- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ferrari’s 1,000th Formula One race is no cause for celebration, because the team at its lowest ebb with a car seemingly getting worse each race.

For the first time during the coronavirus-hit season, a smattering of fans will be able to attend the Tuscan Grand Prix, but it is highly unlikely they will witness any Ferrari success on Sunday.

The team’s struggles were summed up last weekend when both cars failed to finish in Ferrari’s worst performance at its home race at Monza for 70 years. The weekend before was shoddy, too, with Ferrari placing just 13th and 14th at the Belgian GP in Spa and well over one minute behind winner Lewis Hamilton.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, the driver hired in 2015 to deliver Ferrari its first title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, sits in 13th place overall. In eight races he has not even finished in the top five and has been 10th or lower four times in addition to failing to finish two.

Teammate Charles Leclerc has two podium places and is seventh overall.

Vettel wasn’t given a new contract for next season and announced Thursday he will be joining Racing Point.

“The last weeks and months have been quite intense for me, a different and new situation to be in,” said Vettel, who has won 53 races. He added that he came close to considering retirement at the end of this year.

“It was close,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy call.”

Ferrari made it clear to Vettel he was no longer required by not even offering him a new deal beyond 2020, while Leclerc had already penned a new one until 2024.

With Vettel replacing Sergio Pérez at Racing Point, the team will be renamed Aston Martin and has big ambitions. But Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said he expects to continue struggling in 2021 and even beyond.

It could just turn out in Vettel’s favor that the Ferrari contract offer never came.

“It’s a very exciting challenge and I’m looking forward to it. I obviously want to race at the front of the grid, not at the back of the grid,” he said Thursday. “There’s some exciting news that we will have the first year of the budget cap (next year). It’s a team that is growing, other teams will have to go down in size.”

But his replacement at Ferrari, Carlos Sainz Jr., may be wondering why he decided to leave McLaren next year considering how strong the car has been this season. The Spanish driver finished second last Sunday, just failing to overtake Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri in a gripping ending.

Gasly’s performance saw him become the first Frenchman to win a race since Olivier Panis at the Monaco GP in 1996, and he said he has since received around 1,200 messages of congratulation. One of them was from French President Emmanuel Macron, while soccer stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé also messaged him.

“I was impressed,” Gasly told sports daily L’Equipe. “I’m just beginning to take in what I’ve achieved. It’s complete madness. Since I crossed the line, I haven’t had an hour to myself.”

Hamilton, who is odds on to win a record-equaling seventh F1 title, phoned him directly.

Hamilton had looked certain to win at Monza only to be handed a 10-second time penalty for entering the pit lane when he shouldn’t have. He ended up scrambling back from last place to finish seventh, but it hardly altered his large lead in the overall standings.

Having won five of eight races, Hamilton leads the championship by 47 points ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and 50 from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. They have won one race each.

Mugello’s 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) Autodromo Internazional is hosting an F1 race for the first time and is nestled in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. But drivers won’t be able to take much of it in.

“Mugello is a challenging high-speed circuit with absolutely no slow corners, which will be demanding on drivers and tires,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said.

A win for Hamilton would move him onto 90 and one behind Schumacher’s F1 record. Most of Schumacher’s wins were achieved during his heyday with Ferrari when he won five straight titles from 2000-04.

Now even getting on the podium seems like a distant dream for Ferrari.


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