The 2023 Spanish Grand Prix was a humbling weekend for Scuderia Ferrari. The Italian factory brought forward an upgrade package that was meant to be for later in the season, out of desperation after their poor start leaving them 4th in the Constructors’ Championship so far, behind their rivals at Mercedes and the shock of Aston Martin’s rapid ascension. But how has one of the sport’s greatest teams declined so quickly in such a short amount of time?
Just a year ago, Ferrari were genuine title contenders through the first half of 2022. They took advantage of Red Bull’s early reliability issues to win four times, including a 1-2 finish in Bahrain and Charles Leclerc’s Grand Slam (That’s winning from pole, the fastest lap and leading every lap) in Australia, his first and the first for Ferrari since Singapore 2010.
This time last year, Leclerc was leading the race from pole, ahead of Max Verstappen by 13 seconds when an engine failure ended his race. Later, former team boss Mattia Binotto boldly claimed there was no reason why Ferrari couldn’t win every remaining race after the Summer Break. They’ve been winless ever since, an 18-race streak dating back to Austria 2022.
Ferrari had to turn their engines down in the second half of that season, after four related failures derailed their entire season, adding in grid penalties later on in the year to make up for the extra components they were going through. Ferrari were also the team affected most by the FIA’s technical directive on limiting porposing coming into effect after 2022’s summer break. It forced them to run their car higher off the ground to compensate, which in turn, meant their car was generating less downforce.
Their rivals at Red Bull had the best suspension layout in F1, as well as a lighter car, meaning they could be more aggressive with their ride heights and almost immediately had a car that was several tenths of a second faster per lap. And since then, Mercedes, the team that was struggling most with their cars porposing, gained ground, won a race, and has overtaken Ferrari again in the development race.
At the same time, Ferrari were struggling with the balance of their 2022 car. It was very good at getting their tyres up to speed quickly; proven with 12 pole positions that year, more than anyone else. But it also led to them overheating said tyres in race trim, wearing them out faster and losing ground in races compared to Mercedes and Red Bull.
Ferrari are an incredibly well-resourced team, with over 1,000 full-time members of staff. But as an overall organisation, they’ve often come across as directionless. They’ve had 5 different team principals in the last decade, many high-profile technical staff members come in and out like James Allison, now back at Mercedes, and Simone Resta, now at Haas.
This year alone they’re losing David Sanchez, the man behind their 2022 car concept as he heads back to McLaren, and Laurent Meikes, their sporting director as he replaces Franz Tost at AlphaTauri. Both men who were key parts of Binotto’s tenure, who have probably lost faith in the team. Fred Vasseur took over in January and already rebooted the entire strategy department, another well known issue within the team, as well as battling the Italian media as he deals with the fallout of the failed Binotto era. In any case, when you’re turning over key members of staff that quickly, all with their own different approaches to management, it’s that much harder to nail down a clear development plan to try and win.
Spain 2023 was a massive reality check for Maranello. Carlos Sainz started second but finished fifth, 45 seconds off the win, with Vasseur calling Sainz’s middle stint a “disaster”, losing over 15 seconds to his Mercedes competitors. Vasseur also said: “We are not there in the race. We are inconsistent on the same car between compounds and sometimes between the same compounds”, a frightening admission of the team just not understanding the issues within their own car.
Sainz backed up Vasseur’s comments saying their tyre wear was still a massive issue. He said Barcelona was their “worst track”, given it was a two-stop race with high tyre degredation. The problem is, there are many tracks similar to Spain on the calendar, whether it be technical tracks with a variety of corners like Suzuka, or with high tyre wear like Hungary and Silverstone. If you’re struggling in Spain, you’re going to struggle elsewhere too.
And you have to worry about the future of star driver, Charles Leclerc. He signed a four-year deal with the team back in 2019, and has since extended it until the end of 2024. But since joining the Scuderia, a team where you expect to fight for titles, they’ve only had genuine title-contending speed for half of 2022. Last year was the closest Charles has come to the Championship, a flash of what could be possible. But he was still 146 points behind Max Verstappen at year’s end. Charles clearly loves Ferrari and has a deep emotional bond with the team, how much longer he can afford to wait while he signs away multiple years of his prime?
For Ferrari to get back to the top, they need to re-evaluate their goals as a team. They are likely stuck as F1’s fourth-best team for the time being. Vasseur needs time and patience to make his mark on such a large organisation. They have a car that has clear balance and tyre wear issues, and needing further proof of concept that their power units are reliable over an entire season. At this point, they’re almost as far away from Mercedes in 2nd, as they are from Alpine in 5th, a worrying sign that Ferrari may have to look over their shoulders just as much as they want to look forward. It may be a good while before the Italian team can genuinely think about winning again.
What have you made of Ferrari’s difficult 2023 so far? And is there any chance they can win a race this season? Let us know in the comments, and if you liked the video, be sure to Subscribe!