Everyone has an opinion surrounding Ferrari’s recent decisions as a team. Whether it was the questionable strategic choices across the 2022 season or the decision to remove Mattia Binotto as team principal, everybody has an opinion. Most of those opinions are negative and as we don’t know what things are like behind the scenes, we can’t know for sure if Ferrari are making a mistake. We as fans cannot make assumptions as to their decision making. Regardless, it is also commonly the role of fans to speculate. Speculation is the lifeblood of fans – what else do we do when there isn’t a race? Sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes we get it right, but does anyone know if Ferrari have made a mistake firing Binotto? Commenters across the board have suggested that they are, and it isn’t a new mistake, but one Ferrari have continued to make since the end of the Schumacher era.
Team Principals Have Always Been Scapegoats for Ferrari
Binotto tendered his resignation as team boss due to second place in the championship being “not enough” for Ferrari head honchos. Former Ferrari boss, Stefano Domenicali, provided this insight into Ferrari’s management dynamic:
“When you are second for Ferrari, it is something that is not enough. I don’t want to get into the dynamics of the team, for sure the only thing I want now is to wish him the best for his future. And I can say something about that because I was in the same situation many years ago, so I just wish him to stay focused and believe in himself.”
This isn’t the first time Ferrari have acted in such a way after a disappointing season, even despite a “big recovery from where they were two years ago,” as per Domenicali. Ferrari is ruthless with its team bosses, and it’s common knowledge in the paddock.
Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, said that, “Being team principal at Ferrari, you better have a good contract for your exit.” So Ferrari have made a habit of using their team principals as sacrificial lambs when things don’t go their way, and things haven’t been going their way since the Schumacher era. Ferrari’s last win was in 2007 and they’ve had four team principals since then. Compare that to leaders, Red Bull and Mercedes, who have had one and two team principals respectively in that time.
If Continuity & Consistency are the Keys, Ferrari Have Lost Them
Wouldn’t one think that Ferrari playing musical chairs with their leadership positions at the Scuderia is part of the reason for their lack of Championships? Jean Todt, the team principal from 1993 to 2007, was one of Ferrari’s most successful leaders and the why is simply because there was consistency in the team leadership allowing for changes to be made as needed with a common thread amongst personnel.
Former F1 driver and current pundit, Martin Brundle, believes this is the case. Brundle has questioned why Ferrari would remove their boss during the development period and believes that Ferrari “should have given Binotto more time.”
“If I was Mercedes or Red Bull right now, I’d be smiling because continuity is everything,” said Brundle. “As Formula 1 seasons get longer and more intense, you have to be careful of these sea changes of personnel.”
Both Mercedes and Red Bull have strong continuity in their key personnel positions and their results over the last decade and a half speak for themselves. If fans believe that a Frenchman at the reins, in the form of Frederic Vasseur, will signal a return to the form we saw in the Todt era, they are in for a shock.
As Brundle tells it, Vasseur has a lot to do in just a short amount of time to get ready for the 2023 season, “Fred Vasseur has got to go in and find his way, get established, understand, and it’s a tall order. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s going to take time unless you are a part of the fabric like Domenicali was and like Binotto has been.
“It’s such a fundamental change and it will destabilise them in the short term, it has to. Everybody will be slightly off-balance thinking, where do they stand, and what’s next. They’ll be in limbo.”
Ferrari’s issues have not been solely Binotto’s fault as most revolve around the car’s reliability and the teams’ operations. Ex-F1 driver, Karun Chandhok, doesn’t see how removing the boss fixes these issues.
“Personally, I don’t necessarily think that’s the answer,” said Chandhok. “It feels a bit sort of football manager-esque. There were issues on the operational side. If you look at it from a technical standpoint, in terms of R&D and design, they produced a very fast car, they are the fastest car over one lap this year. But operationally, reliability wise, they have issues. And I don’t think just changing the person at the top is necessarily the answer.”
A No-Blame Culture has Led to No Change
In Binotto’s final year, he attempted to introduce a no-blame culture at Ferrari similar to the one introduced by Wolff at Mercedes. The problem is that Binotto went too far in this endeavour as implementing the culture and shielding his colleagues from criticism has embedded the issues rather than addressed them.
Chandhok said that “there’s one thing about creating a no-blame culture, however, if somebody is not performing and, in their case, for example, the strategy team wasn’t, you have to make changes.
“And I think Mattia perhaps leans too much towards protecting the people and not sacking people mid-season, and maybe hesitated in making the changes that were required.”
Even Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, was shocked earlier this season at the lack of consequences for the team after “too many mistakes.”
“Even if it’s a great team, too many mistakes are made,” said Schumacher. “No consequences for that – nothing seems to have changed in Italy… You have to get to the bottom of things… Even if their car was faster, they would probably still make a mistake in the pits. They don’t learn from mistakes. That would worry me if I had something to say there.”
What is Ferrari Losing Without Binotto?
As mentioned, Mattia Binotto has done good things for Ferrari. For starters, he led the development of the cars themselves which has paid off. The car is quick. What’s more, they’ve done it with creativity, forging ahead on their own technical path which is something fans assumed Ferrari were incapable of since the Jean Todt/Ross Brawn era.
Binotto brought technical prowess to the Ferrari machine and the issues with strategy are something that Ferrari as a team has had issues with far before Binotto. Fernando Alonso used to dictate strategy from the car, Sebastian Vettel as well. You can see this being repeated with both 2022 drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, delivering strategy calls over the radio. These are fundamental issues within the team and not the sole responsibility of the team principal. If Vasseur doesn’t snap his fingers and give Ferrari results, he too will face the chopping block, but good luck to him.
The Scuderia have a strange structure with the bosses of Ferrari at large having a large amount of sway in how things are run in the team. Todt, Brawn, and Schumacher were allowed to do their jobs with minimal interference from above. However, such control has never been given to a team principal at Ferrari since, and it seems those above the team principal role haven’t got the message to keep their hands off and let the team run the way it needs to.
Same Mistake, Different Year
Ferrari have done what Ferrari have always done with their team principals, and that’s the problem. It’s clear that this strategy doesn’t yield the results they want but still they refuse to change their corporate processes. It seems clear to everyone, those in the paddock and fans alike, that Ferrari need consistency if they want to win a Championship again, but not the top dogs at Ferrari. Ferrari are making a mistake, the same mistake that they consistently make and only time will tell us how badly that mistake will affect the 2023 season.