On occasion, people forget themselves and what they are doing in front of a camera, & certainly this is something that occurred recently with former F1 and Ferrari driver Mika Salo, and current FIA steward, during a Twitch stream interview where Salo accidentally reveals part of Ferrari’s 2020 punishment.
The interview is in Finnish, recorded by Kristian Sohlberg, and is embedded in the Twitch player below – for those who speak Finnish, the juicy remarks happen at the 1 hour 17 minute timestamp.
The translation of the aforementioned clip (thanks to Reddit Formula 1 for providing this):
“They suffered from Ferrari’s cheat last year because they had Ferrari motors and could use less gas, so I think Alfa would be pretty good this year when they get their full power.”
“So Ferrari’s getting out a new engine, right?”
“I dunno if it’s a new engine but they’re allowed to use it to its full power. Having to use less gas was their punishment for their cheating last year” claims Salo.
The background behind the story is that near the end of the 2019 Formula 1 season, several teams had pressed the FIA to continue their detailed investigations into the Ferrari power unit that seemingly could gain a significant power on command. This power boost was crucial in both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc performances on Saturday qualifying, but also on the straights during the race; where even the mightly Mercedes couldn’t keep pace.
It was suspected that the trick was to do with fuel flow rates and increased oil burning.
Many teams pointed their finger at Ferrari for cheating, spurred on by a whistleblower in the form of an ex Ferrari engineer who had moved to Red Bull. Red Bull slowly leaked the information before the season even got moving.
Eventually, the FIA decided to put a second fuel flow sensor on the Ferrari power units just before the 2019 US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, then mystically the Ferrari’s found it difficult to challenge the front of the grid.
Fast forward to late 2019, and the FIA commits to make a full investigation into why the Ferrari engine appeared so strong during the season. By early 2020, the FIA issued a communication stating that it cannot publish details of any ‘cheating’ simply for the fact it couldn’t prove it. Therefore the matter would be settled privately between the FIA and Ferrari, and punishments would be behind closed doors.
Infuriating many other teams on the grid who issued a joint statement of, in effect utter disgust, the FIA then released a 2nd statement detailing the reasoning behind the decision – basically, for the good of the sport, we cannot allow a huge legal battle, therefore “The FIA will take all necessary action to protect the sport and its role and reputation as regulator of the FIA Formula One World Championship.”, including a secret deal no less!
As a consequence, there was a late technical change, appearing to be a specific move to affect Ferrari’s power unit the most in 2020, indeed a change specifically designed to cripple the Ferrari engine concept. This could be considered a punishment as Salo describes above, and no doubt one of several technical limitations imposed late in the day. This of course significantly handicapped Ferrari’s 2020 Formula 1 campaign, and dropped Ferrari customer teams even further back. Haas and Alfa Romeo being the worst off.
It’s reasonable to assume that with this late restriction imposed, Ferrari decided to take the blow in 2020 and keep their car using a power unit of a 2019 vintage, but with the fuel flow restrictions, rather than try to modify their engine and redesign it which during early COVID lockdown, would be impossible.
Ferrari fans may take heart that their red team could well be returning to the front of the grid in 2021 heralded by Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur publicly claiming Ferrari will recover a “large part” of last year’s lost pace during an interview at the 2021 car launch. The Alfa’s (formerly Sauber) of course using a Ferrari engine.
On the new power-unit, Vasseur says: “We are on a good path. I think that on their side, they will recover probably a large part of the issue that we had last year”, the ‘issue’ being, of course, Salo’s claimed ‘gas restriction’ imposed on the Ferrari engine as a result of ‘cheating’.
It is extraordinary to hear such words used to describe the actions of a team as big as Ferrari, uttered by a current FIA steward to boot. But then equally, it only confirms precisely what many F1 fans suspected at the time.