Mattia Binotto’s highs and lows – The key moments from his four seasons in charge at Ferrari
After intense speculation, Ferrari confirmed on Tuesday that Mattia Binotto’s time at Maranello – which stretches back to the mid-1990s – will soon come to an end after he resigned from his position at Team Principal.
Having initially joined the Scuderia as a power unit engineer, before working closely with the legendary Michael Schumacher, progressing to the role of Technical Director and, most recently, Team Principal, it’s been quite the journey for the Swiss-born Italian.
As he resigns and heads for pastures new, we look back on the four seasons Binotto spent at the helm of F1's most iconic team. It all started with the 2019 campaign, ahead of which Ferrari opted to swap him in for Maurizio Arrivabene, whose leadership had come into question…
2019: P2 in the standings, three race wins
January 7, 2019 brought with it some breaking news in the F1 world when, just a couple of months before the season was due to begin, a press release from Ferrari announced Arrivabene’s departure and Binotto’s arrival as team boss.
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Amid a title drought stretching back to 2008, and in the wake of the team’s early 2018 assault fading, the goal was clear: return the team to championship-winning ways.
Binotto steps into the hotseat
Prior to his promotion, and with a wealth of experience in different roles underneath him, Binotto had been central to Ferrari’s engine and chassis gains. But could he handle the wide-ranging responsibilities of life in the hot seat, along with the intense pressure that follows the outfit day in, day out?
After early-season victories in 2017 and 2018, there would be no such repeat on Binotto’s debut, though a front row lock-out for new arrival Charles Leclerc and incumbent Sebastian Vettel at the second round in Bahrain demonstrated the SF90’s potential.
Consistent podium finishes ensured that they entered the summer break second-best to masters of the turbo-hybrid era Mercedes and, on their return, the Prancing Horse began to gallop.
Early promise with a stunning home win
Back-to-back pole position and victory doubles for Leclerc at Spa-Francorchamps and on Ferrari’s home soil at Monza sent the Tifosi wild, before the team made an even bigger statement with their first one-two result in more than two years in Singapore.
While there were no more wins over the final handful of races, which included a dramatic clash between Leclerc and Vettel in Brazil that needed to be addressed, plenty of positives could be taken from Binotto’s first campaign as Ferrari’s leader.
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Speaking over the winter, he said: “It has certainly been an intense season with a lot to do. We have restructured and reorganised the team. In the meantime, we have always tried to address and improve the car, and I think we did this through the season, at least to some level.
“There is nothing that has to be changed in terms of big changes – it is a matter of experience. We have always said we are a new team, especially in the key roles, and we are on a very steep learning curve.”
2020: P6 in the standings, three podiums
With a solid season behind him, Binotto would face his first real tests in 2020 – on and off the track.
Before any racing had taken place in a coronavirus-delayed season, there were growing questions around the team’s driver line-up, and the position of four-time world champion Vettel alongside new race winner Leclerc.
Parting ways with four-time champ Vettel
Ahead of their first term as team mates in 2019, Binotto pointed to Vettel’s experience and stature when fielding questions about preferential treatment, saying: “If there is any ambiguous situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one who’s got today more experience, many years he’s with us, he’s already won championships, so he’s our champion.”
There was a notable change to this rhetoric for 2020, as Binotto declared: “It’s developed. Charles has got a year’s experience with us. They will be on the same level, they can both fight to be ahead – so let them race.”
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A few months after making these comments, it was confirmed that Vettel and Ferrari would part ways at the end of the 2020 season, with talks breaking down over a new deal.
“This is a decision taken jointly by ourselves and Sebastian, one which both parties feel is for the best. It was not an easy decision to reach, given Sebastian’s worth as a driver and as a person,” explained Binotto at the time.
“There was no specific reason that led to this decision, apart from the common and amicable belief that the time had come to go our separate ways in order to reach our respective objectives.”
A new championship low for Ferrari
It was a huge call for Binotto to make as he plotted Ferrari’s future – opting to sign the much younger Carlos Sainz as Vettel’s replacement – and came during a 2020 season that would bring more lows than highs after the team reached a settlement with governing body the FIA following an analysis of their power unit.
With Binotto out of the technical room and on the pit wall, the SF1000 fell well below par. Leclerc’s second-place finish in the Austria opener proved to be Ferrari’s best result as they slumped to sixth in the constructors’ standings – their worst classification in 40 years.
