Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali has done an interesting interview in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica today in which he puts out some important messages about the year ahead and states his position in terms of his role as team principal. He points out quite clearly that there has been massive change behind the scenes at Maranello and that the new structure and the fruits of that reorganisation will become clear soon.
Domenicali reminds everyone that Ferrari is a “business” and that unlike great soccer managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, he is in charge of everything, including the money, “So I delegate a lot,” he says. This season ahead will be all about the quality of that delegation.
After the disaster of Abu Dhabi last November, where the team turned a championship winning position into a gift to the Red Bull team and Sebastian Vettel due to a tactical error on the pit wall, there has clearly been a lot of questions asked internally about the team going forward. As the team leader and therefore the man ultimately responsible, Domenicali considered whether it would be correct for him to resign his position.
“After Abu Dhabi I asked myself whether it was right or not that I should stay on. It seemed to be only right and proper to reflect, responsible. I came to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to resign. I know the team and I think I’m the right person to capitalise on all that we have done in recent months. From a methodical point of view, at Maranello we have changes almost everything and I’m sure we’ll see the results of that work soon.”
One of the key areas of change is the role of ex McLaren designer Pat Fry at the team. Fry left Woking last year to take up a role across the factory and the race team, bringing some different working practices to the way the team operates from design to racing. When he was announces last June, it was in the role of assistant technical director to Aldo Costa. Since then it was clarified that he would have an overview role and now Domenicali suggests that he will also come on to the pit wall at Grands Prix to strengthen a tactical team that must have lost a lot of confidence after Abu Dhabi.
“The mistake was of a very great magnitude,” said Domenicali. ” It produced devastating effects. In a normal race it would have been a normal mistake. We need to avoid throwing everything into the sea, even the good things, just because of this mistake. But we will be making changes and we’ll announce them very soon. We will put whoever has to take delicate decisions in a position to have all the tools not to make mistakes again.”
This is a difficult area for Ferrari; remember at the start of 2009 the team made some bad mistakes in terms of tactics and tyre choices and Luca Baldisseri, whom Ross Brawn had groomed as his successor on the pit wall, was moved back to the factory. Now it seems that the man who took over his responsibilities, Chris Dyer, may face a similar fate and La Repubblica speculates that Fry might come forward to play a more prominent role in race tactics. Next week the team is hosting its annual pre season event at Madonna di Campiglio, to which I’ve been invited. It’s likely that the new structure will be revealed there or just before. The launch of the car is set for the final week of January in Maranello.
Certainly the feeling among teams is that race strategy is going to be much more lively this year than last, with the new Pirelli tyres likely to keep everyone on their toes. They will not last like the Bridgestones did and this will mean that there could be several ways of attacking a race. Ferrari have to be seen to get it right. The problem is that this is likely to lead to a conservative approach, trying to avoid mistakes is not the same thing as going out on the attack. Lead driver Fernando Alonso has an attacking instinct and will be calling for the team to be bold, but there will be a nervousness in the management about another howler, particularly in the first half of the season. How Ferrari handles that is going to be one of the most interesting aspects of the first eight or ten races and their rivals will be watching closely.
Domenicali’s other interesting point is that Felipe Massa cannot afford to have another season like 2010, when he was a shadow of the driver he was in 2008. The team has been very patient with him, giving him its support in his rehabilitation from a potentially career ending injury in 2009 and confirming his position with the team. Massa repaid that faith by yielding in the team orders episode in Germany in July. Now it’s all square and he has to hit the ground running from testing onwards. Domenicali says that he is physically intact, the problem is a mental one,
” All drivers, in order to drive, must feel at their strongest. And when they don’t manage it, they have great trouble getting out of their heads the excuses, which all of us create when things are going badly. I think that was the cause of Felipe’s mistake ridden season. But by working on it, he can come out of it. That’s why I’m sure we’ll see a great Massa in 2011. The driver knows that he cannot afford another season like this.”
The problem is that in Alonso, Ferrari has the leader it’s been looking for since Schumacher and neither they nor Massa has worked out where that leaves him. How will he and they measure success this year? He will want to beat Alonso, but is that how Ferrari will win the world title? These are key questions for next week’s session in Madonna di Campiglio.
Domenical photo: Ferrari, Massa photo: Darren Heath