Much like the Los Angeles Lakers are synonymous with winning and success in the NBA, Ferrari elicits the same feelings and expectations in Formula 1. However, much like the Lakers, Ferrari has struggled over the last decade or so and have not won a Driver’s Championship since 2007 or Constructor’s Championship since 2008. As was the case for both teams, 2018-2019 was supposed to be a year of change but went nowhere close to plan for neither the Lakers nor Ferrari. After a promising start in winter testing, Ferrari is already 96 points behind Mercedes in the Constructors Championship, the equivalent to nearly four race wins, through five races, with those races marred by poor strategy, driver mistakes, and a costly mechanical failure.
2019 was supposed to be the year Ferrari returned to the top step of Formula 1. Returning veteran Sebastien Vettel, statistically, the 3rd greatest driver in Formula 1 history and, the Formula 1 equivalent of “Azor Ahai” in young, Monegasque Charles Leclerc was supposed to be a nearly unbeatable pair in a car that seemed after preseason testing to be the fastest on the grid. In spite of all the early promise, after 1 practice session in the season-opening race in Australia, it was evident the car was just not as fast as advertised, and Mercedes had yet again put together the team to beat in Formula 1. Similarly, the Lakers were expected to make a return to the NBA Playoffs this year behind three-time NBA Champion and arguably the best player of all time, LeBron James and a roster full of young and exciting talent such as Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. The Lakers also quickly realized their roster was not as good as it seemed on paper and limped their way through the season.
The most glaring similarity between the two historic teams is the failure of coaching and management to handle expectations and produce strong performances. Both former Lakers coach Luke Walton and Ferrari team manager Mattia Binotto floundered through their first season in charge when expectations were at their peak, albeit only five races so far for Binotto. Walton’s lack of skill managing in-game situations led to a visible disconnect with LeBron James and his lack of development of the young talent on the roster created a situation that he had no way to escape from. Binotto is only five races into his role as Ferrari Team Manager and has already shown similar poor decision making through his use of team orders and his drivers’ strategies. In multiple races this year, specifically Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix and last month’s Chinese Grand Prix, Binotto has ordered his two drivers to swap positions in hopes that the driver taking the position ahead would have the speed to catch the Mercedes cars pulling away. In both cases, the Ferraris were unable to catch the cars ahead or were swapped again because now the other driver is faster. Binotto has also botched the strategy which has resulted in Ferrari only finishing with one driver on the podium in three of the five races run.
Though the Lakers and Ferrari exist in two very different sports, their similarities are fascinating and concerning. The Lakers have already moved on from Luke Walton and hired Frank Vogel this offseason, but Ferrari still has 16 more races left in the season to change the course of their season or end up like the Lakers with a new coach and even more dysfunction than before.