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Formula 1

What can Ferrari actually achieve in 2021? Our verdict

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Ferrari had already been having a hard time securing a coveted Formula 1 world championship again – and then came 2020, which couldn’t have got much worse for the team as it suffered a dramatic fall from grace.

By that logic, as it launches its 2021 challenger with all-new branding and the promising line-up of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the only way is up. But what can the team really hope to achieve in a year where so much stays the same?

Our writers give their verdicts on how Ferrari should set its expectations for the season ahead.

Filming Day Maranello 2021

Anything but the midfield

Mark Hughes

Anything less than pulling itself out of the midfield would have to be counted as a disappointment considering both the level of expectation always carried by the team and the length of time available in coming up with a more considered resolution to the tech directives that so hurt Ferrari’s power unit performance.

It shouldn’t be forgotten either that in finishing only sixth in last year’s constructor’s championship Ferrari has as much as 12% more available tunnel time than Mercedes this year, so development potential should be greater.

The competition from its immediate rivals, notably Aston Martin and McLaren, will be hot. But third place has got to be a realistic aim this year, given the scale and expertise of the operation.

Filming Day Maranello 2021

It shouldn’t worry about winning

Edd Straw

The measure of success for Ferrari won’t necessarily be whether it wins races, but instead its overall performance profile.

While it was sixth last year, there’s no excuse not to be comfortably third given the resources and the very obvious upsides that should be gained from the engine changes. If Ferrari is consistently third best, that will constitute a success regardless of whether it wins races.

This is because it’s vanishingly unlikely that the car will be good enough to take on Mercedes, meaning any wins will be down to circumstances. A fortunate win or two would mean significantly less than a winless season in which Ferrari leaves the midfield group behind. That said, if Ferrari is able to perform at that level, it will be well-placed to pick up the pieces when fortunate wins might be on offer.

Given Ferrari is a team with a significant potential performance upside this year in terms of its troubles in 2020 and its resources, the gains made will test the strength of its technical department. It must prove that the decisions made and the work done to improve this year’s car have paid off.

If the car doesn’t make a big enough improvement, given the underlying science will be the same as what is going into the very different 2022 car, that would be a disaster for Ferrari’s expectations of being back where it belongs next year.

Ferrari 2021 F1 launch

Third place is now ‘Class B’

Glenn Freeman

Given the very specific circumstances behind Ferrari’s shocking fall in 2020, and the resources it has at its disposal, achieving its stated target of third place in 2021 seems inevitable.

But breaking out of F1’s midfield becomes a tougher task every year as more of those teams we got used to labelling as ‘Class B’ get their act together.

McLaren and Aston Martin are the most obvious examples of that: one has added Daniel Ricciardo and a Mercedes engine to the package that took that third place last year, and the other is expected to go from strength to strength at the beginning of its new era.

Ferrari should still beat them both to third, but I can’t see this being a straightforward return to joining Mercedes and Red Bull at the very front, or even sitting on their coattails all year. Ferrari is trying to break away from teams on decent upward curves of their own, so look out for bumps in the road and the potential for a closer gap back to fourth place than there will be to Red Bull in second.

Screenshot 2021 03 10 At 12.12.22

Pick up the pieces when Mercedes and Red Bull slip

Scott Mitchell

Ferrari beating Mercedes and Red Bull in a straight fight this season is unrealistic.

I can see Ferrari’s changes making a significant difference to its car’s performance vs 2020 but even in normal circumstances there is only so much that can be done year-on-year – let alone the current situation, in which teams are carrying over their 2020 concepts.

More power and less drag are fundamental improvements that Ferrari believes have been achieved effectively. However, let’s not forget just how far it fell behind last year. It would be astonishing if it has eradicated that entire deficit over one winter – if Ferrari was capable of that, it wouldn’t have been so far behind in the first place.

A win on merit seems unachievable. What Ferrari can realistically aim for is its overhaul restoring it above the midfield order it fell into. And with that comes the potential for an unexpected win like AlphaTauri and Racing Point enjoyed in 2020.

Ferrari must be first in line to produce those shocks this season.

Ferrari Fda F1 Debut

Leclerc’s the biggest hope of a win

Matt Beer

Charles Leclerc will win two grands prix in 2021.

I don’t think he’ll win any more than that. I don’t think he’ll fight for the title. I think he’ll probably also be eliminated in Q1 on occasion due to some kind of Ferrari calamity. And I think those two wins will be down to him more than the car.

But I’ll stand by my optimistic prediction.

The laps Leclerc produced to get the 2020 Ferrari on the front two rows of the grid four times, and the race performances that earned his two podiums, were superheroic.

Ferrari can only go forwards from its 2020 state and Leclerc will only have got even better with a third full year of F1 experience under his belt.

It will take misfortune for Mercedes and/or something beyond spectacular from Leclerc, but wins aren’t unthinkable.

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