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Ferrari: uneasy championship leaders
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Ferrari: uneasy championship leaders
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Apr 2010   |  8:40 am GMT  |  49 comments

Ferrari lead both the drivers’ and constructor’s championships after the first three races of the season and have shown that their pace is closest to the Red Bulls, but there is an uneasiness about their position at the moment, particularly in light of the operational and reliability problems they encountered in Malaysia.

Ferrari get to work (Photo: Darren Heath)


The engine which let Fernando Alonso down on Sunday will arrive back at the Ferrari engine department today for examination, while yesterday’s debrief at Maranello focussed on the wider reliability problems, with both Saubers’ Ferrari engines breaking and the mistakes made in qualifying which led to Alonso and Massa failing to make it through into the second part of qualifying.

‘We made a bad evaluation mistake in the qualifying and we paid for it in the race, where we also had reliability problems, ” said Alonso on the Ferrari website. “Something like this can happen to anyone and we have to learn our lesson so we don’t repeat certain mistakes.

“I’m not worried about the reliability. I think that what provoked the engine failure was a one-off and the team told me that there is no connection to the problems Sauber had and none to the anomalies we had before we changed the engines on Sunday in Bahrain.”

Ferrari have confirmed that the Sauber engine problems were both due to a failure on the electronic engine management system, which was not responsible for Alonso’s problem. The exact cause will be established today. As in the other hot race in Bahrain, where both Ferrari engines were changed in parc ferme before the race, Ferrari made some changes to the engines before the off on Sunday. Clearly they are quite on the edge on cooling, like all the fast cars out there.

It is also quite possible that Sunday’s problem was linked to the gearbox issues Alonso was suffering from the start of the race. He was clearly in difficulty on downshifts and it is amazing that he didn’t lose more time as a result. But the uneveness of the shifts may have damaged the engine.

Alonso lost two points when he dropped out of ninth place on Sunday. As he said at the time, it could have been much worse, if he had been leading or heading for a podium.

The team comes away from the first three races with a positive balance sheet; one win, two other podiums and the lead in both championships, but they know it is only the unreliability of Red Bull which makes the picture look that way.

Red Bull has dominated every race weekend so far with pole at all three events and most laps led. Without his reliability problems in Bahrain and Australia, Vettel would have 75 points, with Massa on 33 and Alonso on 28 – a very different picture. The new points system looks great if the wins are shared around, but if you get a dominant car and driver package then it starts to look very lobsided.

But if you look more closely, Ferrari have had good performance relative to the Red Bull; in Australia, Alonso was only 16/100ths off the pole in qualifying, while in Sepang his fastest race lap was only 0.177s off Webber’s despite his obvious gearbox problem and what’s more it was set on lap 41, when the car had been struggling with the problem for well over an hour.

So the speed is clearly there.

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49 Comments
  1. tobi-wan says:

    Too many “ifs” in that piece for me but informative nonetheless. And it’s “lopsided” or “lop-sided” not “lobsided”.

    Plus Toro Rosso seem to be ok engine-wise although maybe their cooling isn’t so marginal.

    1. sinnae404 says:

      I rather think we can forgive the occasional errant letter, given the time constraints and travel requirements of the author.

  2. F1-FAN says:

    Without his reliability problems in Bahrain and Australia, Vettel would have 75 points, with Massa on 33 and Alonso on 28 – a very different picture. The new points system looks great if the wins are shared around, but if you get a dominant car and driver package then it starts to look very lobsided.

    James, suprisingly that you don’t know this. This new point system is more or less the same as last one. Proportion is almost the same.
    For example : You need in both systems one 2nd and one 6th place to overtake the winner.
    1. 18+8>25
    2. 8+3>10

    1. Phil C says:

      That may be true but you’re relying on the winner of one race to have a DNF for the following two in this case.

  3. Nacho says:

    I agree James, but how do you rate the chances of running all 8 engines before 70% of the season is completed? That to me is a HUGE risk right now. I’d be worried….

  4. Manuel says:

    Plus, Alonso set his fastest lap when he had more fuel onboard than Vettel when he set his.

    1. Rasczak says:

      Although Teflonso was on the (faster)options when he set his fastest lap, Vettel was on the (slower)primes and just managing his pace to cruise to the flag.

