructors’ title glory for the first time in almost a decade.
With six races still to run, these are the cold, hard facts of what’s become an unexpectedly one-sided season.
Those facts also state unequivocally that Ferrari has let them off the hook.
Watch every practice, qualifying and race of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship™ live on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Charles Leclerc won two of the first three races of the season, including a dominant victory at the Australian Grand Prix, and for much of the year Ferrari has fielded the fastest car.
And yet after 16 rounds Leclerc trails Verstappen by a nearly unassailable 116 points. That’s a full 162-point turnaround from the Monegasque’s earlier 46-point lead — which, you’ll remember, felt suffocating at the time.
Worse still is that 133 of those points can be put down to mistakes, whether they stem from the driver, from the team or from unreliability.
While Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing have unquestionably raised the bar in the last month, it’s also fair to say that by then Ferrari had just about vacated the field in terms of championship position.
So it’s unsurprising that Ferrari president John Elkann wasn’t prepared to mince his words when asked about the season so far at the team’s home race in Italy this month.
“We have great faith in Mattia Binotto and appreciate everything he and all our engineers have done,” he said Gazzetta dello Sport. “But there is no doubt that the work in Maranello, in the garage, on the pit wall and at the wheel needs to improve.
“We must continue to make progress, and that goes for the mechanics, the engineers, the drivers and obviously the entire management team, including the team principal.
“We have seen that there are still too many mistakes when it comes to reliability, driving and strategy.
“Putting our trust in Binotto and his team was the right decision, and it has paid off. Thanks to them we are competitive and winning again.
“But I am not satisfied, because I think we can always do better.”
Elkann’s tenure at the head of Ferrari has been characterized by relative serenity compared to past leaders, who have often preferred to insert themselves into the running of the team — and this is despite the last two years of turmoil before the 2022 breakthrough.
But with the full support of the board issued, the screws are now being gently turned. This butchered championship campaign must surely be the first and last of Ferrari’s missed opportunities.
THE PRESIDENT’S CHALLENGE
“Our first goal was to be competitive,” Elkann said. “If you are not, then you have nowhere to go, whereas you can always work on reliability.
“That’s why I believe that before 2026 Ferrari will once again win the constructors and drivers titles, with Charles Leclerc in pole position.
“We are lucky to have two great drivers, probably the strongest pairing in Formula 1.”
While it’s always dangerous to set dates in motorsport, it’s not exactly a massive vote of confidence in the team if it’s going to need a four-year window to turn what’s been the fastest car at most races this season into a credible championship tilt.
“If we look at the current season, we are fully aware that there are still steps that are required to be somehow in the position to win the championship,” Binotto said, according to the F1 website.
“Ferrari has done I think an enormous development in terms of performance from the last season to this one, and if we look back at Ferrari, you need to go back many years to see such a development.”
He’s hinting at one of the themes of Ferrari’s responses to accusations that it’s underperformed this season — that the team is still actually relatively green when it comes to being a frontrunner.
But really that’s a flimsy excuse for not turning a blistering start into something more consistent.
Putting aside that this is the oldest and most successful team in Formula 1 history, the Scuderia was a multiple race winner only three years ago before it had its wings clipped by a regulation clarification.
In 2017 and particularly in 2018 it was a genuine title threat with Sebastian Vettel.
The institutional knowledge should be there, at least to put up a more comprehensive showing than it has done.
WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES?
Ferrari’s weak spots have been accentuated by just how good a job the team has done in designing a solution to the 2022 regulations. Maranello has historically had a strong creative streak when it comes to interpreting the rules, and it’s not unusual to see Ferrari concepts adapted to other cars. This season has been no exception.
But the machinery has been wielded poorly, dropping in the vicinity of 133 points, which can be almost equally divided between unreliability and human error.
“The reliability cost us at least a couple of victories, and to win a championship you need to be reliable, no doubt,” Binotto said, per the F1 website.
