BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Ferrari was fast last season, but not fast enough often enough to stop the Mercedes freight train.
After scoring six wins in 2018, Ferrari earned only three victories this past season while Mercedes won 15 grands prix.
“I think we lost the championship in 2018 when designing our (2019) car,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. “We did not have a competitive start to the season and there are reasons for it. Our development rate, and generally speaking our design, was not as good as our main competitor’s. We have restructured and reorganized the team, but I think in the meantime we have always tried to address and improve the car.”
The Ferrari had extremely good straight-line speed to the point where some rival teams thought Ferrari was bending the rules. But the car’s weak point was in slow-speed corners, so that is a major problem Ferrari needs to solve with its 2020 car.
On the driver front, Charles Leclerc, in only his second season in F-1 and his first with Ferrari, did an outstanding job with seven pole positions and two victories. He is confident he will be much better this year.
“If at the beginning of the season you had told me I would have had seven poles and 10 podiums, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “It’s definitely better than what I expected, but looking back there were quite a lot of mistakes, so the target is to understand them. It was not an easy season. In the first part we were struggling, but we worked well and improved in the second half of the season. I had two incredible wins. Monza was all of my dreams — to be on top of that podium with hundreds and thousands of Ferrari fans below, these experiences I will never forget.”
Leclerc has made some big jumps going from Formula 2 to the mid-pack Sauber/Alfa F-1 team to Ferrari in three years. Being able to stay at the same team for another season will be a huge benefit.
“I have made a few mistakes, which cost quite a bit of points at the end of the season,” said Leclerc, who finished fourth in the standings. “Normally, I analyze all the mistakes I make so as not to repeat them twice. That’s the exact same as I will do now so that I can come back even stronger, more ready and to do fewer mistakes. I still have a lot of work to do to get better as a driver and I will put my head down and get better.”
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had one victory and finished fifth in the standings during a season where he performed below his standards.
“I’m honest enough to admit that here and there I should have done a better job,” he said. “I know there is more from my side. Clearly, I look at myself first, address all the points I think need to be addressed. There are things that I know I can do better, so that’s the first thing I will look at and try to do better next time.”
What needs to change?
“I don’t think there is rocket science to be changed,” he said. “It’s always in the details, small adjustments, nothing big and major. I don’t need to drive differently. I know how to drive. We all work together trying to improve the car, trying to make it faster for both of us, but you’re always looking at yourself. I’m not doing the same stuff as I did 10 years ago. I’ve evolved and I think to the better, but certainly here and there, there are things you always feel you can do better.”
Mercedes racked up 15 victories en route to winning its sixth constructors’ championship. Lewis Hamilton, who scored 11 of those victories on his way to winning his sixth world championship, is at the absolute peak of his phenomenal talent.
So Ferrari needs to do a lot better this year. The same is true for Red Bull Honda, which like Ferrari had a slow start to the season and ended up with three wins.
But even if both teams score more victories this year — and I predict they will — I also predict it will not be enough to stop the Mercedes and Hamilton freight train from winning both titles again in 2020.