In our long exclusive talk with Mattia Binotto , boss of Ferrari, a common denominator emerges among all the issues of the moment, a transversal concept that begins on the technical front and ends on the sports front: the growth and maturation of work groups , both on the track and in Maranello.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Binotto underscores certain points from all the topics he touches on: experience, growth and application. It is what he saw in the era of Michael Schumacher, when he was in charge of the engine department, and twenty years later he firmly believes that it is the only recipe to get to where Ferrari wants to be.
A good part of the way has already been covered, but something is still missing, and for Binotto that something must be sought within the walls of Maranello, from reliability to race management optimization. In his desire to shape a winning team, there is also the goal of making himself impervious to the inevitable pressure that comes from outside, because, as he admits, that is part of the essence of Ferrari. Whether due to lack of results, like in 2020, or missed opportunities, like this season, the Scuderia is always in the spotlight.
Question: An F1 team that ends the year in the second half of the grid takes at least four or five seasons to win again. How did you manage to turn this situation around between 2020 and 2022?
Answer: “In Formula 1 there is no magic wand. What we are achieving this season is the result of a path that began a long time ago, precisely in 2017. A constant work of growth began that always had the objective of improving ourselves. , a process that involved organization, skills, experience, methodology, tools and resources, from the simulator to the wind tunnel and beyond. So it took time, and I think it was a long journey.”
“Now, you could say that, okay, we started in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but then came 2020, which can be considered one step, or actually three steps behind. Why? I think in 2020 we messed up our project, and then everything froze at the start of the season. Imagine if Mercedes had froze at the first race of the season, what would have happened?
“I have always believed that our team is capable of developing, is capable of making a good car and fighting, but if the project freezes in the first race, and somehow you make mistakes, you stay there for the whole championship and you end up sixth in the constructors’ championship. But that result did not reflect the real capacity of the team. I think that is the first point.”
Q: And the second point?
A: “The second is that we not only messed up the project. In 2019 I was appointed team manager, and there was no time to reorganize. We tried that year, starting with the technical department, but I just think that in 2020 we paid for the need to readjust and rearrange everything.
“In 2019 we won some races, we had a good car, but at that time we completely restructured the organization and the team itself, and we paid for it in the following season. Also, in 2020 and 2021 we had little opportunity to develop a difficult car, and I would say that the results did not reflect the real value of the team.”
“As I said, the team since 2017 has always tried to progress, and we continue to do so, we progressively improve, and I think 2020 was useful to understand what the weak points were and the areas where we needed to intervene. We have made changes in the organization and now there are clearer roles and responsibilities, we have a new simulator, we have identified the pain points trying to address all of them, without excluding any, and I think a good job has been done”.
Q: Some say that Ferrari’s return to the top came as no surprise, as it started work on the 2022 project earlier than its rivals, even with extra hours in the wind tunnel. Is it a fair assessment?
A: “I don’t think it’s unfair, but it’s not correct either. We started developing the 2022 car at the same time, which was in January 2021, when it was finally possible to start simulating and putting the new cars in the wind tunnels. We couldn’t do it before.”
“So it’s about knowing how many resources and priorities are allocated to the project. The two teams fighting for the 2021 championship probably had to do more development over the course of last season, but we also worked harder than expected. in last year’s car, as we were in the thick of the fight with McLaren and we were in it until the end of the championship. It fits that Mercedes and Red Bull put some extra energy into 2021, but the rest of the teams had the same resources and the same options as us, that is, prioritize 2022, but the results were different.
Q: When did you realize the greatness of the F1-75 project?
A: “Neither in Barcelona nor in Bahrain, where we were aware that a tough challenge awaited us. We set ourselves very high performance targets, but when everyone has a project from scratch, there are no references and we had no idea where our rivals”.
“Did we make the right decisions? We couldn’t know. We had more indications about the potential of the power unit, because the regulations hadn’t really changed. We had set ourselves very important targets on that as well, and I can say that what we were able to develop from the power unit last season for 2022 is something I have never seen in over 25 years at Maranello. It is an example of what this team is capable of.”
“The power unit is fantastic, I saw the dynamic in terms of engineering development, the conversations and interactions between the groups, and when I saw the same dynamic between the engine and chassis engineers, I was certain that we were working well.” .
“It’s something that you can see, feel and even measure. And when you see that constant progress of the car, it means that you are achieving your objectives. So I knew that the team was working well and I knew that we were achieving the objectives that we had set for ourselves, but you never know what the rivals are doing, and only the first race gave us the certainty of how good the car was.”
Q: The engine has increased in performance, but reliability has been poor. Did Ferrari focus too much on performance because of the early-season development freeze?
