Ferrari endured its worst F1 season for 40 years in 2020 as it struggled with an engine that was down on power following a confidential settlement with the FIA amid suspicions over the legality of its 2019 power unit. A car that had too much drag only further exacerbated Ferrari’s woes. 

F1’s most famous team was able to recover large amounts of its power deficit last year on its way to beating arch rivals McLaren to third place in the 2021 constructors’ championship after a fierce season-long tussle. 

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the achievement provided the Italian outfit with “serenity” heading into the winter and the 2022 season. The ability to jump from sixth to third, despite largely focusing its development efforts on the 2022 rules reset, made Ferrari’s progress all the more impressive. 

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Aside from the introduction of a new engine during the season that boosted its charge to third, Ferrari brought no other updates in order to maximise the development of its 2022 challenger for the new technical rules. 

Despite placing so much emphasis on the regulation overhaul, Binotto is keen to keep Ferrari’s hopes in check, conceding it is unlikely the team will be in a position to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull in 2022. 

“The gap to the lead is still significant, showing those teams are very strong,” said Binotto. 

“So the fact we have put a lot of effort into 2022 and making that the priority was for us a necessity. Because we knew if we had not done that, it would be difficult to have a good car, competitive car in 2022.

“Is it giving us full confidence? No, we cannot be confident. We have no references from the others. What we know is that we have put all our effort in. Whatever we have is the best result of a team effort. And that’s important to us.”

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Ferrari’s upgraded 2021 power unit featured a revised hybrid system that resulted in a notable step forward in performance. 

The hybrid element will remain for 2022 as part of a brand new V6 concept Ferrari has been working hard to develop. It is hoped these new innovations will help Ferrari address its remaining power deficit.

“On the power unit, it is significantly different to the current one, except the hybrid,” he said.

“There will be some changes to the hybrid system for 2022, first for regulations, because more sensors are required from the FIA in all the systems for better policing. But the overall system is very similar to the one we've got and the one we raced at the end of the season.

“But the rest, especially on the internal combustion engine, I have to say is significantly different. We've got a new fuel, which is the 10 percent ethanol, which somehow changed a lot the combustion.

“We are all losing more or less 20 horsepower, which means somehow that the combustion itself is quite changed. So there were a lot of opportunities in development on the power unit and we changed it quite a lot."

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Emphasis has also been placed on improving Ferrari’s tools back at its Maranello factory, including building a brand new simulator, having identified that as an area of weakness compared to its rivals. 

“A lot of effort has been done and a lot of new tools have been developed in terms of simulations,” Binotto explained. 

“We’ve got a new simulator but it is not the only improvement, just the tip of the iceberg. In terms of aero, the wind tunnel, calculations in the design and the tyre management, a lot has been done.

“I’m very happy to see the progress in that aspect. [Simulation and correlation] will be a key for 2022 because as soon as we put the car on the track we will measure the behaviour. 

“What will be important is to understand the car behaviour and address the weaknesses as soon as possible and you can only do that if you’ve got good tools, simulations and correlations.”

Ferrari has another reason to be confident off the back of a much-improved 2021 campaign. Binotto is adamant that his side boasts the best driver line-up of any team on the current F1 grid with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz

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Leclerc and Sainz formed a formidable pairing and impressed during their first season as teammates in 2021, playing a key role in Ferrari’s late surge to overhaul McLaren into P3. 

It is a young but well-balanced and evenly-matched line-up. Leclerc demonstrated his exciting raw pace over one lap by scoring two pole positions for Ferrari in Monaco and Baku, while four podium finishes highlighted Sainz’s strengths on a Sunday. 

A strong end to the season, including a third place finish in Abu Dhabi, enabled Sainz to leapfrog Leclerc by two positions and 5.5 points in the final championship classification. 

But there will be no number one driver at Ferrari in 2022. Binotto has made it clear that Leclerc and Sainz will start the year with equal status, having demonstrated they are willing to work together for the overall benefit of the team. 

“In terms of drivers, as we have often said, I think it is the track that will dictate it,” said Binotto. “The priority is always the team, but no doubt, if they can compete for an important position in the championship, it will be the track that will tell who's ahead.

“And sometimes, I think it's not only about driver talent or driver capacity. A driver can be a lot unfortunate, and have damage, reliability issues, or crashes.

“So I don't think that we need at this stage, and certainly we will not have a policy of number one or number two. We will simply discuss it based on positions on track whenever it will be time.”

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Although Binotto has played down Ferrari’s chances of ending its 14-year wait for a title, there is a clear determination to return to winning ways with the team’s last grand prix victory coming at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. 

“What will be important for us next year is to keep on growing and it is to further reduce the gap to the competitors,” he said of Ferrari’s aims for the upcoming season. "The new regs are a clear opportunity. 

“The hope is to be competitive, which means being in a position to win races. Does it mean we can fight for a championship? I think if I look at today, the gap is too big. But as Ferrari, it’s part of our DNA [to fight for wins]. 

“What is important is to be capable of fighting at least in some races for the pole position and the win. That is the simple consequence of continuous growing and improvement. I would be disappointed if we have not improved this year.”