Monza set to give beleaguered Ferrari more pain as Mercedes dominate
Ferrari, still licking their wounds from a bruising Belgian Grand Prix, must go another round in Italy this weekend. Monza was the scene of a roaring, glorious, celebratory affair last year but this time promises only to heap embarrassment on the beleaguered team as their principal, Mattia Binotto, faces the excoriating pressure that falls to the man at the helm of the scarlet ship foundering at its home port. The tifosi supporters of Ferrari will be absent this year, the Scuderia perhaps lucky to be spared the ignominy of their disdain echoing around the temple of speed.
The SF1000, a car named to celebrate Ferrari’s longevity in the sport, will not be one remembered fondly in the pantheon of scarlet machines. Both Charles Leclerc, who enjoyed a magnificent win here in 2019, and Sebastian Vettel finished outside the points in Belgium, with their car lacking power and suffering from being unable to work its tyres at Spa. Found wanting at the power-dependent track, unsurprisingly Monza looks similarly painful.
Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets for Mercedes in first practice, while Vettel was second to last in 19th and Leclerc 11th. To put that in context, Vettel was behind Roy Nissany, a very average F2 driver who had paid for a drive in a Williams that is still struggling to break into the midfield.
In the afternoon, in a car that looks a handful to drive, they improved to ninth and 12th but remained almost 1.5sec off the pace of a session dominated again by the two Mercedes drivers.
Binotto had the decency to front up and answer questions, speaking to the tifosi via Corriere della Sera. When asked if he felt his position was at threat he said he felt confident but admitted the challenge had prompted some soul searching.
“I know I have the support of my managers,” he said. “But I questioned myself, I reflected on whether I can be suitable for the role of team principal. I could have done better in some areas, for example the technical reorganisation could have been done earlier.”
Binotto was brought into the role at short notice in January 2019; he has had little time to adjust and none of it out of the spotlight. In the past his future might be considered in real jeopardy but there is a sense that Ferrari will stand by their man this time.
“I’m not alone, I can assure you,” he told Corriere. “With [the Ferrrari chief executive] Louis Camilleri I speak several times a day, with [Ferrari’s] president John Elkann regularly. I get their advice, certainly their leadership style is different from what we were used to in the past.”
In the paddock, an air of normality remained. The team did their group exercises outside their garage on Thursday. Leclerc played keepy-uppy in the paddock. There is no doubt they are more than aware of their problems and that they will not be easily solved.
This week Binotto said the comeback could take years. Leclerc admitted in Monza he was prepared for a long haul. “It will take some patience and yes, I’m ready to wait,” he said. “But it’s also my job to try and make this whole process as short as possible and for us to come back where we deserve to be. It’s not going to be easy. It will take time, but I’m ready for this. My job is to give my best anyway in every situation.”
The current situation is something of a nadir. Ferrari have endured retirements at Monza before but not since 1950 have they had two cars finish outside the top 10 on a performance basis alone.
The fans may be absent but they will no less forgiving. “Pah! un autobus,” was the entertainingly scornful declaration of one standing trackside at Imola in 2002 as the struggling Toyota creaked past. His face later lit up with joy as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello returned the Scuderia’s first one-two of the season. Those glory days seem a long way off now. One fears his assessment of the current Ferrari would relegate it beyond the bus to a damning comparison with a far more agricultural vehicle.