As much as Binotto became an easy target for the critics amid Ferrari’s reliability and strategic errors making headlines in 2022, it was his many hidden qualities that were key to getting the team back to the front in the first place.
And after a season where it’s learned some hard lessons about the perfection it takes to become a champion, the consequences of a new boss could be huge.
As a team principal who understood the technical aspects of engines, cars and how they work, as well as the political machinations of the F1 paddock, the FIA and the media, Binotto’s remit stretched wide and wide for what is arguably the most high-end. busy work on the grid.
With the loss of Binotto, Ferrari is immediately without a team boss who had arguably the most in-depth understanding among his peers of car/engine design and performance parameters, as well as a direct understanding of the challenges and compromises involved in crafting a race-winning package.
Winning in F1 is all about marginal gains, and the knowledge Binotto had of Ferrari’s concepts and motivations would be critical in helping the team take the step needed to get back on track with Red in 2023 Bull – and to face the renewed threat from Mercedes.
Binotto’s imminent departure will leave Ferrari without that detailed insight at arguably the most critical time of the year when it brings its new car together.
It will take any new team boss coming in many months to get to grips with Ferrari’s design direction, structure and cost cap spending plan. And by the time they get to grips with things, the 2023 title fight could be all but lost.
Mattia Binotto, team principal Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
Getting wrong calls in the early stages of next year could cost immediate lap time if the team ends up going down the wrong path, and spending restrictions mean few opportunities for turnarounds.
Binotto also fully understood the dynamics of Maranello politics, having been on the team since 1995, first working in the engine department and then moving up the ranks.
He saw how it worked when he was part of the system and, having taken on the role of team leader, placed under him whatever structure he felt was best for moving it forward.
With Ferrari under Binotto’s predecessor Maurizio Arrivabene completely mismanaging the handling of Chassis Technical Director James Allison during his tenure from 2013 to 2016, it was clear that inherent weaknesses in the system needed to be addressed if the team wanted to get the most out of the talent . needed it.
Binotto has done much to improve things and so it is little wonder that sources suggest that the mood in Maranello has now sunk deep as the reality of losing him becomes clear. Don’t rule out other layoffs in the coming weeks.
This is not to say that Binotto was not without his weaknesses and did not make mistakes.
Ferrari’s reliability problems this year have not been ideal. But at the beginning of the engine freeze era (as Alpine/Renault also showed), it was always clear that if teams wanted to maximize long-term performance, it would become difficult in the short term to control parameters over the long term. push. limit.
It was Ferrari’s strategic blunders this year that drew the most criticism of Binotto, especially as many considered him weak for failing to sack those responsible for the missteps.
But Binotto’s mindset was always one of supporting individuals and making sure that once mistakes were made, they weren’t made again.
Outwardly, he often came across as calm and polite when it came to addressing team mistakes while making an effort to protect those who worked under him. But behind the scenes he was a tough teacher.
As he told Autosport earlier this year: “I think I empower the people around me. I think I’m not brutal, I’m strict. And people around me know I can be very strict.”
While the axing of some of his senior strategy staff may have given the public impression of a strong and decisive team boss; the reality was that it wouldn’t have made things any better within the team.
Mattia Binotto, Ferrari team principal, at a press conference
Photo by: Carl Bingham/Motorsport Images
As the tire execution in Abu Dhabi showed, learning why things went wrong, improving the strategy software to prevent incorrect information from being fed to the pit wall, and putting better processes in place was a much better way of doing things. to improve.
Binotto may also have been too nice at times not to criticize his side when things went wrong, sometimes losing the ball when he spoke in his non-native language.
His famous mid-season remark about Ferrari’s prospects of winning all races in the second half of the year came from the right place as a supportive team boss, but came back to haunt him as Red Bull’s title challenge grew.
“There’s no reason not to win ten races from now to the end,” he said after Charles Leclerc threw away victory in France. “I think the way to look at it is positive, and I like to be positive – stay optimistic.”
Ferrari did not win another race.
There could also be an aspect that Binotto may have had too much on his plate, as he only tried to oversee the technical, managerial, political and commercial aspects of Ferrari, as well as dealing with the FIA, opened the risk of becoming a man of everything, master of nothing.
Binotto has never shied away from the fact that the criticism leveled at the team this year has been hard to deal with on a personal level.
But he said he was always clear that he felt obligated to protect staff from whatever politics was swirling around.
Asked by Autosport about the challenges of 2022, Binotto said: “It has certainly been a difficult one, because criticism is never easy to manage.
“And more than that, I think for me somehow [I needed to] try to keep the team focused and concentrated on the work.
“The criticism is there to distract a team, and keeping a team focused is never easy. It was difficult, but I think it will only make me stronger in the future.
“I know we can only count on ourselves. That is the most important lesson of the season.”
But just when Binotto had to count on Ferrari and chairman John Elkann and CEO Benedetto Vigna to give him the full support he needed, he was disappointed.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
There was a clear opportunity for Ferrari to propose bringing a senior alongside him to relieve him of any distraction responsibilities, and to go deep into addressing the team’s weaknesses. This would have been understandable and a positive step for 2023.
But in the end, without the support from above, Binotto knew his days were numbered and it was decided to tender his resignation. Ferrari now has to look for a replacement.
But whoever Ferrari steps in as Binotto’s successor will inherit a bit of a poisoned chalice, because there will be no excuses for anything short of dominating F1 next year.
Vigna recently commented in an interview with CNBC that he was unwilling to finish second.
“I said it after the last quarter. I am not satisfied with second place, because second is the first of the losers,” he told the broadcaster.
“We’ve made some progress. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I’m not happy with second place. I think the team has what it takes to improve over time.”
This effectively means it’s either a win or a failure for next year, which puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on a new team boss to get under the desk with both feet and produce results right out of the hat.
It’s something that when you go up against the power of Red Bull and Mercedes in the cost cap era, it’s just not going to happen.
And if that instant winning form isn’t there, there’s the risk of additional criticism, destabilizing forces infecting the team, and then the prospect of a rampant culture of guilt that forces headlines to appease the doubters.
History repeats itself
Ferrari’s most successful era of the modern era came when Jean Todt successfully kept Ferrari’s racing team separate from the outside politics and criticism that can bring it down.
And even when Ferrari lost drivers’ championships it could have won in 1997 and 1998, there was no rush to change management.
Mattia Binotto, team principal Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
Things moved forward and it was just a matter of giving it time to evolve and take the next step – as happened when it embarked on a string of successes that would last into the mid-2000s.
Binotto never shy away from the fact that getting Ferrari back at the front of F1 was a long-term project and wouldn’t happen overnight – and that’s a story that was as true under the Todt era as it is now.
If anything, Ferrari’s strong start in 2022 has disrupted progress, as it far exceeded expectations and the trajectory they were following.
Things were also skewed by Red Bull underperforming in the first phase of the season with an overweight car. As Binotto rightly pointed out, cutting weight to find performance during the campaign is a much easier job than delivering the aerodynamic benefits Ferrari needed – so Red Bull was always on a better glide path during the year.
While Ferrari is looking for a new team boss who knows that anything but a win against Red Bull and Mercedes in 2023 will be considered a failure, Maranello threatens to put Binotto’s replacement in an impossible position.
Unrealistic expectations of not finishing second lead to extreme reactions and further changes, which can cause even more problems in the future, and the cycle repeats.
It is something Ferrari has been guilty of in the past, and it has now increased the risk of becoming its biggest weakness in the future.