Ferrari deny crisis ahead of 1,000th race at Tuscan Grand Prix
Mugello (Italy) (AFP)
Ferrari go into this weekend's Tuscan Grand Prix, an event created to celebrate the team's 1,000th Formula One race, denying they are in crisis and hoping an expected switch to a dark red retro livery will lift the spirits, deliver some points and ensure a party to remember.
After two disappointing and pointless races at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, the sport's first visit to the beautiful Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit in the rolling Tuscan hills marks the team's achievement in being the first to enter 1,000 World Championship Grands Prix.
To highlight the landmark, Charles Leclerc and departing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel will drive SF1000 cars painted a darker red – to stir memories of the team's F1 debut at the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, the second race of that, the first championship season. They missed the first due to a commercial dispute with the organisers at Silverstone.
In Monte Carlo, future two-time world champion Alberto Ascari finished second behind Juan Manuel Fangio's Alfa Romeo – a result that the current team would willingly accept this weekend to bring an end to their current travails.
"It is an important race for us, the 1,000th Grand Prix," admitted team boss Mattia Binotto. "It is a different type of circuit to Spa and Monza so I think it will be important to understand our level of competitiveness at such a circuit.
"It's a very hard season, but it's by facing up to difficulties like these that you get stronger. We must look ahead and build for the future. Having said that, we will give our all at Mugello."
Ferrari slumped to sixth in the constructors' championship last Sunday when Vettel - who will move to Aston Martin next season - suffered a brakes failure after six laps and Leclerc crashed out at high speed.
The team are now only 14 points clear of fellow Italians Alpha Tauri, the Faenza-based minnows who claimed only their second F1 win thanks to Pierre Gasly's gritty triumph.
- Ferrari keen to move on -
But team boss Binotto, who has kept his cool despite a maelstrom of emotions around him, said: "I think we were not in a crisis last time (after Belgium) and I can confirm that is not the case now (after Italy).
"It was a bad day, especially with reliability issues, the worst conclusion to a weekend, but it is important to look forward and become stronger."
Ferrari may be distracted by their own history this weekend when in addition to the occasion, the retro livery and other novelties, they will be backed by 2,880 of the official Ferrari Supporters Club, marking the first time this year that any fans have attended a race due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
The double failure at Monza confirmed the team's first double-blank in successive races since 2009 and they desperately need to avoid another and prevent their own party falling flat.
As Ferrari seek some relief, series leader and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes will be hunting more records after finishing seventh last Sunday following a penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed.
He said he was to blame for missing the signals, but on Wednesday Mercedes intervened and said they were responsible for the mess-up because they had access to clearer signals and more information. Team chief Toto Wolff confirmed also that Mercedes were re-painting the official safety car in Ferrari red to honour their achievement.
Another win for Hamilton would be his 90th and lift him to within one of Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher's record of 91.
He is unlikely to be challenged by Ferrari, but Red Bull's Max Verstappen should be back to his best, after failing to finish at Monza, on a circuit more suited to his style with several other drivers in close contention.
© 2020 AFP