Is Ferrari’s long-term suffering about to come to its long overdue conclusion?

The Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team have for the most part of the last decade endured more pain than they have gain in their attempts to emulate their past successes. On the back of a successful pre-season, however, 2017 could prove to be their year.

Fans of Formula One that witnessed Scuderia Ferrari’s dominance of the sport in the first half of the 2000s would have considered the mere suggestion that one day the Prancing Horse would suffer a period of under-performance and underachievement an unthinkable one.

Sunday afternoons during this era would normally result in de-facto number one Michael Schumacher taking his place on the top step of the podium as trusty second fiddle Rubens Barrichello stood beside him. Alongside Ross Brawn and Jean Todt et al the team swept all before them and left the record books in tatters.

The Maranello-based marque were the gold standard in Formula One, nigh-on untouchable unless extenuating circumstances intervened. Year after year, another force of nature rolled off the production line duly followed by copious amounts of silverware.

Life was sweet for the millions of Scuderia Ferrari fans, the Tifosi.

The second half of the decade saw their rivals catch up and the fight for titles suddenly became exactly that: a fight. No more were the team in a class of one and they now had to really stand their ground and wrestle for world championships with Renault and McLaren and eventually, with F1’s later answers to the early-2000s Ferrari: Red Bull and Mercedes.

Championships that were once sewn up three quarters of the way through the season were now difficult to come by but they still held their own and produced championship challengers capable of at least a title fight.

As analysts have poured over the data from pre-season testing, excitement has steadily been brewing at the prospect of a possible Ferrari resurgence. Amidst the plethora of articles and interviews alluding to the potential “return” of the Scuderia, it has been widely documented that the team’s last bona-fide championship contender was the car that almost delivered Felipe Massa a world championship in 2008.

Scuderia Ferrari is steeped in history, with many of the sport’s greatest champions having taken their titles in a Scarlet Prancing Horse. This unparalleled success has understandably generated a permanent expectation from Italian fans and media alike that the national team pitches up with a machine worthy of adorning its famous livery. There is no excuse, nowhere to hide and if you are unfortunate enough to not deliver the goods you will face the wrath of a demanding and impassioned Tifosi.

First and foremost, Formula One is a results business. From 2009 onwards the sport has been unforgiving towards its most decorated team. Failure has delivered little more than a managerial merry-go-round and the ship has only recently steadied somewhat. Even current leader Mauricio Arrivabene has taken to keeping expectations low-key for fear of over-promising and under-delivering.

There have been flashes of the Ferrari of old but this decade has limited them to mostly opportunistic victories in which they have picked up the pieces on the misfortunes of others rather than raw pace or strategic genius. During his stint with the team, double world champion Fernando Alonso dragged his car to levels that were only possible as a result of his enormous talent and the Spaniard was left mainly frustrated as he was left to fight for championships in cars theoretically incapable of allowing him to do so. In truth it is nothing short of miraculous that in 2010 and 2012 he came very close to beating current incumbent Sebastian Vettel to the title.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen has been a mainstay albeit with Rally and Lotus breaks in-between, but the 2007 world champion has either not had the car or performance level to grab the headlines. The team spent this period as solid podium finishers but ultimately trailed behind Red Bull as the Milton Keynes-based team got a better grip on aerodynamics.

In order to bring about an upturn in fortunes, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was signed for the 2015 season onwards in a move that had the paddock awash with excitement as memories of the last German to drive for them were recalled. The team would be built around Vettel and the glory days would surely be just around the corner. The marquee signing would surely deliver the results craved by those in Red.

Thus far, however, the Vettel era has been characterised by yet more failure to deliver as Ferrari struggled to fill the chasm between themselves and their counterparts from Brackley. The sheer size of the gap to those in Silver seemed at times unsurmountable and the German has been limited to three victories in 2015 and zero last year. His behaviour on-track has mirrored how the rest of the team must have been feeling, cutting an exasperated and helpless figure on numerous occasions and even taking his frustrations out on Race Director Charlie Whiting with an expletive-filled rant in Mexico last year.

The change of regulations from 2017 onwards presents a fantasic opportunity for Ferrari to rediscover their form and return to home on the top step. Their fans deserve a car able to deliver victories for their champion drivers and it looks as if they will at last be rewarded for their patience.

James Allison’s departure from the team had some fearing that it would lead to freefall, however the transfer of development control to Mattia Binotto has been relatively pain free and if the Winter is anything to go by they could be in the thick of the action in Melbourne. They appear to have put the frighteners on Lewis Hamilton, too, with the Briton claiming that Ferrari’s threat looks very real.

“They [Ferrari] have been doing a fantastic job and I think there’s more to come from them,” he said. “I think their pace this week has been spectacular. I think Red Bull are still there, I don’t know if they brought their upgrade package here this week but usually they bring it for the first race, so I expect us to be having a real serious battle with both these teams.”
Hamilton talking to ESPN about the threat posed by Ferrari.

Last year the Scuderia got everyone talking with headline lap times in Winter testing, however the threat to the Silver Arrows never came about as the pace just wasn’t there. 2017 looks to be a different kettle of fish as the SF70H has impressed over both one lap and on a long stint. The only question mark is how much performance the teams were holding back and only time will tell as to how competitive they are.

For the first time in years, the F1 circus rolls into Albert Park with the very real possibility of a Scarlet machine being quickest. One shouldn’t bank on testing times as being truly indicative of outright pace, but for the first time in years Ferrari fans have reason to be optimistic.

“For sure the car is much better than last year because the nature of [Formula One] has changed but so far I think things are making sense but it’s still early days. If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, if you look at historically how slow they were going in the test, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races… They are the ones to beat, for us. It doesn’t matter exactly where we are now, we are growing, we need to work hard, we know that we have to improve, that’s why it’s important not to get distracted right now.” Sebastian Vettel is playing down his team’s chances ahead of the Melbourne opener (ESPN).

Ferrari are an integral cog in the Formula One machine and an uncompetitive Prancing Horse certainly detracts from the show. The team belongs at the summit of the sport and we can hope that they are able to fight for the championship and contribute to delivering the show we all desire. 

Heading into the Melbourne weekend, Sebastian Vettel was playing down the Scuderia’s chances and in his mind it’s clear who the favourite is.

“I think he must be. Obviously Mercedes has been in very strong form the last three years and even though we change the rules and regulations I think if a team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after no matter what you do. It’s very clear who is the favourite” Sebastian Vettel speaks to reporters in the Thursday Press Conference for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix.

To say that the Tifosi have waited a long time for a strong car would be an understatement. In Formula One terms it has been an age. Fingers crossed that Vettel and Raikkonen can take the fight to Mercedes and shake up the order at the sharp end of the grid. Can they wrestle control from the vice-like grip of Mercedes? Only time will tell…..

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