Ferrari has what it needs – now it’s time to deliver
Having not won a championship for over a decade, fans of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One team have had a rough ride. Rhonan Colquhoun details why, through regulation changes and a tremendously talented driver pairing, the Tifosi should be more than optimistic ahead of the 2022 season.
They are a team that needs very little introduction. Scuderia Ferrari is one of the most famous, successful and prestigious teams in all of motorsport. With a rich history and a trophy cabinet that’s brimming with silverware, it’s expected that the team perform well every practice session, every qualifying attempt and every race undertaken.
However, trophies haven’t been as commonplace at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello in recent years. The team’s last Constructors’ Championship came over a decade ago in 2008, while Kimi Räikkönen was the last man to win the Drivers’ Championship in the famous Ferrari red, with that title coming a year earlier in 2007. Even race victories have become a rarity – the Italian outfit’s last win came in late 2019, when Sebastian Vettel triumphed in Singapore.
Ferrari made great progress last season. Shooting from sixth to third in the Constructors’ Championship is an incredible achievement for any team but for Ferrari, it was a must. It’s something that they shouldn’t get too much praise for, considering the stature and reputation of the Prancing Horse.
Podium appearances have only been occasional since that last win, but with a new regulation change, the hope is that the team will stand on the top step of the podium more regularly. The signs pointed in the right direction last season and there’s a number of factors which contributed to the upturn in Ferrari’s performance last season, in comparison with 2020.
F1’s smooth operator – Carlos Sainz Jr.
When Carlos Sainz traded the papaya of McLaren for the racing red of their closest rivals in 2021, many pundits and fans feared for the Spaniard. The British team had excelled with Sainz behind the wheel, partnering young phenom Lando Norris for two seasons, with McLaren finishing fourth in 2019 before securing third in 2020. Their stock was on the rise, while Ferrari’s was diminishing – it seemed as though Sainz was jumping ship at the wrong time.
The Madrid native signed on with Ferrari before the 2020 season got underway, with the global COVID-19 pandemic bringing global sport to a halt and, subsequently, delaying the F1 season until July. As he prepared to enter his second season with McLaren, there were great expectations for Sainz, due to a number of standout performances in 2019, including a maiden podium finish in Brazil. With Ferrari’s relationship with Vettel souring, the team needed to move in a new direction and identified Sainz as the best option.
When the F1 circus arrived at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix – Ferrari’s home race – Sainz was greeted warmly by the legions of Tifosi, despite still driving for McLaren at the time. F1 fans always want to see their team thrive at their home races and the Ferrari faithful got a taste of what was to come as Sainz secured a career-best finish, coming in second behind Pierre Gasly. With this result, the Spaniard showed the Tifosi that he was the real deal.
Despite all the good that Sainz had done in the buildup to officially joining Ferrari ahead of the 2021 season, there were still concerns as to his role in the team. Given that Ferrari had seemingly put all their eggs into one basket with their golden boy, Charles Leclerc, many were worried that Sainz would end up playing second fiddle to the talented and promising Monegasque.
Sainz’s first massive moment for Ferrari came on the streets of Monaco. Leclerc’s bad luck at his home race continued, as a crash in qualifying meant that he was unable to start the race, leaving Ferrari’s hopes on Sainz’s shoulders. The Spaniard drove perfectly around Monte Carlo, undeterred by the extra expectations and came home to a fantastic second-place finish.
The Spaniard continued to put in performance after performance for Ferrari, stepping onto the podium three more times during the season and only finishing outside of the points on two occasions. His debut season at Ferrari couldn’t have gone much better, as he finished fifth in the Driver’s Championship, beating Leclerc in the process.
Hitting rock bottom in 2020
When racing commenced in the mountains of Spielberg, Austria in the second round of the delayed 2020 season, it was evident that Ferrari had taken a step backward, instead of forward. There were few improvements throughout the rest of the shortened season, with only a few highlights for Ferrari across the 17 races.
Despite a second-placed finish for Leclerc in the opening round – for which, he had to battle hard – the second trip to the RedBull Ring brought shame and embarrassment to the great Ferrari. On the opening lap, Leclerc and Vettel made race-ending contact which, tragically, would sum up much of the Italian team’s season in only the second race of the calendar.
Worse yet, the biggest embarrassment of the season unfortunately came at Ferrari’s home race – the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. With the main contenders for the podium places being removed from the equation due to retirements and penalties, a chaotic race was left wide open – it was a golden opportunity for Ferrari to restore some faith in the Tifosi. However, after just six laps, Vettel’s brakes caught fire and the German was forced to retire the car. To make matters even worse, Leclerc later red-flagged the race after crashing hard into the Parabolica corner. As such, one of the best weekends in the calendar for the Tifosi was instead the stuff of nightmares.
As the season progressed, Leclerc was able to coax some decent results out of the erratic SF1000, finishing seventh in the Driver’s Championship, but Vettel ended his Ferrari career on a low, coming in a distant 13th place. The team finished sixth in the Constructor’s Championship – their lowest finish since 1980. While the 2020 season served as the lowest point in Ferrari’s modern history, everyone involved with the team, including their fans, knew that in order for Ferrari to return to glory, they would need to hit rock bottom to be able to bounce back.
The desired driver line-up – talent and raw speed
Coming into 2022, if there’s one thing that Ferrari have gotten absolutely right, it’s the two talented, on-form drivers piloting the F1-75.
The partnership of Sainz and Leclerc is one of the strongest and most exciting on the grid. The duo rivals that of Mercedes all-English partnership of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, are arguably stronger than reigning Driver’s Champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez and have performed more consistently of fan favourites Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
Combined, Ferrari’s two stars have taken part in 222 Grand Prix, have made 21 appearances on the podium and have won races on two occasions. For two young and eager title hopefuls, this is an excellent platform on which to build. Throughout the 2021 season, it was clear to see that Sainz and Leclerc were on level footing from the start, potentially the most equally-matched driver pairing on the whole grid. To make things better, both men have the passion and desire to win which, with a competitiveness with each other, will bring out the best of them both.
Season upon season, fans anxiously wait to see what the legendary team produce when the car hits the track in pre-season. Confidence in the Scuderia hasn’t been high in anticipation that the car doesn’t live up to expectations.
However, there’s something different about this season. With such a dramatic rule change as well as all the other factors, there’s a common belief among fans and pundits that if there’s one team that’ll shine this season, it’ll be Ferrari.
This is the rule change that Ferrari have to get absolutely right. Otherwise, the agonising wait for another title to return to Maranello will continue.