Commedia dell’arte was a popular form of theatre that originated in Italy in the 16th century and spawned, among other things, pantomime. At the moment, Ferrari are giving the impression they are set on reviving it in Formula 1 this year.
The team’s astonishing error in failing to clock that Charles Leclerc was vulnerable to being knocked out in the first part of qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, realising Sebastian Vettel was, and then having to watch as the German eliminated his team-mate, who was standing, disbelieving in the pits, belonged in the realm of farce.
But it is all too real for Ferrari at the moment.
Team principal Mattia Binotto held his hand up afterwards and admitted the team had made “a mistake, a misjudgement”.
They had wrongly evaluated the lap time that would be needed to progress into second qualifying. They had not taken into account how much the track would improve, or any gains as a result of the growing confidence of other drivers. They had wanted to leave Leclerc two new sets of tyres for each of the next two sessions. And they had not overruled the decision when they should have.
These sorts of things happen in F1. Decisions are made in split seconds and misjudgements can be very costly. The problem for Ferrari is that it is happening too often.
Over the past two years, Ferrari have made a string of operational management errors that have cost them dearly in race after race.
In 2018, in addition to the series of driving mistakes made by Vettel, these torpedoed their title chances. This year, the car is not quick enough to challenge for the championship, but the mistakes have kept coming – and with them considerable damage to Ferrari’s image.
This latest one follows on from Azerbaijan two races ago, when Ferrari sent both their drivers out on the middle of the three tyre compounds in second qualifying. As they adjusted to the reduced grip, both made mistakes and hit the wall. Leclerc’s error was terminal, and cost what had until then looked like a good shot at pole position.
And then there are the races, when somehow Ferrari have found themselves imposing team orders that have required drivers to either hold position, or let their team-mate by, at every one so far.
The drivers are not immune either, it has to be said.
In Monaco, Leclerc was quickest of all in final practice, but his first run in qualifying was not great. He was sixth quickest, but 0.3 seconds slower than Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. Then he missed the weigh bridge when he came in and had to be pushed back, which added an extra layer of complication.
Vettel, who had rehearsed his final practice crash with a near-miss at the same corner on Thursday, hit the wall with a substantial blow on two separate runs in qualifying – once at Swimming Pool and once at Tabac – but got away with it.
Equally, wrong tyre compounds or not, Leclerc crashed in Baku when he could have had pole, and he has made small errors on his qualifying runs in Australia, China and Spain. Vettel spun while racing with Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, and finished fifth in a race in which he should at the very least have been on the podium.
The impression, rightly or wrongly, is of a team on the edge from top to bottom, within which a kind of desperation has taken hold and cool, rational thinking – so critical in the highly pressured environment of Formula 1 – is all too rare.
This is ironic because the replacement of the acerbic, aggressive Maurizio Arrivabene as team principal with the apparently calmer, more academic figure of Mattia Binotto might have been expected to return a sense of greater rationality to the team.
Perhaps they are all simply trying too hard to make up for an unexpected performance shortfall this season. Binotto hinted at it when he said: “As Ferrari, we are facing a situation where we need to catch up points in the championship, we need to catch up compared to our competitors – and when you need to catch up you need to take some risks as well.
“For us, today, taking some risks was key to perform as best as we could in Q2 and Q3 to be somehow challenging our competitors in Q3 with Charles and Seb. But, no doubt, the implication of not making Q2 is even bigger than trying to challenge them in the final part of qualifying.”