How Ferrari lost the F1 championship

Mercedes have won the Constructors Championship for the fourth year in a row. Ferrari not only lost out in the race for the Constructors’ crown 3 races to the end of the season, they also managed to dampen any hopes of winning the driver’s championship for their lead driver, Sebastian Vettel, after a very promising start.

German driver Sebastian Vettel won the first Grand Prix in Australia and by August, led his closest contender, Lewis Hamilton by seven points; but we are in the closing days of October and he trails the Briton by a whopping 66 points. Granted, Lewis Hamilton is not an easy competitor to go up against. He has won three championships already by sheer talent and brilliance, being exceptional on the controls and did I mention that he drives for Mercedes, who possess one of the best cars on the grid (some will even say the best). I should also mention that Vettel , a 4 – time champion himself, blew his slender advantage when he opted to battle Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at the Singapore Grand Prix, ending his race in a crash at the first lap. Having established those facts, it cannot be ignored that the Ferrari garage have largely been the cause of their own downward spiral, complicit in reducing what promised to be a ‘two elephants fighting’ F1 season into a lion and a cowering Chihuahua race in the park.

At the start of the season, Ferrari matched Mercedes pace for pace with an upgraded aerodynamic package. On some circuits, it seemed that the Ferrari was even faster, Malaysia and Singapore quickly spring to mind. They also had the best reliability on the grid, so the only thing that could determine who won was an excellent, perfectly executed race strategy (Let’s not talk here about teams burning oil as fuel to help with power boost, as everybody denies they do it). When September came around, the flood gates of reliability issues opened for the storied racing franchise. First of all was the turbo problem for Ferrari, then a spark plug issue and ultimately power loss. It seemed their luck had run out. Or had it?

Some people say that you make your own luck by the decisions you take. I think that was the case with Ferrari. In a bid to push their cars to compete with the power of Mercedes, they seemed to have pushed themselves too far. If that seems too complicated to grasp, this is the layman’s explanation – Ferrari had been running their engines a lot hotter, the increased cylinder pressure messing with the intercooler which caused the problems in Sepang; the spark plug problems in Suzuka, was officially blamed by Ferrari on quality control but could also be linked with how the set up and engines were run. Formula One is a mechanical sport which means that things could be working one minute, then a slight tweak later, the entire pack of cards come crashing down. Furthermore, the reliability issues seemed to start when Ferrari started pushing for more performance and President Sergio Marchionne confirmed this by saying that changes will be made within the team to prevent a repeat of these issues. These set of crises all, in effect, allude to the fact that the problems may not be quality but design issues. There was also the issue of focusing on the driver’s championship and ignoring the constructor’s with their clear favouritism of one driver over his teammate, Kimi Räikkönen.

Ultimately, it seems Ferrari have stumbled on the successful formula needed to compete with Mercedes. But to be the best, they have to find the consistency to match their rival’s performance and that comes with balance. Ambition must not be allowed to run free without boundaries. With Ferrari’s improvements have come consequences that it seems were not fully considered or as the Ferrari F1 technical chief Mattia Bonitto put it were “completely unexpected”.

It is this miscalculation and not some engineering providence that has made this season a cruise to another world championship for Mercedes. On that note, let’s enjoy the rest of the exciting but largely inconsequential races.

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Consultant Editor

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