F1

Ferrari are desperate to end title drought – can they topple Mercedes?

Ferrari are desperate to end 11-season title drought in their 90th anniversary year… with a new team principal, fresh young talent and a huge fan base, can they finally topple Mercedes?

  • Ferrari have made changes in front and behind scenes to challenge Mercedes
  • Kimi Raikkonen lifted the drivers’ championship in 2007 – the last Ferrari to do so 
  • The Italain giants set quick times in testing to excite their legion of fans 
  • However there are still several questions hanging over F1’s most historic name 

The prancing horse is 90 years old this year – but no one at Ferrari will be celebrating unless they finally regain motor sport’s biggest prize. 

Ferrari are the biggest name in F1: they have the largest fan base, the most money, more iconic moments in the sport have been created by drivers and cars in Italian red than any other.

Yet it is 12 years this season since Kimi Raikkonen swooped on Lewis Hamilton’s mechanical problems in Brazil to snatch the 2007 title. Ferrari have not won it since.

Ferrari are desperate to end their 11-year wait for an Formula One title in their 90th year

Ferrari are desperate to end their 11-year wait for an Formula One title in their 90th year

Ferrari have made changes in front of and behind the scenes as they challenge Mercedes

Ferrari have made changes in front of and behind the scenes as they challenge Mercedes

Kimi Raikkonen lifted the drivers' championship in 2007 - the last Ferrari racer to do so

Kimi Raikkonen lifted the drivers’ championship in 2007 – the last Ferrari racer to do so

FERRARI TITLE FACTS 

Drivers’ championships: 15

Constructors’ championships: 16

Last drivers’ title: 2007 (Raikkonen)

Current drought: 12 years 

Longest run without a drivers’ championship: 21 years (1979-2000) 

Last constructors’ title: 2008

Current drought: 11 years 

Longest run without a constructors’ championship: 16 years (1983-1999) 

In 2008 – 11 years ago – they won the constructor’s title. Since then, no silverware has been added to the cabinets at Ferrari HQ. For the single most successful team in F1 history – 16 constructors’ championships – such a wait is unacceptable. 

There is no question that Ferrari mean business this season, as their ruthless change in team principal at the start of 2019 proved. 

Maurizio Arrivabene, who had led the team since 2014, was shunted aside, with technical head Mattia Binotto taking over after the 61-year-old failed to win either of the F1 titles last year. 

Binotto and his eye-catching glasses – think Harry Potter, but suave and Italian – has been burrowing down every rabbit hole in an attempt to cut the gap to Mercedes – even down to the choice of paint.

Eyebrows were raised when Ferrari unveiled the matte paint colour scheme for the 2019 car, various pictures leaving fans wondering if it was a dark red or even orange.

Ferrari - sporting a darker, matte paint look - set quick times in testing to excite the fans

Ferrari – sporting a darker, matte paint look – set quick times in testing to excite the fans

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says a Sebastian Vettel title would be good for the sport

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says a Sebastian Vettel title would be good for the sport

Binotto said the opaque appearance is a technical decision by the team to make small gains – even by the littlest of margins. 

He said: ‘The opaque color is due to technical reasons as the car is lighter and even if it’s hundreds of grams, it can affect’.

Such upheaval more than a month after the end of the 2018 campaign, and two months prior to the new season, raised questions about what Ferrari could do to end Mercedes’ five-year monopoly. 

The move has been backed by former F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone: ‘That will be better than last year under Maurizio. I liked Maurizio but he was a bit out of his depth in that job – he was a marketing executive and not really the right fit for the task. It wasn’t fair on him.’

Mattia Binotto has been promoted to Ferrari team principal and only titles will do for him

Mattia Binotto has been promoted to Ferrari team principal and only titles will do for him

Ecclestone also backed Sebastian Vettel to win the title this season – although his words hinted the 88-year-old was thinking with his marketing brain rather than his racing one. 

He said: ‘Sebastian is in very good spirits, very relaxed. The car is quick. We saw that in testing and I think Ferrari will really have got it together this year.

‘Ferrari winning the title is what Formula One needs. It would be absolutely super and I think it will happen.

Note ‘what F1 needs’ – the sport needs a two-horse race at least rather than a German procession, and who better to provide it than the team with the most vocal fan base, and their former champion out to regain his crown.

Vettel suffered a huge crash in testing, and there are still questions over his current credentials

Vettel suffered a huge crash in testing, and there are still questions over his current credentials

The question remains, however, is Vettel as good as he was? He made an increasing number of uncharacteristic mistakes in the second half of last season, turning a head-to-head with Hamilton into a title presentation on a silver platter.

Pre-season testing has also raised questions, despite the car looking quick and reliable, both drivers putting in fast times.

However Vettel suffered a spin an hour into the first session, and then on the Wednesday of the second week endured a heavy crash into the Catalunya barriers. Ferrari said this was down to a wheel rim issue.

All of this raises the question of what to do with Vettel’s new team mate, Charles Leclerc, the 21-year-old Monegasque racer promoted after an impressive season with Sauber. 

Charles Leclerc could push Vettel - and Lewis Hamilton - all the way in a title battle

Charles Leclerc could push Vettel – and Lewis Hamilton – all the way in a title battle

Leclerc was regularly topping the time charts in testing and seems to be a world champion in waiting. Subservience does not sit well with champions.

Vettel is talking the talk of the alpha driver and Ferrari have indicated they will give the German priority – but if Leclerc starts well and starts outperforming his team mate, their hands will be tied. 

Of course, there is a very different atmosphere around Ferrari than there is at Sauber, and how Leclerc operates under that pressure cannot be measured until the season is well underway.

It’s a welcome headache to have. Ferrari look strong, have developed a good looking car and seem to have cut out the unnecessary errors of recent seasons.

Now they have to hold it together for an entire campaign, and stay toe to toe with the Mercedes winning machine – simple as that?

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