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Ferrari must learn from Mercedes


Not that long ago, when we talked of "the Brackley-based outfit", we were referring to the likes of British American Racing, BAR and Honda.

Remember the MyEarthDream nonsense, the vast empty trophy cabinet, the "Tradition of Excellence" and even talk that the facility was cursed?

Then, as Honda finally threw in the towel, Ross Brawn stepped in and, having taken a 54% controlling stake in the management buy-out of the Japanese team was able to reap the rewards of its work over the previous fifteen months, not least the infamous double diffuser.

In addition, the Briton sought an engine supply from Mercedes, and beginning with pre-season testing and then Melbourne, the team was to dominate the first half of the 2009 season.

Though Red Bull made up ground in the second half of the season, Jenson Button had already done enough to secure the drivers' title, while along with teammate Rubens Barrichello he helped Brawn secure the constructors' crown at its first and only attempt.

At season end Brawn sold much of his shareholding in the team to Mercedes and though retained as team principal eventually left at the end of 2013, he and Nick Fry having sold their remaining stake in the team in early 2011.

For the most part, those seasons 2010 - 2012 were a learning curve, the foundations on which Mercedes - as we now know it – firmly stands.

To partner Nico Rosberg, Brawn coaxed Michael Schumacher out of retirement, and though the media gave the seven-time world champion a hard time, along with Rosberg and Brawn he helped put most of the vital pieces of the jigsaw in place.

In January 2013, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda arrived, and it was obvious that Brawn would soon become 'surplus to requirements', the Briton, on leaving later that year claiming that the team had "too many chiefs".

However, if Ross Brawn had achieved a coup in bringing Michael Schumacher out of retirement, Wolff and Lauda were to go one better, convincing Lewis Hamilton to leave the mighty McLaren for a team that had scored just one win in the three seasons since its return to F1 as a constructor.

Everyone (guilty as charged) thought Hamilton had taken leave of his senses when he announced his move to Mercedes, predicting that the Briton had thrown his hopes of future titles away, together with his hopes of securing the F1 LM XP1 promised to him by Ron Dennis should he win three titles with the Woking outfit.

Though 2013 wasn't a bad season for Hamilton and Mercedes, the German team finishing runner-up to Red Bull, Wolff and his British driver had clearly been looking at the long game for in 2014 came an overhaul of the engine regulations and it’s fair to say that ever since, neither Mercedes or Hamilton have looked back.

Of the 96 Grands Prix held under the new formula, Mercedes has won 72 (72.9%), Hamilton winning three titles and teammate Nico Rosberg one. Coming off the back of six wins in the last seven races, it's fair to say that both Hamilton and Mercedes are well on their way to their fifth titles.

Meanwhile, as Charles Leclerc looks to partner Sebastian Vettel next season, it's worth remembering that the man he is replacing, Kimi Raikkonen, is Ferrari's most recent world champion, and that was back in 2007.

Since then, Fernando Alonso has tried, as has Sebastian Vettel, and while the Spaniard finished runner-up three times, the German looks set to be heading for his second runner-up spot with the Italian team.

Recalling those long lean years for British American Racing, BAR and Honda, it's easy to forget that long, long period between 1979 and 2000 when Ferrari was effectively in the wilderness. There were a couple of constructor titles in the early 80s, but for the most part the drivers' title was a distant dream.

And we're not talking about a lack of driver talent, we're talking the likes of Mansell and Prost, the Frenchman - arguably one of the finest talents to grace the sport - fired for criticising the team.

Even with Schumacher on board, it took four seasons before it all came together, the Maranello outfit continually doing what it does best, shooting itself in the foot and thwarting the best efforts of the German genius.

Let's face it, it's not as if Ferrari doesn't have the financial resources, though, if Liberty gets its way and the historic bonus is scrapped or even halved, might the Maranello outfit find itself scrapping alongside McLaren and Williams, pleading for a budget cap.

Sadly, there appears to be a sense of entitlement at Maranello, a belief that it is the Italian team's right to be at the top.

Fact is however, one has to fight for that right, and one has to continue fighting for that right.

Ignoring some of Sebastian Vettel's recent performances, Ferrari has bordered on the embarrassing, and when challenged on whether its recent loss of form is about an additional sensor is more concerned about how the information got into the public domain.

Mercedes has got on with the task in hand and done a masterful job. It publicly acknowledges its mistakes and while striving for excellence (a tradition at Brackley after all) is engaging with both fans and the media.

On the other hand, Ferrari has become increasingly insular and wary of the media, then appears aggrieved when the reaction towards it is negative.

Mercedes has put together a first-class team that is more than capable of continuing winning for the foreseeable future, while Ferrari is its own worst enemy floundering from one disaster to the next.

Whether one supports Ferrari or not, it is always good to see the team doing well, simply because it drives such passion in its fans and... yes, there's the history.

But Ferrari does not have a god given right to be champion, it must fight for success and then it must maintain the fight.

If nothing else, Ferrari needs a little less (Italian) passion and a bit more (German) efficiency... otherwise, the 21-year gap between 1979 and 2000 will pale into insignificance compared to the gap between 2007 and whenever the Maranello outfit does get its act together again.



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1. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 14/10/2018 18:15

"Thanks for the great article.

As a McLaren fan (well not so much over the past couple of years and not because of on track lack of performance) it is good that you bought in a reference to McLaren and Williams.

F1 is a simple business that seems to get over complicated:
Win, get more partners, money, better people, win, more money, more better people and so on.

