With the overhaul of the technical regulations on the horizon for 2022 and limited car development allowed for this year, F1’s most successful and famous team was able to spend much of this season focusing on getting the basics right.
It resulted in a season that showed impressive steps forward by Ferrari in pretty much every metric. The team rose from sixth to third in the constructors’ championship, scoring 192.5 more points, and picked up two poles and five podiums.
Drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Charles Leclerc were fifth and seventh in the drivers’ standings, securing a double-points finish for the team in 17 out of 22 races. Ferrari’s only point-less grand prix came in France, when tyre management woes reared their head in the race.
But the stats that prove Ferrari is on the road to recovery go beyond the basic points figures.
Regardless of the lack of pace that hamstrung Ferrari through 2020, race execution was one of its weakest areas. The team even went as far as admitting last December that its pitstops were “a long way off the best”, and had been hampered by a season-long issue with the wheelnuts being used.
In 2020, just 48% of Ferrari’s pitstops were less than three seconds (the metric used by the team to define a good, consistent pitstop) to leave it ninth out of the 10 F1 teams.
But through 2021, this figure rose to 73%, putting Ferrari third on the grid. The team also improved its average pitstop time from 2.72 seconds to 2.55 seconds.
“We’ve done quite a huge programme to try and turn things around, both on the car, because there are some technical elements that we are driving that brought results, and on the guys with the training and the methodology we are using,” explained Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies.
“Now today, on the criteria, we are third, and not by mistake, we are third in the points. So I think it’s a good representation of how background work leads to better executions, and that applies to pitstops, that applies to tyre management, that applies to race strategy, that applies to many things.”
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, makes a pit stop
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
While Ferrari may not have been fighting for wins or the championship this year, the team treated its fight with McLaren for third in the standings as its own title battle. The two teams were evenly-matched throughout the year, but a strong end to the season gave Ferrari P3 by 47.5 points.
“It’s key that a close championship fight like that, when it’s points for points, your execution needs to be top level,” said Mekies.
“This year was no excuse. And therefore for us, even if the car was not as fast as what we would wish, we took that fight as if it was for the world championship.”
The need to improve race execution was something that Sainz noticed upon arrival at Ferrari from McLaren, a team which used its recent nadir as a time to sharpen its operations without the pressure of battling for the highest stakes.
“For me, this was a big, big thing,” Sainz told Autosport. “When I arrived to the team at the beginning of the season, I really felt like we had to make progress in the way that we execute the race in strategy and tyre management. The first races were very difficult with that.
“I really felt strong progress throughout the season on that. The car was performing maybe a bit better, but not more than a tenth better than at the beginning of the season. You see how consistent we are now on race execution, and it’s another story compared to a beginning.”
The improvement in race operations was also evident through Ferrari’s improved reliability through 2021. The team went from six DNFs in 2020 to just one in 2021 – plus Leclerc’s DNS in Monaco after his qualifying crash – and recorded more top-10 finishes than any other team.
But the raw pace of the car is where Ferrari needed to take a step forward after its disastrous 2020 campaign. Not only did the team manage to get back in contention with the leading midfield teams, giving it third in the standings, but also cut the gap to Mercedes.
According to Ferrari’s data, the average gap in qualifying to Mercedes fell from 1.34 seconds in 2020 to 0.64 seconds in 2021. This gap was as small as 0.4 seconds at the start of the year, but gradually grew as the season wore on.
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
“We are fully aware we have not closed the gap to the best, and 0.6s is still a big number,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto.
“But the objective was to try to reduce the gap. We were fully aware of the situation of 2020, and I think that being realistic, it was impossible to close the gap.”
Ferrari’s gains in race pace were smaller, yet still showed signs of decent progress: the average gap to Mercedes fell from 1.1 seconds to 0.8 seconds. Binotto called it “still a significant gap”, but pointed to the fact Ferrari had not developed its car much through the season as it placed focus on 2022.
“That’s showing that we didn’t really develop our car, while maybe others did,” Binotto said. “I think in terms of pure design and development through the winter time, what has been achieved is from 1.3 to 0.4 seconds.
“Further in the season, the gap increases because as a choice from Ferrari, we were fully focused on 2022, except the power unit. This is correlating with these numbers. It’s again showing in numbers that we’re reducing the gap to the competitors.”
It all makes for encouraging reading for Ferrari as it gears up for the incoming regulations in 2022. The team proved its strength in terms of making gains over the winter, sharpened up its race operations, and has one of the strongest driver line-ups out there.
The challenge now for Ferrari will be to put everything together this winter so it can capitalise on the new regulations, and take the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull once again.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2nd position, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, 3rd position, Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, celebrate on the podium
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images