Descent into hell on the Ardennes toboggan: before the Italian and Tuscan Grand Prix, where it will celebrate the 1000th GP in its history, Scuderia Ferrari hit rock bottom on Saturday, during qualifying for the Belgian GP.
A year after securing the first two places on the grid and the victory at Spa-Francorchamps with Charles Leclerc, the Italian team must be content with a 13th position for the Monegasque, just ahead of his German teammate Sebastian Vettel, 14th.
It is the worst qualification for the Italian team since the 2012 Australian GP (Fernando Alonso 12th, Felipe Massa 16th) and the worst omen before racing in Italy for the next two weeks.
At Monza Sunday, September 6, it will be behind closed doors, the coronavirus pandemic requires. But for the next one at Mugello, a circuit belonging to Ferrari, there will be 2,880 tifosi every day in the stands, the Tuscan circuit announced on Saturday, much appreciated by Valentino Rossi and the MotoGP bikers.
Ironically, after being 17th and 20th in free practice 3 Saturday morning in Belgium, 13th and 14th on the starting grid on Sunday at 3.10 pm, "it's better than we expected," admits Leclerc.
"I'm happy with my turn but, unfortunately, it's not pleasant to have a good lap and to be 13th. Well … it's our life right now and we will have to work hard", continues the 22-year-old hopeful.
– "It's hard" –
"It's hard for the whole team, for the people who support us and are disappointed, it's understandable, he concludes. Today, we tried to do the best. The car could not give much. Moreover."
Vettel makes the same observation. "This is not where we want to be", recognizes the four-time world champion 2010-2013. But "this is a photo of where we are right now. We look more exposed on this track and it's not going our way."
Leclerc's two lucky podiums this season should not overshadow the fact that this performance deficit has been there since winter testing in February. How can a team vice-world champion since 2017 suddenly find itself in the soft underbelly of the championship, fifth with 160 points less than the leader Mercedes?
It is difficult not to make the link with the secret agreement announced at the end of February with the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the regulator of F1, after a controversy over the legality of the Ferrari engine.
Generally a little better in the race, can we hope to see the Reds come back up on Sunday, especially if the rain got involved? "On the whole, our (racing) pace in Friday practice was very bad," said the Monegasque driver.
And during the upcoming GPs, even in 2021? Bad luck: the authorized developments are very limited, to save money after the coronavirus crisis …