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Could Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto be the key to halting Mercedes’ dominance?

Ferrari’s new team principal’s has the credentials and the experience to rival Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, but can he put the Scuderia back together before the start of the new F1 season in March?

With just five weeks before the first practice session in Barcelona, Mattia Binotto is probably feeling the pinch of pressure ever so slightly as a new season looms. Binotto was appointed Ferrari’s new team principal on Monday following the tumultuous reign of Maurizio Arrivabene coming to an expected conclusion. Arrivabene was the third of a number of unsuccessful principals following the peerless rule of Jean Todt. Since Todt’s departure in 2007, Ferrari have won just a sole constructors championship in 2008. 2007 was the last time Ferrari won the drivers championship, where Kimi Raikkonen famously pipped Lewis Hamilton to the title by one point.

Since then Hamilton, and Mercedes, have been the bane of Ferrari’s title endeavours. Hamilton has won five of the last eleven titles contested, with Mercedes winning the last five titles consecutively. Arrivabene had been in charge since 2014, but his tenure had never been one met with confidence. A former marketing executive with tobacco giant Philip Morris, Arrivabene had ties to Ferrari via the racing team and Morris’ sponsorship deal. Arrivabene was familiar with the turbulent world of formula one, but his failure to challenge Mercedes over the course of a season despite having the car capable to do so has seen his reign come to an abrupt end.

Arrivabene came across as an incendiary, emotional character, which in some scenarios would serve him well. But, as the far more equipped Toto Wolff has shown in abundance, strategic agility is required to help your team thrive. Ferrari at moments of pressure collapsed, pushed further beneath the surface by the weight of  unnecessary self-sabotage and finger pointing – a poisonous mood that seeped into the cerebellum of the Scuderia. It most obviously presented itself last season through a litany of poor tactical decisions from the pit wall, as well as a number of season-defining mistakes from Sebastian Vettel.

“Mercedes’ team principal has looked to divert the pressures of formula one into positive energy to help bolster his team. And with Binotto, Ferrari are hoping he can do the same.”

It would be simple enough to put Vettel’s failed title charge down to error and error alone, but he too suffered from this stifling environment. Again, this contrasted hugely to the experience of both Mercedes drivers. Hamilton continued to praise the structure not just put in place by Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, but how that was reinforced by the mentality of the endless engineers in the paddock. When Hamilton was trailing Vettel at the start of the season, Mercedes nurtured him and stimulated the subsequent charge to his fifth title. Valtteri Bottas, who has been inconsistent since he debuted for Mercedes in 2017, has also been supported ably by Wolff and co despite criticism from the press and analysts. His fellow compatriot and Ferrari’s second driver, Kimi Raikkonen, wasn’t so lucky, with his race strategy constantly jeopardised by Ferrari’s decision to favour Vettel during grand prix.

Wolff put stress on creating a “safe environment” after Hamilton took pole in Japan. Mercedes’ team principal has looked to divert the pressures of formula one into positive energy to help bolster his team. And with Binotto, Ferrari are hoping he can do the same. Binotto is a Ferrari man through and through having worked his way to the top in a variety of roles since he joined the team in 1995. And during periods of discord, Binotto has been inherently linked with the positive aspects of Ferrari’s recently troubled existence. Binotto was instrumental in improving Ferrari’s now superior power unit – the primary force behind last season’s early title hopes. He was also head of car design in 2016, which has led naturally into Ferrari’s most successful seasons since Todt left.

In these areas, Binotto has established a philosophy similar to Wolff’s. Binotto advocates a collective approach, one that places great confidence in those working underneath him and since 2016 this approach has really paid off. The perfect formula one car, if such a thing exists, doesn’t just thrive off of an orchestra of parts, design, and pure talent in the cockpit; its success stems from the harmony of the individuals that make up that team. Arrivabene may have been able to nail the science of a good racing team, but he was unable to bend the team to fit his vision. But in Binotto, Ferrari may have found a principal that can get the Ferrari firing on all cylinders.

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