A: “We definitely prioritized performance over reliability. Which means we probably hit the time limit for homologation. You have to remember there was a limit on engine hours on the dyno, and it impacted our work. Those restrictions of hours force you to make decisions”.
“We pushed the limits of performance beyond what a normal reliability plan would have been, knowing that reliability issues can always be resolved later. By this I don’t mean that we went into the first race thinking we weren’t entirely reliable, was not the case. In the winter tests there were no problems, but we knew that it was not the ideal situation. Also, the problems that we had on the track and that had not come up in the power bench simulations, I think they are unforeseen problems typical of a new project, it doesn’t surprise me at all what has happened”.
Q: How do you live the moments when Leclerc leads the race and his engine breaks? What goes through your head?
A: “It’s very difficult for two reasons. If we’re talking about engine failure, well, I’ve run that department myself, seeing smoke coming out is never nice, and that’s more of a feeling of depression. When you lead the race, like Charles did in Baku, but we can also mention Carlos in Austria, these are problems you never want to see.
“I keep calm, but in those moments you are depressed, it is a bit difficult for you to react, but then you realize that you have to think about the next steps to take. And not only in technical terms, but also in terms of the team. So You think how can I help, so I immediately start making sure everyone is calm and focused, and also protected from outside attacks and comments.
Q: Will we see a new ERS after the summer break?
A: “Yes, we expect news of the hybrid engine before the start of the freezing period, we are working on it, but it will not be a turning point.”
Q: Last year, Hamilton came one step away from the title using six engines. Do you think that could be an option?
A: “I don’t think it’s a strategy, but a consequence, I don’t think it was planned. It’s always better to have the best engine in terms of performance, but also reliability.”
Q: Ferrari have managed to start the weekends of 2022 with a great car setup. In the past, it varied a lot from Friday to Sunday. What has changed this year?
A: “Let’s go to the Barcelona test. I have always maintained that when a new car takes its first steps, it is very important to check the correlation between the track and the instruments such as the wind tunnel and the simulator.”
“That step is crucial and the correlation was there this year, that’s what I mean by the importance of the organization, the tools and the simulation. The correlation with the wind tunnel track and the simulator was one of the points in that it was important to focus on, and we put a lot of effort into improving our skills, our tools, our understanding.
“By being successful, we feel stronger. In Barcelona we had the opportunity to see that the car behaved well, but also correlated well with what we simulated in Maranello, and it was very important to check it, as well as good to see. It has been a great team effort.”
Q: How do you assess strategy errors? Are changes necessary?
A: “First of all, I think you can always improve, you can’t be perfect and you never will be. I have no doubt that we always have to progress and improve in every aspect that we can. a great team that deals with strategy and I don’t think it’s a weak point. Races like Monaco, Silverstone or Paul Ricard have been judged as problematic in this aspect, but I don’t see the team as a problem, because I think we have also taken the right decisions.”
“I am not convinced that what we did was wrong, I think we made the right decisions at the time they were made, and sometimes they turned out to be unfortunate, not wrong. Our strategy team has sometimes even done great things, better than the adversaries For example, in Austria we had the correct strategy, unlike our adversaries, just as we had probably the best strategy in France before Charles’ mistake.”
“In Paul Ricard we had the courage to wear two sets of socks in the race, and to make a decision like that you have to not only be good, but also brave. So, in general, we have a good team and I don’t think this is a weakness. We could start talking, again, about Monaco, Silverstone and Paul Ricard: from my point of view, I think they were difficult decisions, maybe unfortunate, but not always wrong. So I don’t think it’s our weak point in this moment”.
Q: Do you think there are similarities to what happened to Hamilton at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP? The team made the right decision, but it turned out to be the wrong one in hindsight.
A: “I also think it was the right decision for Lewis. Max was right, he won the world championship, but if the opposite had happened (Hamilton makes the pit stop and Verstappen stays on the track) how would the world championship have ended? Never We’ll know. If at Silverstone Charles had pitted, with Lewis probably staying out on new tires anyway, how would the race have ended? I don’t know. Everyone thinks they can talk about what we decided at Silverstone, but the reality is that we will never have the answer.
Q: You have insisted on the importance of controls so as not to exceed the cost limit. How do you think work is going?
A: “It has to be supervised and controlled. I fully trust the FIA, but the financial regulations are completely new. The technical regulations or the sporting regulations have been in place for many years, but there are still aspects that have to be monitored. The financial regulations are completely new, both for the teams and for the FIA, and it will take time to understand it, interpret it, clarify it and supervise it.