    2. Stefan says:

      True, but Alonso was really pushing his car hard, had fresher option tyres, higher revs (to try and pass Button) and was, by then, used to the downshift problems that he had a work around for every corner.

      By contrast, Vettel was saving his car, with lowered revs, and his tyres, which were the harder Primes, and was only being pushed by Webber who had settled for 2nd place.

      It’s far from both cars going hell for leather around the track, like in Qualifying…

  5. Mr G says:

    With a long championship like this year, loosing 2 points in a very tough race like Sepang will not effect Ferrari’s challenge to the title.
    Reb Bulls are the fastest at the moment but McLaren and Mercedes, if they can sort out the 1 lap speed, will be in the mix pretty soon.
    With track position Mercedes and McLaren will be difficult to pass and Red Bulls already shown last season that they are not very good to handle if they are following another car.
    Mercedes engine is still the gruntier and I think it will make a difference at the end of the season, look how fast was Sutil in Sepang.
    Overall RB will be the car to beat for the next few races but Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes will be challenging and maybe snatch the title at the end.
    Alonso looked to me at this stage the favourite to win the Driver title. his performance in Sepang was unbelievable looking at the laps times with a dodgy downshift.

  6. Pierre says:

    Considering his engine problem, the way he’s so had to change his driving and the potential time he’s lost, Alonso’s performance is astonishing… It’s now third time in a row, third time from the beginning of the season, third time since he’s a Ferrari driver that he dominates Massa…

  7. James B says:

    I wish we had more of an idea of how much the downshift issue affected Fernando. The fact is, his car had a problem and even then he managed to put in some incredibly fast times (later on in the race), despite that fact. That itself is impressive. I’d say he’s definitely still a contender, more so than Massa I think, but if RBR keep the form they showed in Sepang, I can’t see Alonso toppling Vettel.

    1. JaviValle says:

      Alonso explained on TV some of the changes he had to do in his driving to solve the clutch problem. This is what I understood:
      Basically, the gears didn’t downshift, so it was a problem when he had to brake before any turn. So what he did was releasing the gears before braking, then manually selecting the gear he wanted to go out of the turn with, and then high-revving the engine to make the gear come in again at the correct position.
      Also, he had to put all the braking force at the rear wheels, because he had no engine braking, and it was putting to much stress on the the front wheels.
      Imagine doing this in every turn for 56 laps. Unbelievable.

  8. Matthew says:

    We have no idea what Vettel’s true pace on Sunday was though, do we?

    1. Luca says:

      i think this is the key point – in a straight fight, we can only presume what may or may not happen – until we actually see it on track….fingers crossed for China!

      Once the top four teams (maybe 5 with Kubica) all get on the track with solid cars at the top of the grid well be able to see who really deserves the title…. but if its going to end up a season of playing the numbers due to poor management or race weekends and techie issues, then it will be a shame.

  9. Ash says:

    Excellent article James keep up the good work.

    You referred to all the fast cars being marginal on cooling as the Ferrari pair.

    “Clearly they are quite on the edge on cooling, like all the fast cars out there.”

    I was just wandering what you have heard on this topic because it seems from face value after the first three races that Ferrari have the most severe issues specifically regarding the engine and cooling. They have had to make complete engine changes in Bahrain as well as some changes in Malaysia.

    I have not seen any signs of the same type of problems with the other top teams especially Mercedes and Mclaren. Red Bull have had general unreliability which included has their Renault engine.

    But do you see Ferrari and Red Bull both potentially harming their own chapionship chances in the long-run if they continue to take DNFs or sub optimal results because of marginal reliability. I think that they both need to be wary of the threat from Mclaren and to a lesser extent Mercedes who seem to be improving their pace race-by-race. It could lead to a very tight championship with the team and driver on top resulting from who has managed to garner the necessary speed or reliability they are currently lacking. What are your thoughts on this….?

  10. Alex Petrov says:

    Ferrari should clean their eyes and stop making mistakes like in Malaysia and Australia. You can’t keep Alonso behind Massa if you want to win WDC. I’m not against Felipe but sorry – Fernando is in the different league and it doesn’t matter has he got a clutch in his car or not.

    1. Andy says:

      I don’t quite understand this logic. If Alonso is in the league of his own, why is he behind Massa in the first place? I, for one, would like the drivers to settle the WDC by driving, not by “oh, we know Alonso is better, so be a good boy and let him pass, so that he gets more points and thus proves our point.”

