Ferrari is to blame for Sebastian Vettel's recent form, according to Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who says the team needs "fresh blood" in order to return to winning ways.
Vettel enjoyed a fantastic start to life at Ferrari, taking three victories in his maiden season with the Scuderia in 2015, following his switch from Red Bull. Ferrari had high hopes it could challenge Mercedes for the title in 2016, but failed to replicate the race-winning success it achieved the previous year.
"Ferrari has fallen back again into the era before [Michael] Schumacher and [Jean] Todt," Ecclestone said in an interview with German publication Bild. "Too many Italians are working for the team at the moment. I have nothing against Italy, but to have a firm rule within a team doesn't run in Italian DNA."
Four-time world champion Vettel appeared increasingly frustrated throughout 2016, leading to a plethora of expletive outbursts over team radio, which in turn prompted Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne to suggest the German should be calmer in 2017. Tensions were also suggested between Vettel and team boss Maurizio Arrivabene, who said Vettel must "earn his place" beyond this season.
Ferrari were hit by the departure of technical director James Allision and a mid-season technical reshuffle, while it struggled to get the best out of its inconsistent, often unreliable, SF16-H car. Ecclestone reckons Vettel suffered from the team's slump in form, rather than his own doing.
"Ferrari needs fresh blood," Ecclestone added. "I'm sure Sebastian does all he can do to be successful [with Ferrari]. The question is how much are they willing to let him do.
"It's not his fault that he doesn't win. It's down to the car and the team. Sebastian's mission is Ferrari. The way I know him he wants to fulfil this mission first."