Ferrari, 5 wins, 2 poles, 3rd in Constructors’ Championship
There are so many ways to look at the story of Ferrari’s 2010 season, but let’s start with the helicopter view, the overview in other words. Ferrari hires Alonso (finally) gives him a winning car and despite a few mistakes he establishes himself as clear number one, takes the chances, wins races and then loses the title at the last round due to a bad mistake on strategy by his team.
The inescapable conclusion from this is that Alonso owed Ferrari one after his early season mistakes, but he made good. Now Ferrari very definitely owe Alonso one after the error in Abu Dhabi. And that sets the scene for 2011.
The detail is more complex and more controversial, of course; Alonso is hired as the team lets Raikkonen go. The Finn turned out to be not what the team was looking for, Alonso fitted the bill much better, he’s more in the mould of a Schumacher. After the euphoria of a debut win, there were some sticky moments early season, when he made out of character mistakes, like jumping the start in China or crashing in Monaco, but overall he got himself into a position to win the title, which is what you get when you hire Alonso.
Meanwhile the team showed great compassion towards its other driver Felipe Massa, keeping a seat open for him despite his head injury and backing him with a new contract, when he was struggling in the early summer. But the defining moment of his season – and to many fans of Ferrari’s – was the team orders episode in Germany.
Massa was moved aside by a message from his engineer Rob Smedley, who didn’t try too hard to disguise it. The TV director ran the audio clip and the world knew what it meant. The stewards said Ferrari had broken the rules and fined them, many fans and media felt the same way and called for stronger punishment. In the end the FIA couldn’t or wouldn’t do any more with the case on the basis of the evidence, but it did force the removal of the team orders rule, so now the big switcheroo can be done at will and I’m sure we will see team orders being used in 2011.
A fair minded person might say that the FIA’s lenience over Hockenheim leveled the scores a bit with the two episodes in Valencia and Silverstone where Alonso came out very much on the wrong side of the FIA and its stewards over episodes involving the safety car and lost a hatfull of points. In Valencia he lost out through no fault of his own, in Silverstone he tried to be clever passing Kubica and then got unlucky as Kubica retired so he couldn’t give the place back as the FIA asked him to.
Of course that episode in Hockenheim didn’t happen in isolation, many roads led to it. Alonso was angry in Australia to be left following Massa when he felt he had a chance to challenge Button for the win. In China he was behind Massa again and took matters into his own hands, passing the Brazilian in the pit lane. The team’s reaction to that told you everything about its attitude to the drivers’s roles; good on Alonso, driving like a champion. Massa’s mistake in Hockenheim was not staying far enough out of reach.
On the technical side Ferrari did a great job on the whole. The car was quick in testing, almost as quick as the Red Bull in the early races, but then tailed off as they lost ground trying to incorporate an F Duct. Monaco was a chance, but Alonso blew it. Turkey was the low point; an uncompetitive mess. A crude blown diffuser gave an uplift in performance from Valencia onwards, moving Ferrari ahead of the McLaren on pace and then a second more sophisticated one put them right in Red Bull’s wheeltracks, where they stayed to the end. This was enough to give Alonso a chance to fight back and he did so with three wins in four races from Monza to Korea.
As a result of Abu Dhabi Ferrari have changed the whole way they plan and execute race strategy with new people and new processes. It should make them more sure footed in key moments, certainly the background to every decision will be much more profound. The change sees two Englishmen called in to bring calm to the hot seats – an echo of the Brawn era?
Change where necessary, yes, but the fundamentals of this team remain the same; give Alonso a fast enough car and Ferrari will be in the title fight come Brazil in November. Where Massa fits in is anyone’s guess.
Alonso photo: Darren Heath; Drawing: Paolo Filisetti
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