Honestly, this was a column I was already preparing to write before one of the RACER Mailbag questions landed in the inbox this week, when Al from Boston asked if Ferrari’s victory at Le Mans creates more pressure for the Formula 1 team.
That’s because Al’s point appears to be one currently shared by a number of fans after Ferrari secured the overall win at Le Mans last weekend. The argument is if that those running the World Endurance Championship program can achieve success, then it reflects badly on Fred Vasseur and co for not doing the same in F1.
The reality is more complex than it might appear. This is Ferrari, after all. Expectations have rarely been realistic, and patience has not been a trait afforded to the team in F1 in recent years. Just look at Mattia Binotto’s extremely impressive achievement in taking a team that finished sixth in the constructors’ championship in 2020 and turning it into a four-time race-winning outfit two years later.
The success came too quickly in the first part of 2022, and was then used as a stick to beat Ferrari with when it faded. That’s not to say there weren’t big failings last year, but taking a step back to look at the overall trend and trajectory suggests the team was generally on the right path.
So I can understand why there’s a fear that the romantic victory at Le Mans – 50 years on from the last Scuderia success in the top level there – could actually hurt the F1 team. But it really should be doing the opposite.
Ferrari winning one of the most iconic races in motorsport is always going to trigger a reaction from racing fans. Despite the recent surge in popularity that F1 has enjoyed – notably leading to a wider and more diverse fanbase that openly show their support for their team, be it Williams or Red Bull – there’s no escaping the fact that Ferrari remains the most recognizable outfit on a global scale.
And many of those fans have had their attention grabbed by the Hypercar entry and Ferrari’s return to the top category of sportscar racing this year, particularly after it took pole position at Le Mans.
At that stage it felt a little bit similar to the F1 situation, with Ferrari also on pole at Sebring to demonstrate good qualifying performance but not having the race pace to fight with the dominant Toyotas. That was until the 24 Hours, where Balance of Performance changes in the lead-up to the event had pegged back Toyota, and the No.51 of James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi executed an excellent race to take the victory.
Le Mans is never an easy race to win, and the FIA and ACO had the power to make the changes to try and make for the most equally-matched field it could in order to try and deliver a better racing spectacle, but straight-up BOP is just not an option in F1.
So it would be grossly unfair to directly relate the success of Ferrari at Circuit de la Sarthe to what Vasseur’s team is able to achieve right now with the F1 side of the operation.
But what should be taken from the result is confidence. The victory should be a boost to the whole of Maranello: seeing one of its cars win one of the most iconic races in the world, and doing so with two Italian drivers for good measure.
That Vasseur and Charles Leclerc were present during the race weekend shows how connected the team wants to be, in much the same way that McLaren has integrated its IndyCar drivers with F1 testing at times and pushed its Triple Crown history in recent weeks.
Such achievements are reminders that success in F1 isn’t everything in racing, and within the same organization ability can be shown in other categories that offer a closer competitive field, either by being largely-spec or having BOP regulations.
In F1, the regulations lead to such a meritocracy in terms of team performance that drivers can make less of a difference, but so too can so many of the team personnel. Vasseur, or James Vowles, or Andrea Stella, or Otmar Szafnauer, or Alessandro Alunni Bravi – any of the new team bosses of the past 18 months – can’t create a race-winning car in such a period. They can only influence the team structure designing that car.
Strategists can only try and get the best result the car offers. Aerodynamicists can only improve the part of the car they are responsible for, in conjunction with their counterparts. And they’re clearly not building a machine to Hypercar specifications, so why judge them based on what a Hypercar team does?
So no, winning Le Mans should not add pressure to the F1 team. But on top of confidence, it should add motivation. The sight of the celebrations at the end of Sunday’s endurance epic, the drivers posting about dreams come true, the headlines generated around the world, it’s a snapshot of what a first Ferrari F1 title in nearly two decades could look and feel like.
It will inevitably lead to the likes of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz being asked about the potential of racing at Le Mans in future, but also about what’s missing from the Scuderia at the moment as it chases F1 glory. There will be multiple answers to the second question, but in the form of the WEC set-up there are lessons that can be learned, and that’s a good thing.
Budget cap restrictions may have played their part in personnel needing reallocating,but no other team in F1 is competing in the top level of sportscars with its own prototype, and for simply being remotely competitive in both categories, Ferrari should be applauded – let alone winning the biggest endurance race of them all.