The controversial question of whether Ferrari’s red represents the lifeblood of the Formula 1 racing team or is more of a warning color can at least be answered clearly on the gray qualifying Saturday for the Australian Grand Prix: Starting positions five and seven for Carlos Sainz jr. and Charles Leclerc are alarming again. After all, the new team boss Fred Vasseur issued the motto right from the start: “Finishing second is not enough for Ferrari.” So now they have to deal with that at Maranello, which is less than not enough – as it’s only fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship at the moment.
Only two and a half race weekends in the new season, and nothing has improved compared to the already disappointing last year: the real challenger of the dominant Red Bull racing team is their own technology, only then come Aston Martin and recently maybe Mercedes. Ferrari’s skill flashes only occasionally. Max Verstappen secured his first ever pole position in Melbourne down under retract, although at the end he again reported suspicious transmission problems. His team-mate Sergio Perez had to start the race last, as the Mexican apparently rode out into the outback of the race track after an engine brake failure in the first qualifying lap. The surprise on a chilly autumn day was George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who were able to move past Fernando Alonso to second and third place respectively.
Vasseur has sever ties and sparked an invigorating commotion – but that’s not enough
What a difference a year can make, even though the regulations have hardly changed. Last season, Charles Leclerc and his Scuderia Ferrari not only left Albert Park as the winners of the day, but also as the proud leaders in the world championship. The Melbournenians, among whom Ferrari still attracts a large fan base from Michael Schumacher’s time, were sure to have seen the upcoming champions. But the Australian Grand Prix initiated a turnaround. From then on, Ferrari began to stumble, Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing picked up so much speed that they were unstoppable.
Leclerc looks back with longing, and he looks like someone who, at 25, is already afraid of ending up as an eternally futile challenger: “We’re not as good as last year.” That’s probably an understatement. Ferrari may have gotten a new team boss in Fred Vasseur, but a lot is still the same in Maranello, which also means: things are in trouble. In just under 100 days, the 54-year-old has already cut a few rope teams. In addition, even veteran employees can no longer be sure of their job, which in turn creates a thoroughly invigorating unrest. But that’s not enough – the Italian national team under new French leadership needs a real fresh start. It will probably only come at the start of Europe with the home game in Emilia Romagna, by then the SF-23 should lose its bathtub side boxes. But it is questionable whether all worries will be over by the end of May.
Red Bull drives circles around the challenger – and can probably only beat himself
Plenty of time for panic attacks, which in Italy are usually dealt with in the sports newspapers. Frederic Vasseur could form a common destiny with his old buddy Toto Wolff, because the Mercedes team boss is at least as worried. But the Silver Arrow faction appears to be more robust and structured in how problems are addressed. It’s about damage limitation at a higher level, while Red Bull circles around the challengers and can only beat themselves at the moment through technical unreliability. While Mercedes countered its own aerodynamic misjudgments with cool analysis, Ferrari dealt with the issues more passionately. The fact that there is a phase of upheaval at the same time does not make it any easier.
Hitting yourself hurts the most. The desire to copy their own history may have played a role in the appointment of the 54-year-old engineer Vasseur from the Alfa Romeo customer team. Because Ferrari had the most successful era in the premier class with Jean Todt, who pulled the strings behind five driver and six manufacturer titles at the beginning of the millennium, through Michael Schumacher. After that, attempts to install an Italian national team failed, four team bosses were worn out.
In addition to success, the Scuderia has long lacked continuity, with one thing leading to another. Stability is needed more than ever, for both people and machines. The last prominent departure was the aerodynamicist David Sanchez. With the fresh strength of a potential savior from outside, Vasseur restructures enormously, but he does not answer critical questions with enlightening answers, but mostly with a meaningless smile and the pole position in the platitude race: “We fight.” The fact that Fred Vasseur had to struggle with back and knee problems on the long journey to Australia somehow fits into the picture.