Written by Vyas Ponnurim, Edited by Sameena Khan
After a disappointing Hungarian Grand Prix, where Ferrari started in a very high second and third position for the race but only finished fourth and sixth, all the focus was on Ferrari’s Team Principal, Mattia Binotto, and his response to the weekend. His response was one of defiance, stating why Ferrari should change their approach in the second half of the season.
This season is Binotto’s fourth as Team Principal of the Scuderia, and he has had an eventful journey at the helm of affairs since he took over in 2019. However, has his time as team principal come to an end? Let us take a look at the arguments regarding this topic.
Before we dive into the key points, let us take a quick look back at the season gone by for Scuderia Ferrari.
The Italian team came into the new era of F1 with high hopes, having sacrificed a large portion of their 2021 season for this season. They started on a solid note by recording their first win in 46 races at the opening round in Bahrain with a 1-2. Charles Leclerc finished second in Jeddah after a late race duel with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. In Australia, he took a dominant race victory by around 20 seconds. He had a 34-point lead in the standings and a 46-point lead over the current championship leader Verstappen.
Things began to go downhill from Imola onwards as Verstappen took four race wins, including three on the bounce, as Leclerc scored only 45 points since then. Verstappen extended his lead until Leclerc finally broke his victory duck in Austria, winning the main race. Surely, this was the moment he needed to kick off his championship challenge again, right?
Once again, Leclerc made a costly error while being in a position to win the French Grand Prix and crashed out. Verstappen inherited the lead and won, adding salt to the wounds.
At Hungary, a strategy blunder from Ferrari saw Leclerc finish only sixth, having started third, whereas Verstappen drove a great race to win, from 10th on the grid. He now leads Leclerc by a whopping 80 points in the standings, with Red Bull leading Ferrari by 97 points in the Constructors.
Let us look at both takes regarding Binotto’s current position at Ferrari.
Yes, Mattia Binotto should continue as team principal for Ferrari.
This might not be what we think is an ideal move for Scuderia, considering how they have thrown away such a significant position in the championship. Although, when the team has a tough race, it is straightforward to point fingers at the senior-most member of the team, Binotto himself.
While Binotto appears as accountable for any mishap that occurs down at Scuderia Ferrari, he can only look into the issue and devise the best possible solution for the problem. As Team Principal, his job is to supervise the entire team, take a step back, and make the right decisions regarding the future. He can advise the personnel but can’t sit down and physically mend the problem. An F1 team consists of mechanics, engineers, strategists, pit crew, and so on, who know more about their specialist area than the Team Principal. It is up to the individual departments to perform at their highest capacity to achieve the overall ambition and goals of the team.
Another factor that sways the odds into Binotto’s favour is how he brought Ferrari back to its current position from the lows of the 2020 season. The team can once again compete for race wins and podiums regularly, thanks to the constant efforts put in by the entire team throughout the 2021 F1 season, not just on their car for the 2021 season but also for this season’s car. Having set a realistic goal of finishing third in the standings in 2021, Ferrari rarely put a step wrong, eventually finishing in third place by 48.5 points ahead of McLaren. Binotto supervised every move made by the team, and the team worked in harmony to achieve their goal for the season; evident from signing Carlos Sainz after watching data, to helping him get comfortable with the car, to bringing in new upgrades and new engine components at the right time, and maximising their opportunities in the season, the team had achieved their goal.
It is never easy for any team to recover from a slump in form, but how Ferrari has recovered to return to the position they are in today is very much a huge feat.
Yet another plus is that Binotto was an engineer in the team and has extensive knowledge about the power units of an F1 car. He is a classic example of working from the bottom to the top of an organisation. He started as a Test Engine Engineer for the test team in 1995 and was appointed in the same role at Ferrari. If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to reach the top, it is none other than Binotto himself. He has witnessed the rise and fall of Ferrari through the decades and has indeed learnt many lessons about the process of achieving success.
No, Mattia Binotto shouldn’t continue as Team Principal for Ferrari
This part of the debate is mostly rising from Ferrari’s tough 2022 season, which is currently plunging from one low to another. While Binotto claimed that the objective for this season was to be competitive and not necessarily title contenders, the team’s performance on the track, particularly in qualifying, was excellent. They were able to fight for much more than wins, leading both standings by a large margin after the first three rounds. To once again see them throw it all away once again, after a solid start to the season would be very disappointing for the Italian team. The fact that Mercedes are not very far behind, and could end up beating them to second place in this season, despite not having as fast a car compared to the Scuderia, is a significant embarrassment for the Italian outfit.
Ferrari experienced the same situation when Sebastian Vettel was in a championship battle with Lewis Hamilton in the 2017 and 2018 F1 seasons. Both times, Vettel had a solid start for the season and led by some margin before Hamilton erased the deficit and pulled clear after the mid-season break. Perhaps, Binotto could have looked back on those seasons and taken away some important lessons to perform at a better level in a championship battle.
Another reason for Binotto being accountable when Ferrari has tough races is due to poor strategy and reliability concerns costing them many points regularly. The strategy has been the Italian team’s bugbear recently, as evidenced by throwing away many good positions on the grid into a less satisfactory result in the race. Binotto should've delved deeper into the problem to sort out this teething issue holding the team's potential back.
Furthermore, while Binotto is an excellent engineer himself and was a part of the engine department for a very long time, one might wonder whether he is the right person to be leading the team. After all, being a senior engineer at a department has vastly different characteristics from that of a team principal. The role of a Team Principal has a much broader scope and outlook than any other role on the team.
Ferrari has had a history of chopping and changing when it comes to Team Principals in the last decade or so. They have seen as many as four different Team Principals since 2010. Their rivals, meanwhile, have seen only one Team Principal head the team for many years in a row.
A team needs to have stability at the topmost position of the group to achieve success, as has been evidenced by Red Bull and Mercedes in the previous decade. While Binotto has experienced his struggles at the Scuderia, this is his first season in a proper championship fight. It will be interesting to watch Binotto's response in the remaining nine races of the season