Ferrari technical director Mattia Binotto believes structural changes to Maranello's engineering departments are the key to the team's success this year.
Since the last major engine regulation change in 2014, Mercedes has dominated Formula One, with an 81 percent win record over the past four years and four consecutive constructors' and drivers' championships. But this year Ferrari has emerged as a genuine rival to Mercedes and going into the final seven races of the season appears to hold a performance advantage in terms of outright pace.
Considering it failed to win a single race in 2016, the turnaround at the Italian team has been dramatic. It has occurred under the technical directorship of Binotto, who assumed control of Maranello's engineering departments from James Allison following a series of high-level crisis meetings midway through the 2016 season. Binotto had previously headed up the team's power unit divison but was earmarked by former Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne, who died in July, as a potential leader for the development of the entire car.
Following his appointment, Binotto set about restructuring the team to encourage more creative thinking among its workforce. The idea was to promote ideas within the individual engineering departments and move away from a system of top-down management that Binotto felt had taken the team down the wrong development path.
Speaking at this year's Italian Grand Prix, Binotto said the restructuring had resulted in more ambitious projects while ensuring all engineering departments worked together toward the same goal.
"I'm certainly not an expert in all the areas," he said. "I have 25 years of experience in F1; great time with Ferrari at the racetrack in the time of Michael Schumacher but always as a power unit man.
"When I grew up in that final role, I think what was important for me was not to set the objectives but to make sure that the people were comfortable in their role, understood the internal process and work better not only as individuals but as a team.
"Where we've focussed all the effort is to make sure that the team was working properly as a team, and forgetting about the individuals. And that's why we are thinking about the car as a full package, and not trying to split down in terms of different components or units because we are a team and what is running is not just a power unit or a wing but a full car.
"So, again, all the effort was to build the team as a team and set the right objectives, deal with them, try to be ambitious. I think that's somehow what happened in the last two years."
Ferrari's performance has improved steadily over the past two seasons to the point that it now has the fastest car over a single lap at most circuits. Binotto believes the team has benefitted from stability in recent years to realise the full potential from the changes made in 2016.
"I think it's fair to say that our team, in terms of individuals, is very strong," he added. "We've got very high skills; it's a fantastic team in that respect, whatever are the areas -- from the power unit to the chassis and to the aero. I think what we're benefitting from the last seasons is certainly stability in terms of the organisation, which in F1 is very important, because through the stability somehow you may start to set down a way of working, improve your procedures, your internal process."
SF71-H a car Ferrari can 'count on'
A lot of focus has been on Ferrari's power unit this season. For the first time since 2014, the Italian manufacturer has had a noticeable power advantage over Mercedes, and since the British Grand Prix in July has extended its margin over the world champions even further. The way in which Ferrari has made its gains remains a source of speculation outside of Maranello, but GPS traces of the cars on track suggest the extra performance comes from the deployment of electrical energy from its hybrid system -- something Mercedes has been keen to draw attention to as the season has worn on.
However, Binotto stresses that the performance gains have not just been limited to the power unit. At the launch of the SF71-H, he underlined the importance of making improvements in aero efficiency to address the weaknesses of last year's car on high-speed circuits like Silverstone, Spa and Monza. A longer wheelbase was at the core of Ferrari's change in aerodynamic philosophy this year and Binotto believes the work the team has done has resulted in the car becoming a solid all-rounder.
"I think that since the very start of this season, since the launch of the car, we mentioned and we said that we focused our development in terms of efficiency and to make sure that our car could compete on medium-fast circuit types and I think that somehow we have achieved it," he said. "On circuits where efficiency is important, like Silverstone, like Spa, we got good results and I think that is a good base for the rest of the season.
"So again, compared to last year, I think we can count on a car, which is certainly better in efficiency today. There are still eight races to go, so it's still long and it will be a long and difficult battle."