Commedia dell’arte was a popular form of theatre that originated in Italy in the 16th century and spawned, among other things, pantomime. At the moment, Ferrari are giving the impression they are set on reviving it in Formula 1 this year.
The team’s astonishing error in failing to clock that Charles Leclerc was vulnerable to being knocked out in the first part of qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, realising Sebastian Vettel was, and then having to watch as the German eliminated his team-mate, who was standing, disbelieving in the pits, belonged in the realm of farce.
But it is all too real for Ferrari at the moment.
Team principal Mattia Binotto held his hand up afterwards and admitted the team had made “a mistake, a misjudgement”.
They had wrongly evaluated the lap time that would be needed to progress into second qualifying. They had not taken into account how much the track would improve, or any gains as a result of the growing confidence of other drivers. They had wanted to leave Leclerc two new sets of tyres for each of the next two sessions. And they had not overruled the decision when they should have.
These sorts of things happen in F1. Decisions are made in split seconds and misjudgements can be very costly. The problem for Ferrari is that it is happening too often.
Over the past two years, Ferrari have made a string of operational management errors that have cost them dearly in race after race.
In 2018, in addition to the series of driving mistakes made by Vettel, these torpedoed their title chances. This year, the car is not quick enough to challenge for the championship, but the mistakes have kept coming – and with them considerable damage to Ferrari’s image.
This latest one follows on from Azerbaijan two races ago, when Ferrari sent both their drivers out on the middle of the three tyre compounds in second qualifying. As they adjusted to the reduced grip, both made mistakes and hit the wall. Leclerc’s error was terminal, and cost what had until then looked like a good shot at pole position.
And then there are the races, when somehow Ferrari have found themselves imposing team orders that have required drivers to either hold position, or let their team-mate by, at every one so far.
- Leclerc wants ‘explanation’ after Q1 knockout
The drivers are not immune either, it has to be said.
In Monaco, Leclerc was quickest of all in final practice, but his first run in qualifying was not great. He was sixth quickest, but 0.3 seconds slower than Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. Then he missed the weigh bridge when he came in and had to be pushed back, which added an extra layer of complication.
Vettel, who had rehearsed his final practice crash with a near-miss at the same corner on Thursday, hit the wall with a substantial blow on two separate runs in qualifying – once at Swimming Pool and once at Tabac – but got away with it.
Equally, wrong tyre compounds or not, Leclerc crashed in Baku when he could have had pole, and he has made small errors on his qualifying runs in Australia, China and Spain. Vettel spun while racing with Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, and finished fifth in a race in which he should at the very least have been on the podium.
The impression, rightly or wrongly, is of a team on the edge from top to bottom, within which a kind of desperation has taken hold and cool, rational thinking – so critical in the highly pressured environment of Formula 1 – is all too rare.
This is ironic because the replacement of the acerbic, aggressive Maurizio Arrivabene as team principal with the apparently calmer, more academic figure of Mattia Binotto might have been expected to return a sense of greater rationality to the team.
Perhaps they are all simply trying too hard to make up for an unexpected performance shortfall this season. Binotto hinted at it when he said: “As Ferrari, we are facing a situation where we need to catch up points in the championship, we need to catch up compared to our competitors – and when you need to catch up you need to take some risks as well.
“For us, today, taking some risks was key to perform as best as we could in Q2 and Q3 to be somehow challenging our competitors in Q3 with Charles and Seb. But, no doubt, the implication of not making Q2 is even bigger than trying to challenge them in the final part of qualifying.”
As for Leclerc, despite his minor role in this major screw-up, he must be wondering what he has to do.
He has already had a maiden victory snatched from him this year, when his engine developed a problem in the closing stages of Bahrain, a race he had until then dominated.
He lost another potential win – or at least a podium – in Baku. And now this, at his home race, when he had looked set to qualify at least third.
The pain will be all the greater because he knows only too well that in Monaco, where overtaking is virtually impossible, his race will be long and frustrating.
Leclerc, though, has time. He is young and quick. His day will come.
For Ferrari, the problems are of a much greater magnitude. When you start to think about it, the strategic and other management errors date back many years, all the way to the decision that cost them and Fernando Alonso the world title in Abu Dhabi in 2010.
Since then, there has been a drip-drip of mistakes. Some have been big, some small – but all add up to the impression of a team who are a long way from the operational excellence of Mercedes, to whom they are attempting to prove themselves worthy rivals.
- Hamilton beats Bottas to pole in Monaco
For a while, Lewis Hamilton did not look like he was going to take pole position for this race. Team-mate Valtteri Bottas had been right with him all weekend and was quicker in final practice, in second qualifying and on the first runs in the top 10 shootout.
As Bottas said: “I thought I’d got it.” But he encountered traffic on his out lap on his final run and his tyres were too cold when he got to the start of the lap. Meanwhile, Hamilton was winding himself up for something special.
His final lap was right on the edge, and an improvement of 0.317secs. As he screamed his delight on the radio, it was clear what it meant to him.
Hamilton, very upset following the death of Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda on Monday, had been excused from his media duties on Wednesday after his team asked for him to be removed from the official news conference.
When that was announced in the media centre, one person booed. Whoever it was presumably believed that, however Hamilton was feeling, he had a duty and a responsibility to appear in the circumstances.
Everyone will have their own opinion on that, but on Saturday Hamilton gave his side of the story.
“The other day I didn’t feel like I was really ready,” he said. “I think Toto [Wolff, Mercedes’ team boss] also felt fairly similar. There was time for us to really dig deep into our feelings because we were still reminiscing over the lots of experiences that we’ve had.
“I was really in touch with Niki a lot through this past eight months. We would be sending videos back and forth to each other. It was always difficult because some days he looked good and was really perky and ‘I’m coming back, I’m coming strong and I’ll be at this race’. And then there’s other days where he had immediately lost a lot of weight.”
Lauda, Hamilton said, had been critical in the process that led to him joining Mercedes in 2013.
“I remember getting a call from Niki in 2012 and we had never really spoken,” said the 34-year-old Briton.
“So he’s on the phone and he’s like: ‘No, you should come to Mercedes. This is where you need to be.’
“I had always talked about how Ross [Brawn, former team boss] was the convincing element in me coming to the team, because when I went and sat down with him, he explained what the team were doing, where they were going, their plans. Mercedes and I truly believed in that vision.
“But Niki was the one who brought it to me and got it across the line. And in all of these years, he’s kind of been my partner in crime.
“Ultimately, he was part of the process of changing my life. If I hadn’t had the call all that time ago, I would be a one-time world champion now and probably 22 wins whatever it was when I was at McLaren and I sit here a five-time world champion and I definitely feel like I owe him a lot.
“So it was very, very difficult at the beginning of the week. Everyone’s posting pictures and… I don’t feel like I have to conform to how everyone operates. I took my time and again, coming here on Wednesday, I didn’t feel like it was the time to do that. But we all love him and miss him and it’s hard to imagine that when someone goes, you’re never going to see them again, or to talk to them, or have conversations.
“I’ve got the greatest of memories with him so he will live on in all our memories.”
Hamilton, for all his talent, for all that he loves Monaco, has only won here twice – as did Lauda.
He will be as determined as he has ever been to convert that pole position into a lead at the first corner which, Monaco being Monaco, will be as close to a guarantee of a third victory as you can get.