Where does Ferrari go from here?

Saunders slams Ferrari for double retirement (1:47)

Nate Saunders explains why a double race retirement doesn't help Ferrari's case for staying in the top 3 teams. (1:47)

After the first two races of the 2020 Formula One world championship, Ferrari sits fifth in the constructors' championship.

If anything that flatters the team's performance at the opening two rounds and it would not be a stretch to rank it as the sixth best team behind Renault as well as Racing Point, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes.For a team that has finished second for the last three years and won the 16 titles in its glorious history, it is a massive fall from grace.

What went wrong?

The collision between the two Ferrari drivers on Sunday was unfortunate, but really only represents the tip of the iceberg. After qualifying 10th and 14th on the grid, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were in unfamiliar territory in the messy lower midfield battle where accidents invariably happen, and took each other out.

Reviewing the accident itself, it was easy to lay the blame at Leclerc, and the 22 year-old showed a level of maturity in admitting as much as soon as he got out the car. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ferrari was reluctant to shovel any more blame onto their star driver, not least because the championship situation would look far worse had it not been for his second place finish at the first race.

But above all else, Ferrari knows its drivers are far from being its biggest problem right now.

"I would say it's a pain to see two cars retire after a lap," team principal Mattia Binotto said. "When you are starting in the midfield it can happen, but it's no excuse.

"But I don't think we need to tell who is responsible and who is not, I think that is quite obvious and that's not the point. I think it's been a disappointing weekend and the worst conclusion for a bad weekend for us.

"It's not time to accuse or look at who is at fault, it's time to react and I'm pretty sure we have, back in Maranello, the right people to do it."

Brawn predicts 'long road back' for Ferrari

As much as the double DNF will hurt at back at base, the lost opportunity to run the car in race conditions was the biggest blow at this stage of the season. As early as winter testing in February, the team realised how far off the pace its car was and it has changed its development path accordingly.

It was a decision that involved scrapping the updates it had planned for the original early races of the 2020 season and starting fresh with a new design direction. Due to the factory shutdown and subsequent coronavirus protocols that have disrupted all F1 teams since March, it meant the first batch of updates was not expected to reach the car until Hungary. A huge amount of effort went into fast-tracking a new front wing and floor to the car for the second race in Austria, only for both to be mangled as a result of the collision.

With no race data to analyse, we have to look at the rest of Ferrari's weekend to get an indication of whether the updates were successful. Qualifying suggested the car is still lacking compared to its rivals, with Vettel qualifying 10th and Leclerc 11th (which became 14th on the grid due to a penalty). But Saturday's issues appeared to be related to tyre management in the wet conditions above all else - a problem experienced by a number of teams, not least Racing Point, which qualified 13th and 17th despite having the third most competitive package in the dry. And so we have to go back one day earlier to Friday practice.

Again, looking at the timesheets makes for miserable reading, with Leclerc ninth and Vettel 16th (Vettel had his fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits, but it still would have only been good enough for 12th). But second practice on Friday was an unusual session, which some teams approached like qualifying, using an extra set of soft tyres and high-power engine settings to secure a good time in case qualifying was cancelled and FP2 made up the grid. So with Ferrari's focus more on understanding its car than setting fastest laps, we can perhaps cut them some slack over the one-lap pace.

A fairer indication of Ferrari's situation was its long-run pace, which indicated the SF1000 was faster than the McLaren of Carlos Sainz and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll. They all completed similar medium tyre runs, and Leclerc and Vettel were roughly 0.25s per lap faster than Stroll and 0.3s faster than Sainz. What's more, the two Ferrari drivers, who had very similar averages, were only 0.3s per lap off Max Verstappen's Red Bull.

Friday practice figures should always be treated with care - Red Bull appeared to have the edge on Mercedes, for example, which was not the case in the race on Sunday - but it at least offers a small slither of hope that Ferrari has found a better direction for development.

What are the problem areas?

It's clear from the performance of Ferrari and its engine customers, Haas and Alfa Romeo, that its V6 hybrid is down on power compared to last year. Ferrari admitted as much in testing, saying it had compromised performance for reliability purposes over the winter.

But the loss in performance also coincided with the FIA's investigation into Ferrari's power unit at the end of last year. That investigation led to a confidential settlement between the governing body and the Italian team, the details of which rival teams are eager to know but, on Ferrari's insistence, have not been made public.

Without knowing what was in the settlement and without knowing what has changed on Ferrari's engine, we are unable to say with absolute certainty that the two are related. But after multiple seasons of Ferrari making significant power gains, much to the suspicion of its rivals, it would seem like a remarkable coincidence if this the loss in performance was not in some way related to what happened over the winter.

Regardless of that debate, the overwhelming fact is that Ferrari relied on its engine performance to compete with Mercedes in 2019 and that advantage no longer exists. What's more, its absence has not been met by improved cornering performance, and as a result the car is missing the best part of a second of performance over a single lap in qualifying.

During testing, Binotto said the true performance of the 2020 engine would be revealed with the second specification of power unit, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, new regulations have been introduced aimed at limiting engine upgrades to reliability updates to save costs. As a result, the specification of Ferrari's engine, turbocharger and MGU-H are all homologated for the remainder of this season and can only be updated in 2021.

On arrival in Austria, Ferrari revealed that its engine specification was the same as the one it used in testing, meaning it is stuck with that engine, and its apparent lack of power, until the end of the year. That is a significant factor that is likely to limit Ferrari's progress up the field.

The second issue is with the car's aerodynamic performance. Ferrari attempted to add downforce to its car over the winter after struggling relative to Mercedes on high-downforce tracks throughout 2019. But the performance gains Ferrari was expecting to find have failed to materialise and the 2020 car has proved particularly draggy, exacerbating the straight-line speed deficit to the other teams caused by its loss in power.

So how did one of the best funded teams get it so wrong?

Binotto explained last week that the team has discovered a poor correlation between the performance it is seeing in the wind tunnel and the real-world performance on track. As a result, all the work conducted in the wind tunnel over the winter was based on false assumptions, leading to a car that has failed to meet expectations since it first rolled out the garage in testing.

"I think that what we have seen in Austria is similar to Barcelona, we need to improve our car, there are some miss-correlation with the design, especially on the aero, that is the development we have started again, back from the lockdown, and that hopefully we will have very soon at the race track," he said. "It will not be the final solution, there is no silver bullet, what's important to us is to improve the type of behaviours we've seen."

Turning that around is not the work of a moment, especially without any on-track running to verify the team's findings. Which makes the collision between the two cars in Austria all the more painful, as it saw 142 laps of potential data across both cars lost in one corner.

The good news is that the races continue to come thick and fast, and in theory Ferrari should be more competitive at the next round in Hungary. The Hungaroring is a tight and twisty circuit that rewards cars with downforce and carries less of a penalty for underpowered engines. If the rest of the development package arrives and performs next weekend, Ferrari can draw a line under the start of the season and start to rebuild.

But the rebuilding process is starting from such a low performance level that it is hard to imagine Ferrari catching Mercedes and Red Bull, who will continue to bring updates to their cars. Instead, Ferrari is already looking to the next major regulation change in 2022 and the potential performance gain it can find in one lump at the start of that season.