On paper, Ferrari’s 2021 season was a marked improvement over the previous season – which was the worst in 40 years – but where has the famous show jumper made improvements and how much progress have they really made?
Three more places in 2020
At Ferrari’s 2020 annual Christmas media meeting, team principal Mattia Binotto said the Scuderia’s “minimum goal” was to finish third in the constructors’ championship the following year after suffering the shame of finishing sixth. In the end, they achieved this goal quite comfortably and overtook and overtook McLaren with a strong year-end.
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The red cars of Carlos Sainz – third in the season finale in Abu Dhabi – and Charles Leclerc together scored an impressive 323.5 points, 192.5 more than Ferrari the year before. In the drivers’ standings, Sainz took fifth place overall, the best-of-the-rest award, his best result of all time, two places ahead of Leclerc, who took two poles in 2021.
“If you are in a better position in the standings, it means that the car has improved in terms of the overall project,” said Binotto.
Binotto was happy with his team’s performance but remained realistic that there was more to be done
Qualifying improvements indicate better final performance
At the heart of Ferrari’s 2020 woes was a towable car and an engine that lacked grunts – their power unit was the fourth and last in terms of sheer power, according to data. That meant they were often out of place in qualifying and Q3 was a challenge. They ended the year with an average starting position of 10. This improved by more than three places to 6.5 in 2021, which makes life strategically easier for Sainz and Leclerc on Sunday afternoon.
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But how much better was the car? Well, according to Ferrari, the team improved compared to Mercedes from 1.3 seconds per lap to 0.6 seconds, which more than halved the gap. Binotto said the gap was even better at the start of the season – 0.4 seconds – but they fell behind when the Italian squad turned development off and turned their attention to 2022.
“We know we didn’t fill the gap with the best and 0.6s is clearly a big number, but the goal was to narrow the gap. We were fully aware of the situation in 2020 and, realistically speaking, it was impossible to close the gap. “
Sainz finished his 2021 season on the podium for the fourth time
Win on Sunday afternoon
Ferrari struggled to get into the top 10 in 2020, let alone fight for the big points – but they haven’t had any such problems last year. They achieved 38 top 10 placements – more than any other team (Mercedes and Red Bull were second best with 35 each) with both Ferraris in the points in 17 of 22 races. Only once did Binotto’s team fail to score – that was in France where they couldn’t understand the tires.
As a result, they improved their average per race from 7.7 to 14.7. This type of form indicates three positive results. Overall, the package is faster; they can get a lot out of this package (Ferrari and McLaren averaged just 0.05 seconds during the season, according to the Italian team, and yet they scored 48.5 points more); and the car is far more reliable as the DNFs have dropped from six to one in 2020 (plus one DNS for Leclerc in Monaco).
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“We were more solid during the race weekend, we were more solid in preparing for the race and were more solid in the race management during the weekends,” said Binotto.
In terms of raw performance, Ferrari says they’ve cut the gap with Mercedes by three tenths of a second to 0.8 seconds, but admits that it’s still a “significant gap”.
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Engine development a real strength
The work Ferrari has done on their PU over the past 18 months is perhaps its most impressive accomplishment.
Last year the focus was on the hybrid system, whereby the team was not only able to bring a development forward from 2022 to 2021, but also delivered eight races before the end – five events earlier than planned. It proved to be a success, both in terms of performance and reliability, and was instrumental in moving the team up ahead of McLaren and to P3.
“It was a significant change, not just in design, but also in production and use,” said Binotto. “The team worked very hard to anticipate it as much as possible. It was a great effort on the team to work as hard as possible to get it implemented as early as possible. “
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DHL Fastest Pit Stop Award – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021
Every little bit helps in winning pit stops
Ferrari, according to their data, tightened things up in and around its pit stops in 2021, with an average stop lasting 2.55 seconds – from 2.72 seconds for an improvement of nearly two tenths of a second.
The consistency was also significantly better with 73% of the stops under three seconds, compared to 48% in the previous campaign.
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“For me these are ‘under three seconds’ [figure]’is an important number as it shows consistency, “said Binotto. “It is more important not always to be the fastest, but to stay constant so that you know when the car is going in, you know that you will finish the pit stop within three seconds and it will not be five because then you will have a strategy problem and Lose positions that you did not expect.
“These figures also show encouraging progress. We’re not the best yet, but I think that as a team we are certainly trying to improve on all of the areas that we have achieved in these numbers, the progress that we have made. “
And that’s the whole point. Ferrari isn’t the best yet. They are still a long way from that. But they’re making progress in several areas – and Binotto thinks that’s a good sign. “It goes one step at a time, and if you fill such a gap, you can lay a solid foundation for the future.”