Ferrari put fizz back into Formula One

As Sebastian Vettel nurses his hangover, Bernie Ecclestone can raise a toast to the F1 gods after a weekend to savour in Malaysia gave the sport a reason to smile again.

Ferrari put fizz back into Formula One
Sebastian Vettel celebrates winning the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Crisis loomed like the black clouds over Sepang after the German Grand Prix's axing, deafening complaints from teams and a soporific first race in Australia.

But out of the blue, Vettel and Ferrari punctured Mercedes' dominance, while Malaysia put pen to paper on a new, three-year deal which secures the race until 2018.

While Formula One's problems are hardly solved, Ferrari's resurgence will at least pique interest in a sport which was again becoming dangerously one-dimensional.

Signs of the crisis were clear when Ecclestone resorted to asking media what should be done about a championship struggling with financial and structural difficulties.

Two teams fell by the wayside last year and Germany, a heartland of F1, joined South Korea and India in dropping off the schedule.

"I think sometimes we (promoters) tell him what to do and he doesn't listen," said Sepang circuit chief Razlan Razali, during negotiations with Ecclestone for Malaysia's new deal. "But I think only now he listens."

Ecclestone posited a range of potential solutions, ranging from a "Grand Slam" series of elite races to awarding points instead of grid places for qualifying.

But the 84-year-old ringmaster admitted his hands were now tied with much power held by private equity firm CVC, the major shareholder, and F1's squabbling teams.

'It's a joke'

Huge overheads and falling profits mean many observers think the sport is headed for a tipping point this year, which could force deep reforms.

"I think 2015 is going to be a watershed in Formula One, on many fronts," Force India deputy team principal Robert Fernley told AFP.

"And it's going to have to re-look at itself in a very in-depth way in 2015 to make sure that it addresses the concerns of the fans, the teams, the TV, the media, the whole group. "Because I don't believe that we're doing a good job at the moment at that."

Razali said Malaysia wanted only a three-year extension, shorter than the customary five years, because of caution over the health of the sport.

He cited the example of new team Manor, saying it was a "joke" they were allowed to join the championship despite not being ready for the start of the season.

Manor's cars were in bits at the season-opener in Australia and in Malaysia, only Roberto Merhi was able to take part – despite missing the required qualifying time.

"If you're not ready, you're not ready, don't participate. Participate later in the rounds. It makes a mockery out of the sport, I think," Razali told AFP.

In the event, Vettel won a thriller in Malaysia and he promised to celebrate with plenty of booze as he headed into the night with his Ferrari teammates.

While it's not quite party-time for Ecclestone, he can at least breathe a little easier as he contemplates the next step for Formula One.

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IN PHOTOS: Ferrari unveils its new car for the 2020 season

Ferrari unveiled its new SF1000 car on Tuesday at a ceremony in Italy's motor racing heartland of Emilia-Romagna, ahead of the coming Formula One season.

IN PHOTOS: Ferrari unveils its new car for the 2020 season
The new Ferrari SF1000. All photos: AFP/Ferrari press office

Ferrari unveiled its new SF1000 car for the 2020 Formula One season, which they hope will deliver a first world drivers title since 2007, during a glitzy ceremony on Tuesday.

The single-seater's name acknowledges the fact that the Italian team will start its 1,000th world championship race during the coming campaign, which begins with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15.

Narrower than last season's SF90, with a deeper red colouring the body, Ferrari is pinning its hopes on the SF1000 car earning them drivers and constructors titles that have eluded them for 12 and 11 years respectively.

“I like it very much,” said German driver Sebastian Vettel.”It's much narrower at the back than last year and it is also redder, it's even better. I'm impatient to drive it, that will be even more fascinating than looking at it.”

The Scuderia broke with tradition and presented its new racing car outside of its stronghold of Maranello, unveiling it instead amid of sea of red on stage at the Teatro Romolo-Valli in the nearby city of Reggio Emilia.

“This is a very important place for our country,” chairman of the Ferrari group John Elkann explained.
“It was in this city that the tricolour flag, which became that of Italy, was created. And Ferrari is proud of Italy and of representing Italy.”

“This is a very special year,” continued Ferrari Team Manager Mattia Binotto.

“It's 70 years of Formula One, we have been there from the start and we are going to reach the figure of 1,000 Grands Prix, which is something incredible.”

Barring a forced change in the calendar because of the deadly coronavirus in Asia, the milestone should be reached in June during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

“Maybe it looks a lot like the SF90, but I can assure you it is very different,” continued Binotto.

“We still have to make progress, especially on reliability,” he added, recalling that Ferrari, like the other teams, had to face “the double challenge” of preparing the next season in parallel with the following one, when new rules will come into force.

Binotto stressed that this season veteran Vettel and 22-year-old Charles Leclerc, who impressed on his debut last season, would be starting on an equal footing.

“We have seen that they can both fight for the best results. They are both on the same level. It is up to them to race,” he added.

Last season, the association between the experienced Vettel and Leclerc often turned into a duel, coming to a head when the two drivers collided during the Brazilian GP.

But 22-year-old Leclerc, who won two races and finished fourth place in the world championship, said lessons had been learned.

“We have learned the lesson from Brazil. We are free to race, but we are teammates,” he said.

“A lot of people are working behind us, as a team, and things like Brazil should not happen.”

Both drivers said they were impatient to try out the new car, which will be on track next week for the pre-season testing in Barcelona.

“I felt emotional when I saw it,” said Monaco's Leclerc.

“Now I can't wait to be out on track and try it and to show all the work that has been done on this car. It's going to be a great challenge,” he added. “I'm ready to learn from my mistakes to become an even better driver.”