5 things we learned from the spectacular Ferrari launch
When Ferrari announced they would unveil their 2020 Formula 1 challenger in an 1850s theatre in Reggio Emilia, just 30km away from their Maranello HQ, there was a very good chance they would put on quite a show – and it didn’t disappoint. But behind the theatrics, what did we learn about their 2020 hopes?
1. Ferrari have gone ‘extreme’ in bid to end a decade of hurt
There’s stability in the regulations from 2019 into 2020, so you’ll hear the word ‘evolution’ a lot during this period of car launches. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be aggressive. Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto spoke of the team being “extreme” on all of their concepts. A key focus has been on adjusting their aero concept and adding downforce, having struggled through the corners last year.
Have they succeeded? Well the data, according to Binotto, suggests they have successfully added downforce – and thus reduced drag. Whether or not that is the right thing to do remains to be seen, particularly as it is unclear what everyone else is doing. But it should give Ferrari an easier car to work with from race to race.
Packaging was a frequently used word, too, during the launch, Binotto and Vettel pointing to how this year’s challenger – called the SF1000, to mark the Scuderia’s record-breaking 1,000th World Championship race this year – has very tight bodywork to deliver a narrow and slimline car, particularly towards the rear end.
2. Vettel is in good form as he fights for career
This is a huge year for Sebastian Vettel, whose contract expires at the end of the year. The German was outperformed by his less experienced team mate Charles Leclerc last year, to the point where he is no longer the lead driver at the outfit. “They will be on the same level, they can both fight to be ahead,” said Binotto.
It will have hurt Vettel’s pride. He was, after all, brought in to bring the world championship back to Ferrari. The German could have let his head drop, but instead, he went away over the winter and recharged. And at the launch, he looked like he had reignited the fire in his belly once more. He was in a good mood, and spent plenty of time signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans outside.
“I feel very excited,” he said about the season ahead. “I’m confident but cautious.” It will have helped his confidence that Binotto said he is their “first choice” at the moment to partner Leclerc beyond this season. As is traditional in Ferrari press conferences these days, Binotto sat in the middle of Vettel and Leclerc, deliberately facing the drivers when he spoke about them and trying hard to protect them in his phrasing.
It is clear that Binotto doesn’t want to destabilise Vettel, wanting instead to give him the best conditions in which to perform at the level he has so consistently done in the past. At the launch, Vettel didn’t look like a man who was ready to throw in the towel. “I feel young enough,” he said. “We spoke about Lewis [Hamilton], he’s even older, if you consider I’m old. So it’s not a limitation – I’m happy to keep going.”
Vettel knows he needs to deliver – and quick – if he’s to retain his seat at Ferrari. But it seems he’s more than ready for the fight.
3. Leclerc is bullish about his chances
Charles Leclerc has settled in with ease at Ferrari, the Monegasque looking like he’s been part of the furniture for years. There were times last year where he was frustrated with how Ferrari publicly managed the challenging relationship between the two drivers – but at the launch, he was more relaxed, offering up mature answers, particularly when discussing how he would race Vettel on track.
“We both learned the lesson from what happened in Brazil,” he said, referencing the clash that put him and Vettel out of the race. “We are free to race but we are also team mates. A lot of people work on the car, we are a team, and things in Brazil shouldn’t happen. I’ve learned from it. The margins will probably be a bit bigger.”
You could tell by the way Leclerc carried himself at Tuesday night’s event that he is feeling confident about the year ahead. Speaking to him afterwards, he is simply excited to get behind the wheel to see what he’s got to work with this year.
He spoke of having made “a few mistakes” in 2019, and of learning “many smaller lessons”. He’s currently on the crest of a wave and has the complete backing of his team, who offered him a new long-term deal that takes him up to 2024 with the Scuderia. It’s no wonder he’s feeling pretty confident about his chances this year.
4. There’s a sharp focus on 2021
It was noteworthy that Binotto and CEO Louis Camilleri frequently mentioned the challenge of balancing a 2020 campaign with the development of a 2021 car that will be dramatically different, courtesy of a major overhaul of the technical regulations.
Getting that balance right will be every team’s biggest preoccupation this year, with the repeated mentions of the 2021 challenge at the Ferrari launch perhaps an example of the team couching their expectations for this year.
Binotto insisted that rather than diverting resources to make it work, Ferrari are simply spending more money – which means this year is going to be an expensive one.
Of course, they are targeting the world championship this year, but if it quickly becomes clear that the two titles are out of reach, it’s almost certain they will switch more resource to 2021 as the change offers them a real chance to get the better of Mercedes, and there will be very little carry over in terms of development from 2020 to 2021.
5. Ferrari know how to turn on the theatrics
Ferrari’s passion for Formula 1 is unrivalled, with fans draped in Ferrari flags congregating outside the imposing neoclassical Romolo Valli theatre in their droves, several hours before the launch event was due to start. They were in good spirits – and not just because the weather was unseasonably warm and they got to meet their heroes Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc as they signed autographs and posed for photos. No, they were happy because despite the years of defeat, 2020 is a new year and thus offers new opportunities.
Ferrari fans believe in the Prancing Horse – and that belief extends to their staff. CEO Louis Camillieri asked 40 of the team’s employees to stand up during the launch and take the applause to mark 35 unbroken years’ service at Ferrari. Now that is some dedication and belief.
It’s why Ferrari didn’t hold back with a spectacular launch in the theatre where the Italian tricolore flag was born. It was very much against the run of play, with most teams choosing to hold low-key launches. But Ferrari wanted to make a noise, in the way only they know how. From acrobats and dancers, to singers supporting a stunning orchestra, Ferrari went for it.
The star, of course, was the car, which broke cover 30 minutes into the ceremony. As with most new cars, it looked beautiful, and it looked fast – but the proof will be in the pudding come Barcelona testing, which starts on February 19. And it’ll almost certainly look different then anyway, because development never stops.