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Why Toto Wolff and Christian Horner are the real fix to Ferrari's F1 problems

Why Toto Wolff and Christian Horner are the real fix to Ferrari's F1 problems

F1 News

Why Toto Wolff and Christian Horner are the real fix to Ferrari's F1 problems

Why Toto Wolff and Christian Horner are the real fix to Ferrari's F1 problems

Flick open the back pages of an Italian newspaper during this unusually extended early spring break from Formula 1, past the scathing dissections of Inter’s dithering form and longreads on Napoli’s laudable march to the Scudetto, and you’ll find articles from authors decrying the demise of Ferrari.

Check online, even, on Gazzetta dello this or Corriere della that, and former racers, team bosses, and other pundits with perennial paddock pass access are lining up to slaughter the start Italy’s national motorsport squad has made to the 2023 season.

At first glance, the gloomy assessments seem fair enough. The Scuderia, deprived of silverware since 2007, sit a lowly fourth in the constructors’ championship. They are significantly behind Mercedes and Aston Martin after just three rounds of the season, and are operating at nowhere near the same pace as Red Bull, with whom they were fighting tooth and nail for victories a year ago.

Carlos Sainz is fifth in the drivers’ standings, while team-mate Charles Leclerc is just 10th, having suffered retirements in both Bahrain and Australia already this year.

Charles Leclerc has completed only one race so far this season

What’s more, the Ferrari power unit is severely lacking in reliability, with Leclerc already forced to take a grid penalty at Saudi Arabia - the only race he has managed to complete in the opening rounds. Further changes to both his and Sainz’s cars mean both men are likely to suffer considerably more penalties as the season progresses.

The truth of where Ferrari stand is somewhat more complicated, though. Leclerc could have had a podium at Sakhir had his engine not given away, and the Monegasque’s qualifying pace was enough to put up a serious challenge to Max Verstappen in round one and earn pole position a race later. Both he and Sainz could have earned significant points in Australia, too, had they avoided tangles with the Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso respectively.

That being said, the change of aura around Ferrari in just 12 months is significant — from leading both championships and looking like genuine contenders at the start of 2022, to the sky falling down on top of them a year later, the diminution of hopes and dreams is stark.

The Prancing Horse is no stranger to crises, of course. Since that last title success 16 years ago, the team has teetered between championship contention without the consistency to take the crown, and the doldrums of the midfield. For a marque with the status and support of Ferrari, neither result is good enough.

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Only six different permanent drivers have raced for the team in that time, but they have been managed by a total of five different team principals. Each of them has been tasked with delivering speedy results, and when the ultimate step to the front hasn’t been taken, they have been dropped and replaced by the next man in line.

Ferrari under Vasseur

Last winter the company’s board undertook the same process again, removing Mattia Binotto from his position and replacing him with the former Alfa Romeo boss Frédéric Vasseur. The Swiss has only been in the job for a matter of months but the poor start the team has made to the campaign means he is already being questioned by fans and press alike.

But focusing entirely on the team principal when times are tough hasn’t exactly helped Ferrari in the past decade-and-a-half, and while they have been refusing to ask the more difficult questions about whether wider processes and structures could be the cause of some problems, their rivals have been taking a very different and much more successful approach.

Red Bull have been led by Christian Horner since their entry into F1 in 2005, and have won a total of 11 championships (constructors’ plus drivers’) since then. Toto Wolff has been in charge at Mercedes since 2013, with the Silver Arrows securing 14 titles under his leadership.

Of course, both of those squads have possessed drivers of the highest calibre during that time, as well as industry-leading teams of designers and aerodynamicists building spellbinding machinery. The fact that both men have been able to build up the authority, responsibility, and understanding that comes with leading any sports team for such a long amount of time, though, undoubtedly gives them a further advantage.

In Red Bull’s barren years between the glory days of Sebastian Vettel and the emergence of Max Verstappen, Horner’s position was never under threat. His stewardship was their reason to believe in the future again, and his knowledge of his team’s operation and workforce meant that changes were put in place which set them on a path back to the top.

Now that Mercedes are toiling, the workers at Brackley and Brixworth can be sure in their belief that nobody stands a better chance of fixing the team’s fortunes than Wolff, given that he has overseen that process once before.

Both men built up that level of expertise over time. And crucially, they have both been allowed the chance to falter along the way. In the meantime, Ferrari’s strategy of throwing the man at the top under the bus at the first sign of trouble and hoping that fixes everything has led them nowhere.

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Beyond the talk of upgrades, reliability improvements, and race results, then, Ferrari’s long-term future should be focussed around building a Horner or Wolff of its own. A fulcrum who provides stability to the workforce and is afforded the time to properly assess where and why problems persist, before being the given the space and resource to put things right.

Ferrari put its eggs in the Vasseur basket over the winter, and there they should remain, no matter where in the standings the team ends up between now and the end of 2023. Consistent leadership into the regulation change coming in 2026 would be far more valuable than hitting the panic button to no avail once again.

If Vasseur is given the authority to truly understand and transform Ferrari, then maybe even the Italian press would agree that swapping out the pitwall with the frequency that Serie A sides switch coaches should become a thing of the past.

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