Looking at Leclerc’s failed title bid, engine failures account for around 65 lost points — 50 from his retirements from the lead of the Spanish and Azerbaijan grands prix plus an estimated 15 from his engine penalties in Canada and Belgium.
“Race management as well, strategy, pit stops — improvements are required,” Binotto continued.
“I think during the race weekend you may always make mistakes. I think being perfect is always impossible, but what we need is to be the best, and the fact that we are still making mistakes means there are still areas of improvement.”
The pit wall has cost Leclerc around 36 points through strategic blunders. That includes the 24 points in Monaco and Britain when poles were turned into fourths and also the dropping of 10 points when his race lead in Hungary was turned into an anonymous sixth, even considering Verstappen’s race-winning pace in Budapest.
Leclerc must also take some blame for his driving mistakes, which have cost him 32 points — seven for spinning from third to sixth at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and the full 25 for crashing from the lead in France.
Of course there is no such thing as a perfect season. Max Verstappen can point to power unit stoppages in Bahrain and Australia that robbed him of 36 points and misfortune that cost him a podium at Silverstone at a minimum.
But that makes three occasions on which the RBR operation has been imperfect. Ferrari’s list of mistakes is well into double digits if you include mistakes on Carlos Sainz’s side.
“The team has done such a great car, but certainly, we are aware that there are steps of improvement that are required to win the championship,” Binotto said.
“How long will it take back at the factory, here at the racetrack? We are all working very hard to be there as soon as possible.”
WHAT FERRARI MUST — AND MUST NOT — DO
Pressure is always Ferrari’s biggest challenge. As a de facto national sporting team, as motorsport’s most famous brand and as Formula 1’s most popular constructor, the Scuderia is either dominating the sport or under the pump from the Italian media, from the grandstands and inevitably from the board.
His challenge is heightened considerably for being up against Red Bull Racing, a squad battle hardened after its bruising encounter with Mercedes last season.
Further, Mercedes is approaching from behind and sizing up second in the constructors standings, and what it lacks in consistency from its machinery it makes up for in generally slick execution.
It might be tempting in light of the subtle ratcheting up of pressure for Binotto to overtly respond.
In some ways he already has. Having gone into the mid-season break adamant that no changes were required to his team, he’s now softened his stance somewhat to admit improvement can be made.
But most importantly, he says he’ll only make changes his way.
“We don’t have to change people, but we certainly have to change some things,” he told Sky Sports. “The way we communicate, the way we make our decisions — changes are necessary.
“It might be necessary to add value and maybe adding people.
“But changing people is not a way I want to go. It’s an old way of tackling problems.”
And he deserves the chance to stay his course.
FROSTY RECEPTION: Erebus boss reprimanded for ‘forceful’, ‘unwarranted’ garage clash in Pukekohe
PIT TALK: Ferrari questions engine rules after penalties; ‘nothing off the table’ in Merc 2023 rethink
ARAGON GP: The ticking time bomb that could decide title as crash chaos ignites MotoGP battle
The team’s dramatically improved pace, strong driver line-up and what appears to be a stable base for this generation of rules have been pieced together on his watch after two years in the wilderness.
Moreover, the strategy of risking engine unreliability this year ahead of a freeze on power unit development seems to have been the correct call, odd though it might be to say. The Ferrari motor is now among the best on the grid after being one of the most asthmatic in the last two years, and although the team’s not yet fully on top of its flaws, it’s allowed under the rules to make reliability fixes. It’s a strategy for long-term gain in exchange for short-term pain.
Combined, these successes are enough to have earned Binotto a chance to prove he can fit the pieces together and assemble a title tilt. To throw away this progress at the first sign of a slowing trajectory would be a mistake.
Still trusted and well liked at Ferrari, where he’s valued as a cool head at the helm of a team with a history of losing his own in moments of duress, it’d be surprising if he didn’t get an opportunity to prove he can led Ferrari back to championship glory.
But any Ferrari team boss is entitled to only so much grace. The clock always ticks more quickly in Maranello. The 2022-23 off-season will be crucial to his fortunes.