A wheel has yet to turn in anger on the new Formula 1 season, but Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto finds himself fighting fires on numerous fronts.
Are Ferrari in real trouble on the eve of the 2020 F1 season?
At the vanguard is Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that currently has Italy in its grip. As of March 10th, the number of people infected had risen to over 9,000, with the death toll standing at 464.
Three regions in northern Italy have been severely affected, including Emilia-Romagna, home to Ferrari's famed Maranello factory and its 1,000-plus workforce.
While it can be taken as read the team will be employing every precaution to ensure there is no risk to its employees, the impact of the contagion is likely to be dominating thoughts and will be the primary topic at every dinner table.
Of course, there is a job to be done, yet the sweeping epidemic will almost certainly be having an effect at some level, especially for those members of the team set to travel to the forthcoming grands prix that at the moment are due to usher in the start of the new season.
For the opener in Australia on March 15th and the subsequent race in Bahrain a week later, anyone travelling from Italy into those countries can expect enhanced screening measures, both upon departure and arrival to ensure they are not infected.
No-one can reasonably complain that health, both of self and also of others, is of paramount importance, but the procedures will only add to the strain and anxiety of what is already a daunting journey.
As for the inaugural race in Vietnam on April 5th, the government has imposed a 14-day quarantine period for any visitors from countries where the coronavirus outbreak has been severe, which naturally includes Italy.
Negotiations have and are taking place to see if the show can go on in Hanoi. Unless an agreement can be reached, at this stage there is every likelihood Vietnam could postpone, as the organisers of the Chinese GP were forced to do.
Naturally, personnel working for AlphaTauri and tyre supplier Pirelli are also affected, but for Binotto, his problems are intensified on two additional fronts.
On the track, if his words are to be believed, then Ferrari head into the new season on the back foot, chasing reigning champions Mercedes, and Red Bull.
In attempting to compromise for a power unit that last season was high on performance but struggled with reliability and in cornering, Ferrari's latest system has addressed the weaknesses but now finds itself lacking in pace.
"I think in terms of overall performance on the power and the engine, we are not as strong as we were last year," Binotto said at the end of pre-season testing. "We were somehow focused on our reliability and that is somehow compromising, eventually, the performance."
Binotto dismissed suggestions Ferrari were sandbagging during testing. He is generally viewed as someone who does not pull the wool over people's eyes.
Of further concern is the fact his team have been caught cold by Mercedes' latest innovation, the dual-axis steering system, or DAS for short.
At the end of an era where even the most marginal gains could be the difference between winning and losing grands prix and titles, Mercedes has seemingly pulled off a masterstroke.
In changing the toe angle of the front wheels upon entering and exiting a straight with a pull and a push of the steering column, so resulting in an increase in performance, Mercedes has proven it is far from resting on its laurels as six-time consecutive champions.
The mentality inside the team was perfectly demonstrated by the words of motorsport boss Toto Wolff in an episode of the new Netflix series 'Drive to Survive'.
Addressing the workforce inside Brackley ahead of the 2019 season, and referencing the forthcoming battle with Ferrari and Red Bull, Wolff quite simply stated: "Let's crush them!"
Binotto has already declared that if Ferrari were to copy such a system, it would unlikely be introduced on to the car until the summer, and in a year when the multi-faceted changes to the 2021 regulations are paramount, it would almost certainly not be worth the headache to develop and investment required.
While the gains from DAS have yet to be determined – in public at least, and with Wolff dismissing suggestions of it being two seconds per lap – there is no denying that as part of the overall package, it represents a significant step towards title number seven for the team and Lewis Hamilton.
The final gnawing issue for Binotto will be the full-frontal attack launched by seven teams in the wake of the FIA's recent statement regarding last year's power unit.
The FIA declared that following a thorough technical investigation of the system, it had "reached a settlement with the team", the details of which were not revealed.
Suspicions were raised last year when Ferrari scored six consecutive pole positions, during which time they won three successive races in Belgium, Italy and Singapore.
When the FIA issued new guidelines ahead of the US Grand Prix regarding the fuel-flow meter, the cat was out of the bag, even if no formal protest was ever raised about the legality of the Ferrari power unit.
McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Racing Point, AlphaTauri and Williams have since joined forces, declaring themselves to be "surprised and shocked" by the FIA statement, and threatening legal redress if details were not revealed.
The FIA has since outlined that while it "was not fully satisfied" that the system operated within the regulations at all times, reaching a settlement with the team – acceptable within its judicial and disciplinary rules – was far more beneficial than a potentially lengthy court case.
It is fair to suggest Binotto has not heard the last on this matter, adding to the burden on his shoulders.
If pre-season is anything to go by, the rest of the campaign could be a long and arduous one for him and the team.
Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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