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Perfect storm of bad strategy, reliability issues, and driver blunders cost Ferrari chance at 2022 Formula 1 championship.
Ferrari’s early season promise in the Formula 1 championship is but a fading memory, as Charles Leclerc has seen a 46-point lead turn into an 80-point deficit to Max Verstappen in just 10 F1 Grands Prix.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Ferrari finds itself buried—97 points behind Red Bull after leading the current leaders by 49 points after three races.
As Maranello’s title drought looks set to extend into a 14th year, Autoweek analyzes Ferrari’s dramatic drop, its weaknesses, and where it goes next.
Ferrari has started from the front eight times in 2022 but has turned that into just four victories. Only in a few of those races, such as in Miami, have those races come down to the Ferrari F1-75’s car performance versus Red Bull’s RB18.
Adopting the wrong strategy has denied Leclerc a realistic shot at three victories.
• In Monaco, Leclerc led in wet conditions but was undercut at the first stop—a service which was an unnecessary interjection by Ferrari as Leclerc wanted to go longer on Wet tires—and at his second stop was brought in erroneously on the same lap as teammate Carlos Sainz, causing a delay. First became fourth.
• In Britain, Leclerc worked his way through to lead an intriguing race but during a late Safety Car period Ferrari kept him out on used Hard tires, while rivals immediately behind—including Sainz—came in for fresh Softs. The softer and newer rubber was significantly faster and despite his best efforts with a defensive masterclass Leclerc tumbled to fourth. Sainz won, but Ferrari lost a 1-2 amid muddled thinking.
• Hungary was another howler. Ferrari put leader Leclerc on the Hard tires for the third stint but severely underestimated that the compound was not switching on in the atypically cool conditions. They hadn’t run the tire during Friday practice, and rivals had dearly struggled on it earlier in the race, yet still they plumped for the white-banded compound. Leclerc immediately realized his predicament and lambasted the tire’s performance as he relinquished the lead and lost so much time that a third stop for Softs was required, plunging to sixth. In the aftermath Leclerc was adamant Ferrari had the speed for victory but team boss Mattia Binotto outlined his view that a win was not possible on any strategy. The focus appeared to be not on why Ferrari chose a tire that was not working, but why the car could not get the tire to work.
Across those three Grands Prix, Leclerc had a prospective 75 points whittled down to 30. Binotto has exuded a calm aura in response to criticism, and he is correct not to throw the team under the bus. Behind-the-scenes, it would be irresponsible if deep conversations are not undertaken regarding team strategy and its crucial decisions under pressure.
Strong reliability is frequently the backbone of title-winning squads; Michael Schumacher went almost four years at Ferrari without a race-ending mechanical issue, while Lewis Hamilton last had a terminal in-race reliability problem in mid-2018. Ferrari has already had costly failures in 2022.
Leclerc retired from a comfortable lead in Spain due to a power unit failure while another problem halted his F1-75 in Azerbaijan when he was up front in an offset but eminently workable strategy. Big points gone. The failures meant Leclerc had to take a penalty in Canada—round 9 of—exceeding his annual allocation of components. From the back he scored fifth place but it was more points lost, with Sainz’s close pursuit of Verstappen indicating the potential had Leclerc started up front.
Sainz has also been adversely affected.
• In Australia, a problem in Q3 delayed his out-lap, leading to tire warm-up issues that cost him lap time, and on Sunday’s grid a steering wheel change was followed by anti-stall at the start.
• In Azerbaijan, a hydraulics failure turned a fourth-place start into a 20th-place finish.
• In Austria, he was on the cusp of taking second from Verstappen when the power unit let go and barbecued the rear of the car. As with Leclerc, a back-of-the-grid penalty followed, in France, and he mirrored his team-mate in recovering to fifth. It is highly probable that both drivers will require further fresh engine components across the final nine rounds—and that will lead to another back row start.
PU issues have also manifested themselves at customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas, where Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen have exceeded their 2022 allocation. It is a major disappointment for Ferrari after its power unit reliability was a key strength of its rebuilding campaign in 2021.
Ferrari has to shoulder the greatest responsibility for its predicament but its drivers have also erred—and been unlucky in the process.
Both Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have made two sizeable in-race errors but Verstappen recovered from a gravelly excursion in Spain and a 360-degree rotation in Hungary to claim victory. Leclerc’s aggressive pursuit of Sergio Perez at Imola resulted in a spin that caused damage, necessitating a pit stop, dropping him to sixth. His spin from the lead in France ended in the wall, with only cosmetic damage, but he was out—resulting in the seismic loss of 25 points at a pivotal moment in the season. Leclerc’s borderline animalistic scream at the realization of his blunder underlined that.
Sainz, too, has made costly mistakes. After a slow start in Australia, partly triggered by mechanical issues, a panicky Sainz tried to recapture lost positions too swiftly and spun off into the gravel.
Next time out at Imola, he crashed during qualifying, leaving him 10th, though the resulting retirement after contact with Ricciardo was not his fault. Those successive one-lap exits also hindered Sainz’s early learning process with the F1-75 as he struggled to understand the car’s nuances. A spin on home soil in Spain compromised his strategy while being overly aggressive during qualifying in Canada cost him a front-row start, from where he would have stood a greater chance of defeating Verstappen in the race.
Leclerc’s tally of 178 points after 13 Grands Prix is not terrible. It should be higher, but Ferrari’s weaknesses have been highlighted by the strength of Red Bull and Verstappen.
In spite of a rotten start, with two failures bookending a superb Saudi Arabia win, Verstappen has racked up 258 points. That has been assisted by the enhancement to Sprint points for 2022 but it is a high total after 13 Grands Prix.
It has not been a perfect run—Verstappen was atypically subdued in Monaco and had his race in Britain hindered by debris—but he has been a potent force while assuming a calmer and more assured figure off the back of achieving his lifelong dream of becoming World Champion. Verstappen and Red Bull’s race management has been excellent, particularly in comparison to its sometimes subdued one-lap performance, with the Dutchman seeking to iron out the understeer that was more prominent early in the season.
Verstappen has a season-high eight victories and could seriously threaten the all-time record of 13 in a year. Arguably, only Imola was a dominant untroubled lights-to-flag win, with others coming through racecraft, strategy or profiting when Ferrari’s prospects collapsed – sometimes through the pressure he himself applied. And even with an 80-point title advantage Verstappen was quick to highlight the deficiencies within the RB18 postrace in Hungary rather than resting on his laurels.
A weaker opponent may have lessened the impact of Ferrari’s mistakes but Verstappen is a strong adversary.
It may sound a daft interjection to associate Ferrari with inexperience. After all, this is Formula 1’s most storied team, with the most victories and world titles—so experience should surely not be a problem.
Yet this is, in effect, still a young team, particularly when compared with Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. Team principal Binotto, while a dyed-in-the-wool Ferrari stalwart, has only been its team principal since 2019, since when there have been extensive restructurings due to past failings.
Red Bull, meanwhile, has had its key senior management figures in place for more than a decade. A large part of Binotto’s remit has been to undertake a culture change, removing the blame game, which led to an ineffective organization in past years when individuals were understandably wary of taking risks.
This Ferrari team is simply not grizzled and hardened by experience. Leclerc, while only two weeks younger than Verstappen, has three years less Formula 1 experience, and is in the midst of his first title campaign compared to the reigning champion.
Ferrari and Leclerc, while closing the gap, still has a long ways to go to capture its first Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship since 2008.