F1: How disappointing really was Ferrari in 2017?

Source: formula1.ferrari.com

At first glance, one might say that the 2017 season for Ferrari was a disappointment, and another example of the team over-hyping and under-delivering.

This view has been widely circulated all season long, even by many die-hard Ferrari fans. They pointed to the team’s underwhelming development, with the team always seeming to be a step behind Mercedes, even with a car that worked well at most circuits, and had close to, if not equal, performance to the German juggernaut. Ferrari has top level talent, a seemingly endless budget, and facilities equal to Mercedes, so the reason for this lack of development is puzzling.

One factor could be the seemingly endless restructuring going on in Maranello, with top figures coming or going each year as the team seem to struggle to get on pace technically with Mercedes’ technical department. High profile engineer James Allison departed Ferrari after lacklustre seasons in a car that never seemed to fully showcase the immense ability that Allison is known for. Those reasons, coupled with the unexpected death of his wife, forced his departure from Ferrari so he could return to the U.K. to take care of his children. He eventually resurfaced at Mercedes and has been helping the team that Ferrari fight so hard against.

Critics argue that one of the reasons why Ferrari is “under achieving” is the fact that Sergio Marchionne, the majority owner of the team, is always seemingly talking about, or hinting at firing people should the team under-perform. It’s claimed that this makes the employees afraid to take risks in development for fear of losing their jobs.

However, perhaps the team is simply going through an evolution. Ferrari are growing younger in terms of the age of its staff, as older hands are retiring or being let go, and younger engineers are taking their places. This has benefits, which can translate into newer, fresher ideas, but it has downsides as well, as was seen regarding quality control, with Ferrari suffering with turbo failures and power unit issues, especially in the second half of the season. For the team to get back to the top, this cannot be an issue going forward, and the team need engineers that plug right into the team to immediately improve their reliability.

Aside from the technical department and aspects of the car, the team have a seemingly strong driver lineup in World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel has undoubtedly pushed the team forwards since his arrival in 2015 whilst Raikkonen has struggled and is the de-facto number two. The Finn’s talent is unquestioned, but he has rarely hit top form in his second Ferrari stint.

Both drivers require a well-balanced car, but Raikkonen seems less able to get the most from a car that isn’t in his narrow preferred window for his driving style. Vettel, meanwhile, has been in command of the team and the car since coming to Ferrari. All he may need to become World Champion for a fifth time is a car that is more consistent, with more mechanical grip, and more aero performance.

These are the areas that the team still seems to struggle with technically. Aero performance has held Ferrari back in recent years, especially in the wake of Mercedes’ improvement in this area. The gaps on track between them and the Silver Arrows may seem small, but the Ferrari drivers always must work the steering wheel much harder to keep up, suggesting that the Mercedes always has something in reserve. If Ferrari want to beat Mercedes in 2018, they must get the aero and mechanical sides of the car in order.

Despite that, there is much to celebrate during the 2017 season. The team racked up five wins, all in the hands of Vettel, and took numerous podiums. Any season where you have five wins is a good one, no matter how you look at it, but the problem was that Mercedes won more than double that. Vettel would have taken 2 or 3 more wins, and arguably the title if not for a disastrous last part of the season, with Singapore’s bizarre first lap double retirement being a standout moment. However, the fact that the car was so consistent and competitive at most circuits has to be a boost for the team moving forward.

There is always huge pressure on Ferrari to deliver in Formula 1, more so than any other team. 2017 showed that there’s life in the Scuderia yet, and that the team could get its act together and win another world title. All they need to do for 2018 is build a more mechanically balanced car, that is a bit more reliable, and the Tifosi could rejoice once again. Pre-season testing will be the first indicator as to whether this year is Ferrari’s year or not.