Ferrari stuck in a nightmare of its own invention

Lewis Hamilton won his fifth race of the season to extend his championship lead to nearly two clear race victories at the Belgian Grand Prix, but the biggest story of this staid Sunday came at the back of the field and well out of the points.

Ferrari, motorsport’s most famous and best-funded team, lumbered home to its worst result in a decade in a hellish weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc crawled to 13th and 14th, beaten by Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and only five seconds ahead of Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi in its lowest meritorious double finish since 2010.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

It was a humiliating return to Belgium for the team that dominated this race with pole and victory in 2019.

How have things gone so wrong?

The problem stems from the power unit.

This time last year Ferrari took a massive step forward in the power stakes to boast the sport’s most powerful engine. It was so potent that the car’s major aerodynamic weaknesses, particularly in medium and high-speed corners, were masked by sheer horsepower, and it sprinted to six poles and three wins from the last nine races.

However, during the off-season two critical events coalesced to set the team back several years of development.

First, Ferrari inefficiently piled downforce onto the car. It added substantial drag, but its monster power advantage would overcome this drawback to leave the car ahead overall.

But then the sport’s governing body opened an investigation into Ferrari’s engine following strong suspicion among rival teams that it had been bending regulations. Controversially the investigation concluded in a confidential agreement that didn’t return a guilty verdict but did commit Ferrari to making changes to its engine.

Not only is the engine now comfortably the slowest, but the required changes have blown up the car’s power-drag compromise. The SF1000 isn’t especially fast around the corners and is painfully slow in a straight line.

Spa-Francorchamps, which rewards power and punishes drag, was always going to be the acid test. The result? Ferrari’s was the only car that lapped slower in Belgium than it did last year.

The greatest indictment was that Vettel and Leclerc ended the race among its four engine customers. These are teams that spend a fraction of the budget, yet Ferrari was on track to finish behind three of them before one crashed and the other was passed on the last lap of the race.

This woeful fall from grace has even embittered what should have been Ferrari’s title rivals.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff revealed frustratedly that staff resigned from burnout trying to catch up to the Italian team’s power benchmark — which, ironically, is the foundation of his team’s stranglehold on the season.

Meanwhile Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner lamented that his team lost second in the championship last year to what will be viewed as an unfairly earnt Ferrari engine advantage.

But of course none will feel this collapse more keenly that Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto. There is no more pressurised role in Formula One than leading the historic Scuderia, and as the team’s technical director before his elevation to the top job, his shoulders bear responsibility.

“We are disappointed and angry, as indeed are our fans, and with good reason,” he said. “It’s at times like this that we need to stand firm and look ahead in order to get over this difficult period. It’s the only way we will get out of this situation.”

Next up are home Italian races at Monza and Mugello — two more high-speed tracks that promise nothing but pain. And with the development restricted to save costs until end-2021, misery is now a long-term outlook. Only with new rules in 2022 is Ferrari likely to find salvation.

This nightmare isn’t over yet.