      1. Couldn’t have said that better myself. Massa needs to keep up his consistency and stick to his guns.

    2. Marybeth says:

      Andy, That is exactly what they did to Kimi in ’08 & ’09. I am waiting to see if they are going to be consistent with that or go back to the Schumi style format.

  11. ChrisP says:

    Alonso’s performance reminded me of Schumi stuck in a gear all those years ago. So far a very interesting point in the season. Looking forward to seeing how McLaren will come back within a few races…and what they’ll use to counter whatever Red Bull might be running regarding ride height.

  12. Alistair Blevins says:

    It’s like Button said – if you can haul in the points in an inferior car it bodes well for the rest of the season when new development bits are bolted on and the reliability issues are resolved…

  13. Pas says:

    It seems in clean air the Ferrari is very fast but maybe a tad behind RBR but in front of the Macca. The car however seems to struggle in traffic and seem sensitive to dirty airflow. I think in reality like all teams that qualifying is the critical area and will make or break their season. My money is still on Alonso to be the WDC

  14. Kedar says:

    Hi James,
    Given Alonso’s engine Blew up during the race is he allowed a 9th engine now or will he still pick up a 10 place grid penalty for the 9th engine?
    Is it just me or is there really a significant difference in speed of Alonso on Massa?

    1. James Allen says:

      Any 9th engine is a 10 place penalty

      1. Knuckles says:

        The original question should have been about the gearbox, because different rules apply for that: it needs to last 4 races, but can be changed without penalty if the car did not finish. I have not yet seen whether FA’s Malaysia result counts as a DNF or not, as he was actually classified 13th in the race. Do you know whether FA can change the gearbox without getting a 5-place grid penalty in China? Thanks

  15. A.K. says:

    Do you think Red Bull were taking it easy in the final stages, Brian?

  16. Freespeech says:

    I think McLaren will be or very nearly be on the pace in China.
    Not other team can develop a car through the season as McLaren can and do – what they did last year was a first in F1 history and what they learned in so doing without testing gives them an edge the other top teams don’t possess.
    Redbull still don’t have the management anything life Ferrari, McLaren and now Mercedes and as such will likely make more mistakes over the season.

  17. Dex says:

    Alonso is great driver. But let’s be realistic, Vettel and Webber could be much much faster in Malaysia. They controlled the race and they didn’t take no unnecessary risks.

  18. Sian says:

    James I was wondering, do you think it could actually work out better for Alonso that he retired in Malaysia? His gearbox would have had to last another race and given that it was broken and not working properly, surely its better because he can change it having retired and not have to face a 5 place grid drop for the next race, where he may be in a position to score bigger points.

    1. F1 Kitteh says:

      That’s what I am wondering as well but I think they should have considered parking him as soon as he had to do the manual shifting, to avoid to risk of damaging the engine (which might have been caused by that). He had a point that its better to lose the 2 points for 9th place than be in first place and have it blow up, but on the other hand was it worth it to risk 2 points for a 10 place drop later? If he was going to get big time points then I can see the benefits, so I guess their thinking was a rain shower at the end could vault them right to the top, which unfortunately did not happen.

  19. Ian says:

    James – would you be able to publish the teams respective usage of engines (against their season allowance) with your other race stats (I’m not sure anybody else does this)?
    Great blog btw – I like your writing style and particularly appreciate your objectivity

    1. James Allen says:

      I’ll look into it

      1. Dale says:

        This would be good :)

    2. Dave says:

      Engine usage at each event can be found by looking at the FIA’s Post Event Information found here http://www.fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/f1_media/Pages/home_page.aspx

      And then click on Technical Report.

      Ferrari must be worried – that engine that Alonso blew was his 3rd new of the season; not that the other two aren’t still usable however if they follow down the road they have been they will be cracking number 4 in China. 4 engines out of 4 races with a maximum of 8 allocated is not good!!

  20. Ian says:

    Red Bull/Vettel are championship favourites in my book (and me a Button/Hamilton fan as well…). I voted for Vettel as my favourite to win the WC in the JA F1 poll before the season started because they effectively ‘won’ the latter part of the 2009 season. They’ve demonstyrated their potential for 2010 by dominating qualifying at Bahrain & Australia; followed by the 1, 2 at Malaysia.

