Scuderia Ferrari didn’t really have much to lose going into the 2021 season. They had an absolutely disastrous 2020 thanks to a woefully underpowered car and a demotivated Sebastian Vettel, making them the butt of many jokes from Formula 1 fans the world over. Thankfully, 2021 turned out to be quite a bit better! Whilst there were still issues floating around in the team and neither of its two drivers managed to pick up a race win, there was definitely a much more positive feeling about the future by the end of the season. Ferrari managed to finish 3rd in the constructors’ championship, beating out its upper midfield rivals McLaren (who many tipped to be the best of the rest again this year). This was no doubt helped by some fresh blood coming into the team in the form of Carlos Sainz, who more than delivered in his first season driving the red car. Charles Leclerc was no slouch either, but once again he seemed to struggle with bad luck. This bad luck was especially true when it came to Formula 1’s return to Monaco (Leclerc’s native country) for the first time since 2019 and when a potentially huge win at Silverstone didn’t come to him due to issues beyond his control.
Perhaps the biggest positive that Ferrari gained from this year was having a competitive car again. After a year of fighting for points, Ferrari was finally able to mix it up with the upper midfield and even legitimately fight for wins at times! Whilst the car didn’t really change at all from the SF1000 in terms of the chassis and aerodynamics, the power unit was massively improved and even got an upgrade midway through the season that made it better. It’s when the upgrades came in when things especially started getting great for the Scuderia, giving them that little bit of an extra push that it needed to get past McLaren in the constructors’ championship and cement that third-place finish.
The other huge high that Ferrari experienced this year was the superb performance of its newest signing Carlos Sainz. Whilst people did expect Sainz to be very good due to his previous form at adapting very quickly to whatever team he finds himself in, he still did better than anyone expected. In fact, he actually beat his teammate Charles Leclerc (who has been with Ferrari since 2019 and is on a long-term contract that runs out at the end of 2024) in the drivers’ championship standings! Rumour has it that Ferrari was so impressed with what Sainz was able to do in his first year at the team that it’s going to extend his contract a little bit longer. If that’s the case, then I’m pretty sure the Tifosi will be very happy to see him around for a little bit longer.
Another rather unexpected high for Ferrari was the redemption of Mattia Binotto as a team principal. Whilst the long-time Ferrari man (he’s been with the company since he graduated from university in 1995) had been regarded as a bit of a joke as a team boss in 2020, 2021 saw him mature into the role Ferrari had placed him in. He wisely decided to stay out of much of the fight between Mercedes and Red Bull, only stepping in to make a comment when he was asked about the potential legality of Mercedes’ rear suspension (even then, he stated that he thought it was totally legal). He has also learned how to deal with the media much better and it seems like the replacement of Vettel with Sainz has re-energised him too. Whilst he’s not got the charisma of Toto Wolff, Christian Horner or Zak Brown and never will, what he does now carry with him is a firm assurance about Ferrari’s F1 future. That can only be a good thing.
Whilst in many ways 2021 was a return to form for Ferrari, it was a season where the Scuderia was still winless. Admittedly, this is down more to sheer bad luck than anything else. Charles Leclerc came a cropper due to unreliability at Silverstone, having to deal with engine problems that lost him a considerable amount of pace every time they reared their heads. He also wasn’t able to start his home race of Monaco due to his car being too damaged from the crash he’d had in qualifying the previous day. Still, though, it’s not a brilliant look that Ferrari had its first back-to-back winless seasons since the bad old days of the early 1990s.
On the whole, Charles Leclerc was a better qualifier than Carlos Sainz during the 2021 season. Leclerc managed to score two pole positions (one in Azerbaijan and one in Monaco) and frequently qualified a fair amount higher up the grid than Sainz. That’s not to say that Sainz was a slouch over a single lap compared to him, as there were several weekends where the smooth operator did come out on top in the qualifying battle. There were also multiple weekends (The Netherlands and USA being two of them) where Sainz managed to be within a grid position or two of his teammate.
When it comes to weekends that used the Sprint Qualifying format, Leclerc beat Sainz in the sprints in two of the three weekends. Leclerc finished 4th and 5th in Great Britain and Italy respectively in the sprint as opposed to Sainz’s 10th and 6th respectively; the tables turned in Brazil though when Sainz finished the sprint race in 3rd as opposed to Leclerc’s 6th place finish. With Sprint Qualifying set to become more of a thing in the 2022 season, perhaps Leclerc’s early advantage in the 2021 sprints could be a sign of things to come?
When we look at the battle between the two Ferrari drivers during the races, there is definitely a clear winner when it comes to the number of races finished. Carlos Sainz managed to finish every single race in 2021, this no doubt contributing to the very impressive season he had. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc wasn’t able to start the Monaco Grand Prix due to his aforementioned qualifying incident and had to retire from the Hungarian Grand Prix after picking up heavy damage due to the chain reaction caused by Valtteri Bottas.
When it comes to race results, Leclerc definitely had the upper hand most of the time. He generally finished races in higher positions than Sainz and it took until the French Grand Prix for Sainz to beat Leclerc in a race situation. It could be argued that the main reason why Sainz eventually beat him in the championship standings is that Leclerc just had an unlucky season; of course, we all know what happened in Monaco, Hungary and Great Britain. There is also the fact that Sainz had to spend time getting used to a new car and, as a result, he tended to finish lower down the order than Leclerc. Adaptability definitely wasn’t as big of a problem for Sainz though as it was for other drivers (Daniel Ricciardo and Nikita Mazepin being key ones who struggled with adapting to their new machinery).
|Round||Sainz Qualifying||Sainz Race||Leclerc Qualifying||Leclerc Race|
|Great Britain||10th (via sprint qualifying)||6th||4th (via sprint qualifying)||2nd|
|Italy||6th (via sprint qualifying)||6th||5th (via sprint qualifying)||4th|
|Brazil||3rd (via sprint qualifying)||6th||6th (via sprint qualifying)||5th|
What to look for in 2022
Ferrari could very well be an interesting team to watch in 2022. Mattia Binotto has been very vocal about how the team has managed to get onto developing the 2022 car earlier than most of the other teams. Indeed, he was talking to the media about how the development of the new car was coming along all the way back in September! He’s also made some noises about how he thinks the 2022 cars will be more like Formula 2 cars, meaning that anyone who was great in F2 will be great in this new era of F1. One of those drivers who just so happens to fit that bill is Charles Leclerc, who was absolutely dominant during his junior career. Perhaps, with a good enough car, Leclerc could cause a real upset and take the fight to Sir Lewis Hamilton and his new teammate George Russell? The Tifosi would definitely be delighted if this happened!