After two painful seasons where Ferrari came so close to downing the all-conquering Mercedes team, Maurizio Arrivabene was given the shove as Ferrari team principal, paving the way for Mattia Binotto to take his chance as head of motor racing’s most illustrious team.
Unlike Arrivabene, Binotto had been engrained in the Ferrari system following his graduation from university in the mid-1990s, quickly moving his way through the ranks of the company’s engine department before becoming the team’s chief technical officer in 2016.
When he was eventually promoted to the top job, Binotto had plenty of weapons at his disposal, a world-class driver lineup of Sebastian Vettel and hotshot Charles Leclerc, a superb engine, and a huge budget.
Everything seemed perfect, but over his four years in charge, Binotto has faced accusations of not being up to the job as rumours linger of a less than constructive culture at Maranello.
So how did Ferrari get to this stage, and what needs to change?
The years of lead
Despite early promise in F1 2018 pre-season testing, misfortune came in for threes as Mercedes crushed Ferrari, who once again settled for second in the Constructors’ Championship, with Leclerc showing glimpses of his talent by taking two wins.
The 2019 season, however, was a cakewalk compared to 2020, which saw the team suffer its worst season for 40 years, with Vettel’s abrupt departure from the team over lockdown adding another layer to the year from hell.
Then, 2021 saw a new dawn break over Maranello with Vettel being replaced by McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, but despite having a quicker car, Ferrari was unable to break their losing slump with Leclerc’s non-start in Monaco after putting it on the pole the nadir of the Scuderia’s misfortunes.
By June, cracks were starting to show in the Ferrari camp, but mercifully the soap opera simmered down, and Binotto led the team to third in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of McLaren.
During the off-season, Binotto asked Ferrari’s executive chairman John Elkann for support, requesting that outgoing FIA president Jean Todt rejoin the team for the following season.
In a blow to Binotto’s standing Elkann denied his request due to the budget cap and the lack of confidence he had in the appointment. An enraged Elkann then courted Andreas Seidl and Christian Horner to become Ferrari’s new team principal, only for the pair to decline the offer.
A year of tension
Even with the infighting, Leclerc got Ferrari’s 2022 F1 season off to a dream start with wins in Bahrain and Australia, giving him and the team a hefty cushion in both the Driver and Constructor Standings as they returned to Europe.
Imola had promised to be a homecoming, but it turned into a nightmare, with neither Ferrari car finishing on the podium and starting a run of races which saw Ferrari shoot itself continuously in the foot as Red Bull and Max Verstappen took charge.
Silverstone was also a case of Ferrari putting its eggs into the wrong basket, prioritising Sainz, who was not in championship contention, so he could get his maiden Grand Prix win, leaving Leclerc, who had a damaged front wing vulnerable to attacks, eventually finishing fourth on a day when Verstappen was hindered by damage.
Sainz’s win inflamed tension in the garage, with a source with close links to the team revealing to Total-Motorsport.com that the decision infuriated Leclerc and Ferrari’s upper management, dividing the garage into two separate camps in the process.
Although a win in Austria relaxed tensions, a botched switch to hard tyres in Hungary enraged company CEO Benedetto Vigna beginning a summer of headaches following Leclerc’s management refusal to renew his deal unless certain people who conspired against him were dismissed.
With a new technical directive announced over the summer, Binotto assured the board that it wouldn’t hurt the pace of the F1-75, but his prediction would age like cheese left in the Sahara as the car suddenly became even slower, thus giving 2022 the year of tension a bigger advantage.
Worse still, Mercedes’ revival put pressure on Binotto to secure second in the Constructors’ Championship, as the 2023 project was hastily revised following regulation changes regarding the floor.
Meanwhile, Laurent Mekies, current Ferrari race director and assistant team principal, is apparently to be unable to ease the tension between the two camps, who cannot put their differences aside and work together.
Should Binotto go?
For the first time since 2020, there have been calls for Binotto to resign from his role, but Elkann has been reluctant to let him go despite suggestions that the Italian-American wanted him ousted, although Ferrari have denied this.
It does, however, give the impression that the Ferrari infighting, which was prevalent in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, has returned with a vengeance as some team members, who were moved to different departments, plot their revenge against Binotto.
Speculation may be mounting, but Binotto is likely to be given another year; however his deputy Mekies is expected to be moved to Alfa Romeo or Haas, whilst Inaki Rueda, Ferrari’s Sporting and Strategy Director, and Leclerc’s engineer Xavi Marcos are likely to be dismissed.
It does make sense to keep Binotto for the 2023 F1 season; after all, he should be given one last chance to turn it around at a time when Ferrari is back to its 2018 levels of competitiveness.
He also needs help, and with Mekies set to be transferred, it might be wise to ask Binotto who he wants alongside him on the pit wall rather than a company ‘yes man’.
Whatever happens next, Ferrari needs to get any new appointments absolutely right.