Leadership seems to be one thing that makes a big difference (as well as Adrian Newey) between the teams. If the current leaders are not able to keep on top of things they are naturally changed, something Ferrari did a couple of seasons ago.
For me, watching and listening to Merc and Ferrari's top brass when things go wrong is interesting. The leadership and people that takes ownership of mistakes is the top one. Both do this to some degree however Merc stand out. Hamilton's engineer taking to the radio to apologise for a strategic error on his part was an excellent example of this.
I don't hear that with Ferrari. Maybe they don't permit that publicly but do it behind closed doors.

Something else that springs to mind is that in the 2000's Ferrari used team orders a lot more than other teams which was a very good idea on their part as their number one driver had something less to worry about.

Thanks again for the thought provoking article."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 12/10/2018 9:11

"Spot-on from Mr Editor Balfe.
The key to Ferrari's success with Brawn & Schumacher was a clear-sighted vision, hard work and consistent incremental improvements. This appears currently to be lacking."

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3. Posted by Uffen, 11/10/2018 22:25

"German efficiency? I've long wondered if the German fans consider it a German team. Yes, the name and certainly a whole lot of the money are German and I'm sure the FIA license says "German Team" but in practice is a team based in Britain, with engines made in Britain, with British mechanics and run by two Austrians employing a Finnish and English drivers really considered German?

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not knocking anyone, I am just fascinated by how people react to the assigned nationality of the squad.

Excellent article, Chris, by the way. I am in sync with you on what ails Ferrari. "

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4. Posted by mickl, 10/10/2018 17:14

"I just don't think Vettel has the mental capability to beat Hamilton. In his championship winning years I don't think he's ever been properly challenged by a team mate or competitor. Webber was always a no 2 driver and the other teams at the time couldn't get their act together properly to make the blown diffuser work as well as the Red Bulls. Soon as Vettel had a decent team mate, he jumped ship. I think LeClerc is going to do the same thing to him next year as Ricciardo did in 2014."

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5. Posted by Onoda, 10/10/2018 11:11

"Italian, Ferrari's fan since ever...a lot of dust eaten during those long years between 1979 and 2000...
Anyway none changes footbal team and it is impossible to see your team as you see the others.

In the last years the Ferrari's fans suffered a lot of delusions, with Fernando battling with a clearly slower car against RB and M, and with Seb with a closer but still slower car against Mercedes.

Very good pilots, an excellent plant...probably the problems, as always, were in the head.
The Shumi era saw 2 guys in the team, monsieur Todt and mister Brawn...
None italian, all full of talent, brain and...passion.
What a sad comparison with the sweet-heart Domenicali or the current uselessly aggressive Arriva-bene (Arrive-well...I'm wondering when...).

Balfe is totally right when says that the SF must learn that it has to fight to earn the right to be the champion.
But I totally disagree about the "German efficency" and "Italian passion".

Jean, Ross...Niki, you see any Italian or German guy among them?
Doubts about their passion or efficency???
And in which German Lander or Italian Regione I can visit Brackley?

To learn it's a rule for all of us: it is very wrong to link Peoples to some characteristics.
We fight one against the other last century...and both Italians and Germans were seriously wrong on this point.


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6. Posted by @R1Racing71, 10/10/2018 10:02

"@Chris Balfe, Excellent, excellent piece. It's worth reminding some of our newer followers to F1 about the 21 year "wilderness" experianced by Ferrari.
I would say though, in my opinion Lewis would have won in a Ferrari last year. The same opinion I held this year too, until second sensor and all that....."

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7. Posted by Lapps, 10/10/2018 8:28

"Seb is a big part of the problem. At best he is only the fifth best driver (Lewis, Fernando, Daniel, Max). Why Ferrari took him on when he had just been destroy by Daniel always surprised me.
I believe Ferrari now recognizes this and that is why they brought forward Leclerc’s promotion. He will match Seb in 2019 and be the top Ferrari driver in 2020.
Will this bring a Chsmpionship? Well it didn’t for Fernando. "

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8. Posted by *TestaRossa*, 09/10/2018 19:42

"I like Ferrari how they are now, just winning now and then a GP , lose the WDC and with all the emotions and their chaotic behaviour and talk.
Love their show."

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9. Posted by Renone, 09/10/2018 19:03

"I was never convinced by the decision to appoint Maurizio Arrivabene as team principle. It always seemed like a boardroom back scratching exercise. I would agree that 'Ferrari needs less (Italian) passion and a bit more (German) efficiency' or perhaps French in the guise of Frédéric Vasseur, but then he already runs the B team!"

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10. Posted by Editor, 09/10/2018 17:54

"And for what it's worth - and I meant to put this in the piece - on current form I don't believe that if you put Seb in the second Mercedes he would seriously trouble Hamilton at present.

Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to see Seb 'do a Niico' at season end and quit."

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11. Posted by Elf Team Tyrrell, 09/10/2018 17:44

"+1 Excellent piece. Not a Ferrari fan and never have been, too much whinging and as the article states the "sense of entitlement" turns me away from them. Many years of bending the rules themselves and crying when anther team does the same. I see many many more years of the same for this overhyped team. If they "achieved the same status" that Williams and McLaren are now facing they would throw the towel in unable to fight for survival like these two truly great teams are at the moment. "

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12. Posted by Editor, 09/10/2018 17:39

"@ rosscogeo

Re: "aren't British American racing and BAR the same thing?"

Essentially yes, we were simply making clear the name changes, polishing a turd and all that... "

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13. Posted by rosscogeo, 09/10/2018 17:32

"An excellent piece and 100% true although aren't British American racing and BAR the same thing? "

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