The team struggled in 2020, so this season raises hopes. The technical regulations coming in 2022 are also expected to help.
Ferrari is Formula 1’s most famous and successful team, winning more championships and races than anyone else since the sport began in 1950. But it is in a dry spell.
This year marked its second winless season in a row, something it has not experienced since 1992 and 1993. While Mercedes and Red Bull have become Formula 1’s dominant teams, Ferrari has found itself playing catch-up.
But even without winning, it has been a positive year for Ferrari. The team was crestfallen in 2020 after struggling to finish sixth in the championship, largely because of an underperforming engine. The team has recovered to third place this year.
“The greatest sign of the reconstruction is that even in the darkest moments of last year, the team stayed very united,” said Laurent Mekies, the team’s sporting director.
“We know we were in front of a huge task to turn things around and to get out of the situation we were in. But we’ve seen progress. It gave confidence.”
To cut costs and help manage the financial impact of the pandemic, teams were limited on the improvements they could make to their cars for 2021. But Ferrari managed to fix its engine problems before the new season, allowing it to improve its results.
Mekies said Ferrari had “very, very strong team spirit that comes from having gone through the huge difficulty of last year” and noted the determination of the team’s drivers, Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain.
They struck up a friendship as teammates. They earned the nickname C², Carlos being the Spanish version of Charles, and became obsessed with playing chess against each other. “We got quite crazy with it,” Leclerc said.
Leclerc took pole position for his home race in Monaco in May, but failed to start the race after his car was damaged in a qualifying crash. An incident between the championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July gave Leclerc a surprise chance to win the race, but Hamilton overtook him for the victory.
“Monaco was very frustrating, because I couldn’t start the race,” Leclerc said. “Silverstone was maybe a little bit less frustrating, because it was such a surprise to be fighting for the win.”
Sainz quickly settled in and was an even match for Leclerc, having his best season in Formula 1, including four finishes on the podium (Leclerc had one). Sainz said he felt his confidence had grown through the season as he adjusted to his new surroundings.
“It helps that I’ve been here for more races,” Sainz said. “We understand each other, and I’m scoring more points now. It’s definitely been great to see the progress and see our team evolving, building confidence and good momentum.”
Mattia Binotto, the team principal of Ferrari, said he always knew Sainz was a “very strong racer” but was pleased by his contribution to the team this year. “He has always scored a lot of points in the race and brought a lot of points to the constructors’ championship,” Binotto said. “Having that as one of our main targets, it was important for us.”
Ferrari aimed for third place in the standings this year and has been in a battle with McLaren, which finished third in 2020. McLaren won in Italy this season, finishing first and second, but Ferrari was more consistent toward the end of the year to finish firmly in third.
Binotto said Ferrari feared third place might have been out of reach after McLaren’s performance at the Italian Grand Prix in September. “But the team has been continuously working well, staying focused and really consistent at all the races, and maximized points we could do,” he said.
Andreas Seidl, the team principal of McLaren, called the result a “fair reflection” of the season. “Ferrari came back strong, which was to be expected from a team like Ferrari, which had a very abnormal year last year.”
Leclerc called the fight for third “a good exercise as a team to perform under pressure,” believing it had sharpened Ferrari, and that “all of these things help us if next year we do a step forward and we finally fight for the title.”
Third may be a satisfying result for Ferrari this year, but it will not be in the long-term. “It is really the best we could have done this year, but we know that is not the real objective of Ferrari,” Binotto said. “Finishing third gives us some serenity for the winter and try to work well for next year’s car.”
There will be a new set of technical regulations next year. The introduction of new car designs, which have revised aerodynamics, means there is an opportunity to make big gains in performance and to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull.
Ferrari opted against continuing to develop its 2021 car throughout the season so it could spend more time on its 2022 model. It has left its rivals expecting a strong car to come out of Maranello, Italy, the team’s headquarters, next year.
“I expect them to be very competitive next season,” said Lando Norris of McLaren. “They’ve had this year where they say they’ve not developed much and are all focused on next season.
“They’re Ferrari for a reason, and with what they’ve achieved in the past, I fully expect them to be fighting for wins and podiums and so on next season.”
Ferrari challenged Mercedes for the championship each season from 2017 to 2019. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, said his team had to be wary of that threat returning next year.
“They are a great entity,” Wolff said. “They have all the resource that is needed, and therefore, we absolutely have them on the radar.”
Leclerc agreed that 2022 marked a chance for Ferrari to fight for wins and for the championship again. “I feel like it is a big opportunity for us to come back to where we want to be, which is winning,” he said.