After the curtain falls on another Formula One season under the floodlights of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there will be a number of questions for Ferrari to answer over the winter break.
The Italians have already secured second place in the constructors’ championship but have once again fallen short of their ultimate goal, meaning the wait for a world title will enter a 13th year.
Second place being safe rendered the drivers “free to fight” in Brazil two weeks ago, according to team principal Mattia Binotto.
However, the result was a collision between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc that forced both to retire. It epitomised the in-house issues Ferrari have experienced this year.
All season a battle for supremacy has raged between the two, with new signing Leclerc showing early on that he would challenge four-time world champion Vettel’s status as team leader.
Vettel v Leclerc
It’s a tussle that has seen both drivers ignore team orders in a bid to stay ahead of one another and culminated in the coming together in Sao Paulo.
Despite clear-the-air talks last week, the Ferrari hierarchy face a dilemma that is unlikely to go away.
Leclerc has outperformed Vettel this season in terms of championship points, wins, pole positions and qualifying head-to-heads – and it looks set to stay that way.
The Monegasque is fourth in the driver’s standings on 249 points and 19 ahead of Vettel. He also has two race wins and seven pole positions to the German’s one and two respectively.
Vettel would have to win on Sunday with Leclerc coming lower than 7th in order to finish above him. But the 22-year-old is himself just 11 points off third-placed Max Verstappen and would surely love to beat the Dutchman, a rival dating back to their karting days, to be the best of the rest.
In truth, Ferrari should be frustrated with their points tally. While it would have taken something special to bridge the 222 points they are currently behind Mercedes, a series of errors, from both the team and drivers, have cost them dearly.
There were a few scenarios earlier this season – in Bahrain, China and Spain – where Leclerc was asked to cede position to Vettel or stay behind him. But with the benefit of hindsight, those points would have been better allocated to the Ferrari debutant.
The Italian team also made a crucial mistake in Azerbaijan by using the wrong tyres in qualifying, which resulted in Leclerc crashing.
There were also a handful of driving errors from both. Leclerc crashed in Germany, while Vettel was penalised for a mistake in Canada and demoted to second.
The 32-year-old also crashed into the back of Verstappen at Silverstone and made less costly errors at Bahrain and Spain – not to mention the fiasco in Brazil.
The latest incident left Ferrari chairman John Elkann “very angry”, prompting him to warn the pair not to “forget they are Ferrari drivers”.
“The only thing that counts is that Ferrari wins,” Elkann said last week. “It has been an extraordinary season for poles, but they have not been converted into victories.”
Ferrari have taken nine of 20 pole positions – as many as Mercedes – but have only converted them into three victories, 10 fewer than the German outfit.
This weekend’s race presents an opportunity to improve that record but Ferrari will still have plenty to work on over the winter – not least the relationship between Vettel and Leclerc.