Despite preseason testing suggesting the red car would be the one to beat in 2019, Ferrari was immediately shown up at the first round in Australia, where it was 0.7 seconds off the pace and failed to finish on the podium.
There have been brighter moments since then — Charles Leclerc would’ve won in Bahrain had his engine not failed him and Sebastian Vettel was leading in Canada before cutting a chicane and copping a penalty — but in the main 2019 has offered only disappointment for Maranello.
With nine rounds remaining it sits a distant second in the constructors standings, 150 points behind Mercedes and only 44 ahead of Red Bull Racing.
The difference between expectation and reality comes down to different approaches to the aerodynamics regulations introduced this season.
Ferrari’s front wing tells the tale of an errant aero philosophy. Starting thin and low at the outside edges and sloping up towards the centre, it theoretically offers a more stable car but less overall downforce. On the other hand Mercedes and Red Bull Racing’s inverted solution has allowed both to pile on performance-buying downforce and forge further from the Scuderia’s grasp.
It’s left Ferrari at a disadvantage at most circuits, where its rivals have struck a better balance between downforce and straight-line speed. The Italian team has had opportunities to use its class-leading power unit to strike back at tracks that demand low downforce and high power — Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Canada and Germany — but it’s found ways to throw away its chances through mechanical problems or driver error at each.
Fortunately for Ferrari its best two chances to maximise its engine advantage are still to come — the imminent Belgian Grand Prix on September 1 and Italian Grand Prix on the following weekend take place on renowned power circuits.
The Belgian Grand Prix at the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps tempts drivers to keep their foot planted on the throttle for 70 per cent of the 7.004-kilometre blast through the Ardennes forest, but the Italian Grand Prix tops even that: up to 80 per cent of the Autodromo Internazionale Monza, nicknamed the ‘Temple of Speed’, is taken at full beans.
In 2018 Ferrari deployed its engine advantage to full effect in Belgium to comfortably control the race, but in Italy it failed to turn a front-row lockout into victory after Vettel crashed and Kimi Raikkonen succumbed to superior Mercedes strategy.
“I think [Belgium and Italy are] more power-sensitive, so we should certainly be more competitive there,” Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said. “But there is nothing that is given.
“We will try to prepare ourselves the best to seek the first victory.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, his team having won all but two of the 12 grands prix so far this season, admitted he expects a sterner test this weekend.
“I have no doubt that the conversation could be totally different than the one we're having right now,” he said after victory in Hungary. “It’s going to be difficult for us.”
But execution, forever a Scuderia weakness, will be key in the face of the slick Mercedes and wily Red Bull Racing, which enters as an unknown quantity with its always-improving Honda engine. That the team will start favourite in both grands prix ratchets up the pressure to finally score a win in 2019.
The championship might be lost, but there’s pride on the line in a season that once promised so much for Ferrari.