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  • The San Juan Daily Star

For Ferrari, a second-place season full of mistakes

Charles Leclerc, left, and Carlos Sainz at the Mexico Grand Prix in Mexico City in October.

By Phillip Horton

Ferrari began the season with a strong one-two finish in the first race and a win in the third, prompting team hopes that it would finally land its first title since 2008. But it fell short, finishing second in the constructors’ and drivers’ championships, and is now searching for a new team principal.

One of Formula One’s most successful teams, and indisputably the most famous, Ferrari has won more drivers’ and constructors’ championships than any team. It returned to competitiveness in 2022 after two lackluster seasons, but it was no match for Red Bull, which won both titles.

“I think we achieved our main objective, which was to be back to being competitive in the new era of the 2022 cars,” Mattia Binotto, team principal, said at the end of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Nine days later, he resigned after four years in charge.

“I am leaving a company that I love, which I have been part of for 28 years, with the serenity that comes from the conviction that I have made every effort to achieve the objectives set,” said Binotto, who will officially depart Saturday.

Benedetto Vigna, CEO of Ferrari, said Binotto “led the team back to a position of competitiveness” and Ferrari is “in a strong position to renew our challenge to win the ultimate prize in motor sport.”

Then on Dec. 13, Ferrari announced that Frédéric Vasseur would become its new team principal and general manager. Vasseur, 54, has a long motor sport career, including having worked with Leclerc in junior racing. He has been CEO and team principal of Sauber Motorsport, which runs the Alfa Romeo team, since July 2017.

He will be Ferrari’s fifth team principal in under a decade. By contrast, Christian Horner has been at the helm of Red Bull for 18 seasons, while Toto Wolff is approaching 10 years running Mercedes.

Vasseur’s new role will be effective Jan. 9. He will find a team with plenty of strengths on which to build but also problems to solve.

Despite 12 pole positions, more than any team, Ferrari had only four victories. None of those came in the second half of the year; by then Red Bull was running away with both titles.

“Considering from how far we have come from last year, it’s an amazing step forward,” Leclerc said. “But obviously I cannot ignore our middle part of the season that has been super frustrating. We went from leading the championship with quite a bit of points to being behind by quite a bit of points.”

Ferrari’s downfall began in that middle stretch of the season. Leclerc had engine failures in Spain and Azerbaijan; poor strategy calls and confused radio communications in Monaco, England and Hungary; and his own error in France. All six races were winnable. Binotto said after Leclerc’s mistake in France there was “no reason” the team could not to win the remaining 10 races of the season. Ferrari did not win one.

“We just need to take all the mistakes that we’ve done this year and try to improve for next year,” said Leclerc, who finished 146 points behind Max Verstappen.

Leclerc’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, had to overcome early unease with the F1-75 race car and was never in title contention.

“There was a challenging first third of the season where I struggled a bit with the car balance, with the driving style, a car that for some reason didn’t suit me straight out of the box,” Sainz, who finished fifth, 62 points behind Leclerc, said near the end of the season. “I had to fight through it quite a lot. And the second two-thirds I have been a lot happier with the car.”

Sainz described Red Bull and Verstappen as “the quicker car, the quicker driver” and that Ferrari “will need to be perfect” to catch them.

But Sainz, who won the British Grand Prix, also pointed to positives.

“In terms of pure performance, we are not far,” he said. “We just need to put on a bit more power and a bit more down force in the car, and we’re going to be at the same level [as Red Bull] or faster.”

Divergent development strategies, with Red Bull making weight loss a priority and Ferrari chasing aerodynamic gains, favored Red Bull. Because Red Bull reduced weight, that aided tire wear compared with Ferrari, enhancing its advantage. Another factor was that Ferrari had to turn down its smaller turbo at high altitudes, thus running at less power in, for example, Mexico City.

Ferrari also halted its development program early because of Formula One’s new cost cap for the 2022 season.

“It is something we need to review,” Binotto said. “Have we made the right choice in terms of priority between 2022 and 2023? I don’t know. Only 2023 will tell us.”

In spite of its runaway 2022 season, Red Bull said it would be naive to ignore Ferrari.

“They’ll come back fighting hard next year,” Horner, the team principal, said. “As they say, the higher your rise, the sharper the knives. When you win 17 Grands Prix and do what we’ve done, you can understand that hurts our opponents, and I’m sure they’ll be even more motivated to become a challenger next year.”

Leclerc said winning the title must be the 2023 goal.

“I’m confident in terms of pace we will manage to catch Red Bull back next year,” he said.

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