What Ferrari’s meltdown tells us about how the team needs to change

Sebastian Vettel driving a Ferrari

Congratulations go to Lewis Hamilton for winning his fourth world drivers’ championship today, with two races in hand. It wasn’t meant to be like this. This was meant to be Ferrari’s best chance to win the championship in a decade.

The year started off so well for Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel led the championship — often handsomely — all the way until Ferrari’s home race at Monza.

Then came three races in Asia. Ferrari’s championship challenge well and truly went south in the east.

In Japan, Vettel had to retire near the start of the race with a spark plug failure. Power unit problems with both cars neutered Ferrari’s challenge in Malaysia. These events have raised questions about how the team is handling quality control.

But the major turning point came at the Singapore Grand Prix. This should have been a slam dunk 1–2 for Ferrari. Hamilton was looking set to finish 5th or 4th at best.

But Sebastian Vettel wiped out his chances with a careless start line crash that wiped out himself, his team mate Kimi Raikkonen, and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

All three of those drivers would almost certainly have finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the race. In the event, a victory was handed to Hamilton on a place — at a circuit where his car had no right to win.

Aside from the lack of spatial awareness this seemed to demonstrate, What is hard to understand is just why Sebastian Vettel felt the need to defend so heavily against Max Verstappen in the run down to turn 1. In his commanding position, he had absolutely no need to.

In the worst case scenario, Vettel would have ended up second, costing him just 7 points. He would have still beaten Hamilton, probably by 6 points.

If Vettel had won the race and Hamilton finished 4th, Vettel’s 3 point deficit could have become a 10 point lead. Instead, the gap grew to 28 points — more than a race win. An open goal, well and truly hoofed over the bar.

Meanwhile, for the past couple of years Sebastian Vettel has become increasingly irate over the radio. We are used to hearing drivers getting emotional in the heat of the moment during races. But Vettel’s missives have taken on a nasty tone.

They reached a nadir this time last year, when he took to the radio towards the end of the Mexican Grand Prix to tell FIA race director Charlie Whiting to foxtrot oscar.

The normally unmoveable Kimi Raikkonen has become increasingly potty-mouthed in radio conversations with his team.

I’m not one to clutch pearls about a few sweary words. But the tone in which these messages are delivered intrigues me. These are angry people. They seem to be out of control of their emotions, when they should be concentrating on the race.

There is another disturbing trait that Sebastian Vettel has developed. He is very quick to point fingers and blame other drivers for his problems. This is not always justified. Some more self-awareness and introspection would be in order. Vettel needs to keep focused, and improve himself.

Lewis Hamilton has not always been mentally strong. But this year he has seemed in full control of himself, even when he has been on the back foot. If his race isn’t going to plan, Hamilton is more likely to calmly ask what his options are. The contrast to Vettel’s frequent on-air meltdowns could not be stronger.

I have counted myself as a big Vettel fan in the past. So seeing him behave in this way has been frustrating. It feels so out of character, and a long way away from the happy chappy that drove the Red Bull Racing car just a few years ago.

It is difficult not to draw a link with the arrival of Maurizio Arrivabene at the helm of the Scuderia. Further insight was provided in this fascinating article by Will Buxton:

The Italian only knows one thing, and that is absolute rule by abject fear. His fiery personality and obsessive paranoia create a whirlwind of anxiety and panic, where nothing and nobody is good enough and where everyone is under constant scrutiny and suspicion.

That begins to explain Vettel’s finger pointing, and the angry, expletive-ridden radio outbursts of both drivers.

And I haven’t even touched on Vettel’s deliberate crash into Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Dropping an eff bomb is one thing. Bumping into another car in purpose is beyond the pale. Denying all knowledge of it afterwards insults the intelligence of all the fans.

Ferrari seems to have developed a truly nasty culture within its team.

The calm, methodical, logical approach adopted by Mercedes could not be more different. They do so with a friendly and open attitude.

Toto Wolff’s frequent appearances on screen and in print may occasionally wear thin. But he is a brilliant ambassador for his organisation. You certainly cannot say that about Maurizio Arrivabene, whose message and attitude leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

This is all what makes Mercedes winners. It is an example for all others to follow.

This is why, despite the fact that I have always been a Sebastian Vettel fan, I am glad Lewis Hamilton won the championship this year. He has been the better driver, he has had the better attitude, and he has risen above Vettel’s finger-pointing, name-calling and car-barging.

How sad to see the historic and romantic name of Ferrari reduced to this.


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