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Ferrari chief ready to wield axe if Sebastian Vettel’s title bid hits barriers

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 03/10/2017 Kevin Eason
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Heads could roll at Ferrari as the world’s most famous Formula One team seeks culprits for the double failure that could cost Sebastian Vettel the world championship.

Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari president, signalled a clear-out in the wake of a disastrous Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, where Vettel was unable to start qualifying and then Kimi Raikkonen, second on the grid, was unable even to make the start.

Related: Vettel: Incident 'completely unnecessary' (Sky Sports)

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That followed a calamitous Singapore Grand Prix two weeks previously, where Raikkonen and Vettel collided with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and had to retire. While 20-year-old Dutchman Verstappen bounced back to celebrate victory in Malaysia, Ferrari have been left to rue a meagre points haul of 12 points from two races the team expected to dominate.

“Both Ferraris could have won [in Malaysia], that’s a fact,” said an angry Marchionne. “It could have also been the same at Singapore. That’s another fact. That’s not a big problem if this kind of issue appears in our factory, but it’s really ugly when you’re in second place on the grid and you can’t start the race. Having this kind of problem during the race make us angry.”

Marchionne is a hard-headed businessman with a reputation for ruthlessness. Under his watch, Luca di Montezemolo, the former president, was ditched and Stefano Domenicali, who led the team to within touching distance of two world championships, was also shown the door. Marchionne ordered a complete reorganisation and the team have become know for producing reliable cars — but that reputation fell apart in Malaysia.

“We have some issues with our power units because we have a young team, but also because the quality of the components is not at the right level for a race car,” added Marchionne. “We are intervening and we are working on it, making some organisational changes.”

It is 10 years since Ferrari last had a world champion, when Raikkonen snatched the title from under the noses of McLaren duo Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at the final race of the 2007 season. Marchionne is hoping that history can be repeated and Vettel has come from behind twice before to win the world championship at the final round. This time, though, he is 34 points behind the Briton, with Japan — a circuit that should suit Hamilton’s powerful Mercedes — next up this weekend.

Vettel has been rallying the troops in the Ferrari garage and refuses to give up. “I am still optimistic because we know we have a quick car,” he said. “The speed is there.”

Inquests are not restricted to Ferrari, though, and Mercedes are conducting their own review of a car that appears to have lost the devastating pace that has brought him seven victories this season.

Although Hamilton rescued second in Malaysia, he complained that he never had the performance to take on Verstappen and believes he would have been left standing had the Ferraris survived their mechanical woes. “I have suggested what I want to do at the start of the next race and what I need,” said Hamilton. “I’m happy that the team is now pumped up to pull together.”

Hamilton and Vettel know the dynamic of this championship has been transformed by Verstappen’s victory in Malaysia and a resurgent Red Bull team that appears to have found form at a crucial moment in the title race.

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