Remember 1980? I do. Ferrari went from world champions in 1979 to tenth place the following year, hobbled by the layout of its flat-12 engine and failing utterly to get to grips with ground effect aerodynamics. Reigning world champion Jody Scheckter suffered the ignominy of actually failing to qualify his car in Canada.
So the fall from 2019 to 2020 wasn’t quite so far, but it was close. And yet last year it was back, consistently fast from the outset and reliable too: having suffered six retirements in an abbreviated 17-round season in 2020, the team had a single DNF throughout last year’s 22 race calendar, and you can hardly blame the team for Charles Leclerc being taken out in Hungary.
What is so significant about Ferrari’s return to form is that it found huge amounts of missing pace right at the end of a regulatory era, when the rules have been around so long you’d presume there was very little development potential left for them to permit. Yet Ferrari found it.
I also think that in Carlos Sainz and Leclerc, Ferrari has the best driver line up on the grid. Or, perhaps if George Russell shapes up and Lewis Hamilton comes back, that should be ‘had’. While I’d not say either has done enough to yet stand comparison with Lewis or Max Verstappen, together I don’t think any other team has more talent in the garage.
The evidence for this lies in their consistency throughout 2021, and remember it was that, rather than occasional flashes of brilliance that enabled Ferrari to be best of the rest in the title fight. Consider this: at the end of the season there was a 205 point difference between Verstappen and Sergio Perez, some 161 between Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. At McLaren 45 points separated Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. At Ferrari? There was just a 5.5 point gap between Sainz and Leclerc at the season’s end. Truth is that had Ricciardo been able to get anywhere near Norris, the battle for third place in the Constructors could have been very interesting indeed.
Then there’s the subjective stuff, less easy to quantify, but no less important for that. Ferrari has the wind its sails. More than any other team around it, it is in the ascendant. Confidence has returned to Maranello and, with it, belief that the red cars can be the best in the world once more.
Of course there is the great regulatory unknown: with such a significant change in the rules, it is always possible that someone will find a way of interpreting them to their advantage that hasn’t occurred to anyone else. But experience shows that most of the time, it’s the big teams with the best resources that such upheaval favours most, and Ferrari is undoubtedly among them. And while the budget cap will have clipped wings to an extent, it shouldn’t be enough to upset what was the status quo until relatively recently.
Or maybe I’m just hoping too much. For reasons I have never been adequately able to explain even to myself, I just want Ferrari to be frontrunners. I have no trouble assessing their road product with the necessary gimlet eye, but when it comes to their racing cars, I am always happy to see them at the sharp end. So maybe this is all a triumph of blind hope over objective assessment. But I don’t think so.
So what do I think will happen to Ferrari in 2022? Actually I think the most likely outcome is that they’ll come third in the Constructors again. The difference will be that instead of scoring barely half the points of the winning team as in 2021, the Scuderia will be far closer, close enough even to win races on merit alone at circuits that suit their car, close enough to capitalise if, for whatever reason, one or other of its chief rivals fails to gets to grip with the new regs. Let’s remember also that Ferrari has not won a race since Singapore in 2019, a drought I predict is shortly to end.