Why Binotto's exit leaves Ferrari with an impossible target for F1 2023
Mattia Binotto's resignation from his post as Formula 1 team principal may appease the many who called for him to go, but its consequences could prove dire for Ferrari.
However much Binotto became an easy target for the critics amid Ferrari's reliability and strategy errors that grabbed the headlines in 2022, it was his many under-the-radar qualities that were key to having got the squad back to the front in the first place.
And, after a season where it learned some tough lessons about the perfection needed to be a championship contender, the ramifications of a new boss coming in could be immense.
As a team boss who understood the technical aspects of engines, cars, and their operation, as well as the political machinations of the F1 paddock, the FIA, and the media, Binotto's remit stretched large and wide for what is perhaps the most high-pressured job on the grid.
In losing Binotto, Ferrari is instantly without a team boss who had perhaps the most in-depth comprehension amongst his peers of car/engine design and performance parameters, as well as a direct understanding of the challenges and compromises of making a race-winning package.
Winning in F1 is all about marginal gains, and the knowledge that Binotto had of Ferrari's concepts and motivations was going to be critical in helping the squad make the step needed to get back on terms with Red Bull in 2023 – and fight off the renewed threat from Mercedes.
Binotto's imminent departure will leave Ferrari without that detailed insight at perhaps the most critical moment of the year as it pulls its new car together.
It will take any new team boss who comes in many months to get a grip of Ferrari's design direction, structure and cost-cap spending plan. And, by the time they get up to speed with things, the 2023 title battle could be all but lost already.
Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
Getting calls wrong in the early stages of next year could cost immediate lap time if the team ends up going down the wrong path, and spending restrictions mean little opportunity for U-turns.
Binotto also fully understood the dynamics of Maranello politics, having been in the team since 1995, working first in the engine department and then moving up the ranks.
He saw how it worked when he was part of the system and, after stepping up to the team principal role, put in place below him the structure he thought best to help push it forward.
With Ferrari under Binotto's predecessor Maurizio Arrivabene having completely mismanaged its handling of chassis technical director James Allison during his tenure from 2013 to 2016, it was clear that inherent weaknesses in the system had to be addressed if the squad was to make the most of the talent it needed.
Binotto did much to improve things and it is little wonder then that sources suggest the mood in Maranello now has sunk deeply as the reality of losing him hits home. Don't rule out other resignations in the weeks to come.
This is not to say that Binotto was not without his weaknesses and did not make mistakes.
Ferrari's reliability problems this year were not ideal. But, at the start of the engine freeze era (as Alpine/Renault also showed), it was always clear that if teams wanted to maximise performance over the long term, there was going to be some short-term pain in pushing parameters over the limit.
It was Ferrari's strategy blunders this year that triggered most of the criticisms aimed at Binotto though, especially as many viewed him weak for not sacking those responsible for the slip-ups.
But Binotto's mentality was always one of supporting individuals and making sure that, if mistakes were made once, then they were not repeated.
To the outside, he often appeared calm and polite when it came to addressing team mistakes as he moved to protect those working underneath him. But behind the scenes, he was a hard taskmaster.
As he told Autosport earlier this year: "I think I'm empowering the people which are around me. I think I'm not brutal, but I'm strict. And people around me know that I can be very strict."
While axing some of his senior strategy staff may have given the impression in public of a strong and decisive team boss; the reality was that it would not have made things better within the team.
Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari, in a press conference
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
As its tyre execution in Abu Dhabi showed, learning why things had gone wrong, improving strategy software to prevent incorrect information from being fed to the pitwall, and getting better processes in place, was a much better way of improving things.
Binotto was also perhaps too nice at times in not criticising his squad when things went wrong, and did sometimes lose out when speaking in his non-native tongue.
His famous mid-season comment about Ferrari's prospects to win all the races over the second half of the year came from the right place of being a supportive team boss, but came back to haunt him as Red Bull's title challenge ramped up.
"There is no reason why not to win 10 races from now to the end," he said after Charles Leclerc had thrown away victory in France. "I think that the way to look at it is positively, and I like to be positive - staying optimistic."
Ferrari did not win another race.
There could also be an aspect that perhaps Binotto had too much on his plate, as trying to help oversee alone the technical, management, political, and commercial aspects of Ferrari, as well as dealing with the FIA, opened the risk of him being a jack of all trades, master of none.
Binotto never shied away from the fact that the criticism thrown at the squad this year was hard to deal with on a personal level.
But he said he was always clear that he felt duty-bound to protect staff from all the politics swirling around.
Asked by Autosport about the challenges of 2022, Binotto said: "It has certainly been a difficult one because criticism is never easy to be managed.
"And more than that, I think for me, somehow [I needed to] try to keep the team focused and concentrated on the job.
"The criticisms are there to distract a team, and keeping a team focused is never easy. It has been difficult, but I think that will make me only stronger in the future.
"I know that we need to count only on ourselves. That is the most important lesson of the season."
But at the very time when Binotto needed to count on Ferrari, and for chairman John Elkann and CEO Benedetto Vigna to give him the full support he needed, he was let down.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
There was a clear opportunity for Ferrari to suggest that he bring in someone senior alongside him to ease him of any responsibilities that were a distraction, and drill down deep in addressing the team's weak spots. This would have been understandable and a positive step for 2023.
Ultimately though, without the backing from above, Binotto knew his days were numbered and the decision was made to offer his resignation. Ferrari must now find a replacement.
But whoever Ferrari gets in as Binotto's successor is going to inherit a bit of a poisoned chalice, as there will be no excuses for anything less than dominating F1 next year.
Vigna recently remarked in an interview with CNBC that he was not willing to accept finishing runner-up.
"I said it after the last quarter, I am not satisfied with second place because second is first of the losers," he told the broadcaster.
"We have made some progress. I'm happy with the progress we've made. I'm not happy with second place. I think the team has what it takes to improve over time."
This effectively means that it is win or bust for next year, which puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on a new team boss to get their feet under the desk and pull instant results out of the hat.
It is something that, when going up against the might of Red Bull and Mercedes in the cost cap era, is simply not going to happen.
And if that instant winning form isn't there, then there is a risk of extra criticism, destabilising forces infecting the team, and then the prospect of a rampant blame culture forcing heads to roll to appease the doubters.
Ferrari's most successful era of modern times came when Jean Todt successfully kept Ferrari's racing team separated from the external politics and criticism that can drag it down.
And even when Ferrari lost drivers' championships it could have won in 1997 and 1998, there was no knee-jerk reaction to change the management.
Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari
Photo by: Ferrari
Things were progressing and it was just a question of giving it time to evolve and make the next step – as happened when it began a run of success that would last until the mid-2000s.
Binotto never shied away from the fact that getting Ferrari back to the front of F1 was a long-term project and was not going to happen overnight – and that is a story that rang true as much under the Todt era as it does now.
If anything, Ferrari's strong start to 2022 distorted the progress, as it far exceeded expectations and the trajectory they were on.
Things were also skewed by Red Bull underperforming in the first phase of the season with an overweight car. As Binotto rightly pointed out, trimming weight to find performance over the campaign is a much easier job than delivering the aero gains that Ferrari needed - so Red Bull was always on a better glide slope during the year.
As Ferrari hunts for a new team boss who knows that anything less than victory against Red Bull and Mercedes in 2023 will be viewed as a failure, Maranello is at risk of putting Binotto's replacement in an impossible position.
Unrealistic expectations to not finish second will prompt extreme reactions and further change, which then can trigger even more problems in the future, and the cycle repeats.
It is something Ferrari was guilty of in the past, and it's now very much opened up the risk of it becoming its biggest weakness in the future.
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