2021: P3 in the standings, five podiums
Reflecting on Ferrari’s nadir, Binotto commented: “Certainly last year was a big, big disappointment. We know that we cannot repeat such a bad result; we know that we need somehow to do better in 2021 – that is what I’m expecting.
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“I think it’s really a matter of mentality: team mentality, drivers’ mentality, and as Team Principal. No doubt I’m fully aware of the responsibility I’ve got, being part of such a team. I feel… not pressure, but I feel the responsibility, as well the pride, and I know that, as I said, initially we simply need to do better.”
But while Ferrari’s 2021 car marked a step in the right direction, it was still a long way short of the packages produced by Mercedes and Red Bull, who went head-to-head for the big prizes.
Mercedes and Red Bull remain out of reach
Knowing early on that they would not be in the fight for title glory, Binotto and Ferrari made the decision to switch their focus to the 2022 rules reset – a sweeping set of technical changes that promised to change the face of the sport.
As championship rivals Mercedes and Red Bull faced difficult balancing acts, Ferrari could press ahead and develop their all-new challenger without worrying about the ramifications on their current season.
That said, a “significant” upgrade to the hybrid system in their power unit was introduced over the second half of 2021 “to gain experience for the 2022 car project”, and the initial signs were encouraging.
Short-term pain for long-term gain
While another year passed without a race victory, Leclerc and Sainz’s steady points-scoring gave Ferrari a much more respectable third place in the 2021 constructors’ standings.
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And with Ferrari’s long-game development plan public knowledge from the early stages of the season, it served as an opportunity to regroup out of the limelight, before – if all went well – hitting the ground running in F1’s new era.
“We didn’t set third position as the final objective for ourselves; we always said third will be the simple outcome of trying to work well as a team and in terms of team effort now,” stated Binotto post-season.
“Finishing third... is encouraging, because it’s a declaration that the team somehow has made progress and is going in the right direction.”
2022: P2 in the standings, four race wins
After their two seasons in the relative doldrums, Ferrari came back with a vengeance in 2022 as their development plan paid off in spectacular fashion – at least initially.
Off the back of a strong pre-season that created plenty of buzz, Leclerc and Ferrari started the campaign in perfect fashion with a one-two result in Bahrain, while main rivals Red Bull lost both cars through late technical issues.
Another double podium next time out in Saudi Arabia, and a second win for Leclerc in Australia (again with Max Verstappen retiring), only added to the hype as many tipped Binotto’s team to go on and mount a sustained title challenge.
The plan pays off… partly
Indeed, the goal Ferrari chiefs set Binotto when he took up the team boss role in 2019 was no longer a dream, or a hope – it was now a realistic target.
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But following such a strong start, Leclerc and Ferrari’s push for the titles would suffer blow after blow. There were reliability issues, strategic blunders, driver mistakes, public frustrations and more… all while main rivals Red Bull got their act together and took control.
In the second and third years of Binotto’s tenure, Ferrari were left to rue life without a competitive car, but when they did produce one in 2022, they were hampered by other issues.
Rumours gather pace in the Italian media
With Verstappen and Red Bull ultimately cruising towards both titles after Ferrari’s early-season promise faded, questions emerged over where the squad would go from here. On the one hand, they had achieved their goal of returning to competitiveness; on the other, 2022 was a big opportunity missed.
Ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi – where Ferrari staved off a late attack from the recuperating Mercedes for P2 in the constructors’ – reports emerged that Binotto’s days as Ferrari’s main man were numbered.
Initially rebuffed as “totally without foundation”, rumours gathered pace again as the dust settled on a campaign that saw Ferrari finish as runner-up in both championships, and the F1 world awaited official word from the team.
Binotto’s time at Ferrari is over
Then, on the morning of Tuesday, November 29, it was announced that Binotto had in fact – with “regret” – decided to resign from his role, and will be officially departing Maranello at the end of the year.
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“I am leaving a company that I love, which I have been part of for 28 years, with the serenity that comes from the conviction that I have made every effort to achieve the objectives set,” explained Binotto.
“I leave a united and growing team. A strong team, ready, I’m sure, to achieve the highest goals, to which I wish all the best for the future. I think it is right to take this step at this time as hard as this decision has been for me.”
It remains to be seen who will take the reigns next...