Sometimes stories crop up that you just didn’t see coming. It is happening right now with Santino Ferrucci, who found himself banned from two Formula 2 rounds – constituting a total of four races – before his entire drive disappeared when Trident terminated his contract this week.
It’s not common for a driver to be punished in such a way, which highlights the severity of his misconduct within the F1 feeder series, most notably towards teammate Arjun Maini at Silverstone.
A further twist came with the revelation that Ferrucci’s camp requested to run the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ – made famous worldwide by President Donald Trump – on his car at the same race that would ultimately become his last for Trident.
In isolation, it’s a strange story, albeit one that would normally have gone quiet by now. But it’s the silence of Haas that is giving the whole situation further legs.
Ferrucci holds the title of development driver at Haas, and has been behind the wheel of one of its cars on a number of occasions during testing. But the chances of him doing so again in future appear to be extremely slim.
Sifting through the noise to find out what has really gone on behind closed doors within junior teams is a tricky task. There are stories from different drivers and former rivals that suggest Ferrucci has shown a petulance towards them that goes beyond arrogance and into the realms of abusive, but actual proof is lacking.
What isn’t lacking is the reaction of Trident, a team that has exploded with public disdain towards Ferrucci and his father – an approach that is not the norm for the Italian team.
The team’s statement following Silverstone was remarkable, and obviously signaled the end of the American’s time with the outfit despite his contract not yet having been officially terminated. It pointed to behind-closed-doors conduct that went beyond the actions on track, where Ferrucci deliberately hit teammate Arjun Maini on the cool down lap after the checkered flag.
Ferrucci was too slow in apologizing for his actions, issuing a statement well over 24 hours later that included the inadvisable comment that: “I have no excuse other than the fact that I am a 20-year-old Italian American with a deep passion for motorsport, which is a very emotional sport.”
But this did all happen over 10 days ago, and yet the story rolls on with Haas having yet to take a public stance on the issue.
“I don’t have a view on it now and I don’t really want to explain anything because we are looking into what actually happened and what the story is, because we need to listen to all the parties,” Guenther Steiner said on Thursday in Hockenheim. “For us to make a comment or do something, it is too early.
“At the moment my time is better spent working on this race and the next race before the summer break and then I will have time to look into it. It’s not at the top of my priority list, but obviously we are not ignoring it by any means. But it is still too early to make any comment and I would like to leave it at this for the moment until we know more and we have a clear picture of it.”
In once sense, it’s understandable. In my personal dealings with Ferrucci, he has been entertaining, polite, enthusiastic and appeared to love what he does. Speaking to some of those that have worked with him at Haas, it seems I’m not alone in having had such experiences so far.
So the team says it is in no rush to look into Ferrucci’s conduct – and his future with the team beyond that – because it has a double-header to focus on ahead of the mid-season break, and with the ban in place for both the Formula 2 round in Budapest next week and the Belgian races at the end of August, little is likely to change between now and then.
Although the team insists Ferrucci was never going to drive in the post-Hungary test – and other sources confirm the decision not to test was made before the driver issue arose – the natural first impression was that it is highly coincidental that it has opted not to run at all in the final in-season test when it would have had to use a rookie on both days. Last year, Ferrucci drove.
So Haas is now allowing mixed messages to come out of the situation that are no good for the team itself. By neither standing by the American nor taking action, questions remain about what has really gone on this season. And therefore the story continues.
From a Haas standpoint, the belief is that all of the answers will come out in time and it doesn’t need to chase them itself. But every time Ferrucci’s name is mentioned, so is the team’s. And surely it isn’t too difficult to have someone speak to Trident, Ferrucci and Maini to gather a picture of what happened and whether it the situation can be recovered from.
Once Haas finds time to analyze the situation, if it stands by Ferrucci then he may be able to regain a seat in Formula 2 after his ban, or at least next season. But if such a scenario proves to be unrealistic, then there’s no future for him even at Haas, because his development path towards Formula 1 has been blocked.
While a driver with backing and talent will be attractive to a team in any series – exemplified by Coyne’s decision to run Ferrucci in Detroit last month – the claim from Trident that payments have been defaulted on and legal action is being taken means Ferrucci’s reputation will have taken a hit with potential suitors on two fronts. In Europe, it seems nigh-on irreparable. Stateside, the impression he left on Coyne will define whether there is more hope.
Ultimately, Ferrucci’s whole racing career is currently at risk, and the power to give it a chance of recovering from this whole episode lies in the hands of Haas.