Why Ferrari could soon pose a threat to Verstappen

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Let’s take a trip back to the end of 2022 – Ferrari is pushing team boss Mattia Binotto aside after a season full of mistakes, crashes and strategic blunders.

The Italian squad handled the regulation changes that were implemented that year well and had the fastest car in the field at the beginning of the season, but Max Verstappen and Red Bull eased to the titles.

Red Bull slowly overtook Ferrari and Verstappen performed at the top of his game, but the Scuderia team did surrender a large lead. Leclerc’s crash in France was the low point.

That year was another setback for the iconic team, which last claimed a constructors’ title in 2008. Ferrari, therefore, decided, not for the first time, to intervene harshly.

Binotto left and was replaced by Fred Vasseur, who had already worked with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc at Sauber in 2018.

But Vasseur’s biggest problem was the fact he had no influence on the development of the 2023 car. After all, Red Bull was even more dominant, while Ferrari struggled with tyre degradation in the first few races.

Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz were unable to challenge Red Bull and instead were left looking over their shoulder to stay ahead of Aston Martin and the struggling Mercedes.

The challenge became ever greater for Vasseur, who, to his credit, remained calm and indicated it would take time for Ferrari to start performing again at a top level.

Improvement

Vasseur has been proven right. Indeed, Ferrari’s world already looks very different a year later. It is the second-fastest team in the field behind Red Bull and appears to have significantly closed the gap.

Truthfully, you could already see the first signs of improvement at the end of last season. Ferrari slowly managed to get the tyre wear problem under control while there was greater stability within the team. Fewer strategic mistakes are now being made, pit stops are running smoother and the drivers are more confident behind the wheel of the SF-24.

In fact, things are going so well that Ferrari can take full advantage when Red Bull has problems. The Scuderia proved that in Australia, where Verstappen retired after a few laps with a brake problem and Sergio Perez was unable to climb higher than fifth place due to tyre wear and floor damage.

Sainz and Leclerc were on hand to secure a one-two, and the men and women at the pit wall also played a part in that success as Lando Norris was beaten with a clever strategy. Now and then, the McLaren driver was faster than Leclerc.

The round in Melbourne showed two things – on the one hand, Ferrari probably has not quite completely closed the gap to Red Bull yet and it also has to contend with McLaren, but when everything falls into place, a lot is possible.

At the same time, the barrage of strategic errors seems to be a thing of the past and Ferrari can make the difference in other ways. When you are unable to compete in terms of speed with Red Bull, you can play with strategy.

Verstappen did the same thing in 2021 when Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton were faster in certain races, but he was still able to keep up due to strong strategic work by Red Bull.

The hand of Vasseur is very evident in this process. The Frenchman has provided calm and also does not shy away from making tough decisions. Should Ferrari not yet be ready for a title fight in 2024, all signs are pointing to a front-running push for 2025.

The puzzle pieces just need to fall into place; all the ingredients seem to be prepared.

Hamilton’s arrival and Red Bull development

Why? Because of Hamilton, the seven-time world champion who will be added to the line-up next year. The Briton is not currently performing at his best at Mercedes but usually comes alive when the car suits his driving style.

Add to that the proven talent of Leclerc and there stands a duo that can make things difficult for Verstappen.

Is it certain that Ferrari can keep up with or even overtake Red Bull? Obviously not. Much will depend on Red Bull’s development and to what extent they have things in the pipeline.

The competition secretly assumed that Red Bull had peaked last year within the current regulations, but the team from Milton Keynes still managed to take another big step with a radical concept.

It is true, however, that after a period of turmoil and mistakes, Ferrari is now in much better shape. With Leclerc and Sainz, the current season could be successful if the Italian team manages to take another step, and the future may rightly be looked at with optimism.

Vasseur’s trademark smile is now justifiable – things are positively moving along.

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