  21. kenny says:

    James,

    I hear Ferrari changed their engines in Parc Ferme on Sunday morn in Bahrain.

    As engines are such integral part of car, is it possible to change the engine without altering rear suspension?

    –At a time when Red Bull are accused of auto suspension changes between qualifying & the race?

  22. Neil says:

    Ferrari’s got a major problem with being on engine 4 already, especially with qualifying being so vital to overall race position, it will not doubt affect their championship challenge

    I think cooling is a major problem, the bodywork looks so tight compare all the other cars, i even noticed this when it was first launched, maybe it just the design

    Shame Hamilton didn’t qualify up front in sepang, he would give vettal a great run for victory

    For me, it’s Vettal vs hamilton for the championship, Mclaren’s rate of car development is quite something

  23. Andy C says:

    It’s quite interesting to see the two cars which are quickest are having reliability problems.

    James,
    is this a difference in approach for releasing cars? Mclaren seem to release a slower reliable car then develop the speed? Redbull always seem to be super quick and on the edge of reliability and Ferrari seem to alternate.

    When are the next big aero upgrades for mclaren, rb and Ferrari due?

    1. Paige says:

      McLaren apparently have some major upgrades in the pipe for Shanghai, so just one more race.

  24. Paige says:

    I disagree that Ferrari are closest to Red Bull in pace definitively. The McLaren in the hands of Hamilton has surely been at least as quick in the first two races, and he was arguably quicker than both Ferrari’s this weekend. Look how close he was to Webber’s time in practice three, when all the girls showed their legs for qualifying trim.

    I’d put money on McLaren taking the next big step forward. They seem very confident, and they’re the ones on whom Red Bull is training their rhetorical fire.

  25. Adam Taylor says:

    James

    Do the cars this year have engine braking or is it just slowed down by the left foot??

    Also, given the problems that Alonso had with his car, would he have saved fuel not being at high revs when down shifting??

    1. Spark says:

      If I recall correctly, the engine braking was prohibited in the year 2008 at the same time the traction control was prohibited. This was a major change for the drivers to get used to.

      1. Brian M says:

        That’s actually the opposite of what happened in 2008.

        In 2008 they went to the spec McLaren ECU which did not have any engine braking compensation. The ECU’s prior to 2008 reduced the level of engine braking seen at the gearbox and made the cars easier to drive, as they could downshift even faster w/o locking up the rear. With this change in 2008, brake biases moved forward.

      2. Spark says:

        Great info, thanks. I knew something had changed concerning the engine braking, but I didnt’t recall it correctly. :-)

  26. stephen stepney says:

    I,m a little confused on exactly how many engines Alonso has used,each driver is allocated 8 for the season,both Ferrari engines were replaced at Bahrain,so each driver now has 7,Alonso then had a further engine let go,so he is down to 6?? Hopefully someone will be able to clarify.

    1. James Allen says:

      He was on engine 3 in Sepang, but 1 & 2 are still useable.

  27. Legend2 says:

    Guys, as I pointed out in the off-season with my comments regarding Jenson Button’s surprising lack of mathematical ability, it seems once again he is not really with it:

    “It is yeah, it’s still really close at the top, which is quite surprising in some ways,” Button said. “I don’t think I was the only one who thought that the new points system would reward the fastest drivers more than those who are simply more consistent. But we’ve seen in the first three races that consistency still counts for a lot. And, I’m told that the championship order at the front would still be unchanged if we were using last year’s scoring system, which is interesting.” – Jenson Button

    It’s simply maths Jenson – just times last years point systems by 2.5 and that will allow a like for like comparison:
    Last Year:
    25-20-15-12.5-10-7.5-5-2.5
    This Year:
    25-18-15-12—10–8–6–4–2–1

    What this means:
    2nd place is not quite as rewarding this year, and 8th, 9th and 10th places get a little more. That’s pretty much all the changes are. So obviously last year’s point system will produce similar results to this years point system – unless someone gets a lot of second places; they will be disadvantaged.

  28. Carlm21 says:

    Massa leads the championship ahead of Alonso after 3 races and I feel he is driving very consistenly now a days. The fireworks haven’t gone off yet but when they start banging wheels and driving one another off the road then it will all change. My worry is that Massa can’t do it on every circuit unlike Alonso.

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