“The FIA control team at the moment is made up of 4 or 5 people, compared to 10 dedicated to the technical front. I think that in a few years we will see 10 people dedicated to this, but in the meantime there is a great question mark so we know we have to deal with it I think it is part of the FIA’s job and the duty of the teams to try to speed up proper control as much as possible but we all have to be aware that right now there is a big question mark.”
Q: Has there been a particularly difficult moment since you have been at the helm of Ferrari?
A: “Every day. I think it was not an easy journey that I started in 2019, when I was appointed team manager. We have gone through the year 2020, a very difficult period, and we are fighting for the highest goals but we have lived races in which we have not been able to reach what the potential of the car would have allowed. So it is not easy. But I can say that I am happy in my role, I am happy because I know that I have a great team, very united. And it is nice to see how everyone works together.
Q: Are you surprised by Charles’ popularity?
A: “It’s great to see, and it’s good to see the enthusiasm. It’s Formula 1, it’s Ferrari, and it’s also Charles. I think it represents well what we mean by #esserreferrari, it’s about the passion, the way you carry yourself, the way you run, and I think he’s definitely doing well.”
“People love him, and that’s good for us and for him. It raises expectations even more, and of course it’s a pressure that we have on our shoulders, so it’s always good news but there are also more difficult moments behind it. Overall I think he’s a fantastic driver, certainly the way he races, the way he fights on the track, the way he defends or attacks, it’s exceptional, and I think that’s what people and riders like. fans”.
Q: After winning at Silverstone, we have seen a more relaxed Carlos. Does it also give that impression on the team?
“I think Carlos is a strong driver. He has shown it in the past, and it is no coincidence that we wanted him with us, and he reaffirmed it last year in his first season at Ferrari. He has always been consistent and strong, scoring a lot of points. who have also helped to achieve third place in the constructors’ championship”.
“This year he’s had a difficult start to the season, but he’s studied and worked hard, and the developments we’ve put into the car I think have helped his driving style. He’s more confident with the car now, and he’s showing that he can be very consistent and fast. But again, it’s not a surprise for us, it’s what we expect from him. If I look at the very close duel in the championship and the battle for the constructors’ championship, it’s certainly very useful for Ferrari to have a pilot like Carlos at your disposal”.
Q: Do you think the team has to change things for the second half of the year?
A: “No, I think we just have to continue on our path of continuous improvement, step by step, focusing on each race. We have the potential to win races, and that doesn’t mean we have to change our approach, there is no magic wand in Formula 1. We have shown that we can do a good job and we achieve it step by step”.
Q: What do you think of the possible technical changes for 2023 due to the porpoising issue?
A: “I hope there is no change, I don’t see any real reason to make changes to the technical regulations for safety reasons, especially if we look at the last races. Also, if they change the aero regulations for 2023 it would be a big problem considering At the time we are in, there would be very little time to change the concept of the new car. So I don’t think it will happen, and if it does, we will try to figure out how to stop it.”
Q: Porpoising has led to an unusual partnership with Red Bull. What do you think of the relationship with your main rivals?
A: “We are rivals for the world championship, but when it comes to regulations and the future, I think there just has to be common sense, for the good of Formula One as a whole. I have no idea if the changes would be in our favor. or Red Bull, I don’t know and I don’t care. If you reason this way on every issue, you become a pressure group, which is not good for the category in the medium and long term, and as Ferrari we have the responsibility to look at the medium and long term. I think it is very important to always have a responsible and balanced approach when evaluating and making crucial decisions for the future of the category”.
Q: The goal was to get back in the fight for everything. Do you think the pressure around the team has increased too much by being in this fight?
A: “Our goal was to be competitive again, and to be competitive throughout the season. We started well, and so far we have stayed competitive thanks to good development work. So far we are achieving what we set out to do.
“The pressure… well, if you’re at Ferrari there will always be pressure, it’s something we can’t change because it’s part of what this brand stands for, and of course there are always high expectations. We just have to live with the pressure, because we never It will go away. And I think that’s also part of a team’s ability to take the pressure off and stay focused.”
Q: How would you describe your management style? Varies between team leaders…
A: “I try to value and give confidence to the people around me. I don’t think it’s cruel, but I’m strict, and the people around me know it. But I always try to stimulate them, to give them everything they need to do their best. I work, and I trust the people around me a lot. I don’t like to get into the details with everything, I focus on myself making sure everyone has what they need to do their best work.”
“I know how important the morale is in the team, as well as the mental approach and the culture. We are working a lot on it within the team, trying to have the right attitude, and I see that the team is very united, and that is something that is achieved with transparency, which involves everyone, including me”.