From the unexpected high of victory in Malaysia, the Chinese Grand Prix brought Ferrari back down to earth with a bump as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa finished in ninth and 13th places respectively. The Maranello outfit may currently be in the process of accelerating developmental work on the F2012 in a bid to improve the difficult car’s competitive as quickly as possible, yet the team’s senior technical figure has admitted there are also more deep-rooted problems that need to be resolved if Ferrari is to enjoy sustained long-term success again.
Pat Fry, who took the reigns of Ferrari’s technical department last year following the axing of team stalwart Aldo Costa and promptly instigated a more aggressive design focus, in Shanghai delivered what was a frank assessment of what he believes the team’s shortcomings are. The Briton feels a fundamental overhaul is required in the ‘methodologies’, in other words, the fundamentals of the way Maranello designs and develops its F1 cars. It hints at a long term fix, to return the Scuderia to the glory days of the 2000s.
“I don’t really want to go into where all the problems are – it’s not just a case of us trying to build a quicker car, we need to fundamentally be changing the methodologies that we use to select, design and manufacture so that we are competitive long term,” Fry said over the weekend. “There’s work on all fronts, not just work going into what we’re taking to Barcelona, there’s also a huge amount of work in just trying to change the fundamentals of what we do so we can actually take a step forward and be competing with everyone else.”
The Italian marque, which last won the drivers’ title in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen, has yet to find a consistent formula for success since the momentum built up from its glory years with Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt at the start of the century gradually faded.
Aside from a purple patch with Fernando Alonso in the second half of the 2010 season that took the Spaniard within a strategic mistake of the title, Ferrari has rarely even been the second-fastest team on outright pace since the sport’s rules overhaul in 2009 and even a more deliberately aggressive approach for this season has only – a rain-affected Sunday at Sepang aside – seen Ferrari slip into the clutches of the midfield, rather than catapulting them to the head of the field as had been hoped.
Correlation problems with its wind tunnel at the start of last year stymied the team’s progress with the 2011 car and Fry admits a stronger aerodynamic programme is top of the team’s priorities, along with a complete overall of the “methodologies” currently used in the design process.
“The biggest performance differentiator – as people have mentioned earlier – is aerodynamics. We’ve got some issues there that we’re trying to resolve. The areas you need to be working on is everything from the way you run the wind tunnel, the accuracy of your wind tunnel, the simulation that you use to decide what components to take forward, so we’re not leaving any stone unturned,” he explained.
“We’re actually trying to review and revise our methodologies through the whole process and that carries on into the design office for trying to get weight out of various parts, make other bits more durable, so there’s work going on absolutely everywhere within the company, on the basic fundamental methodology as well as just trying to upgrade the car.”
After a difficult race in China on Sunday, Fry added that the short-term situation is unlikely to change much in Bahrain with the team’s first big upgrade of the year – when a new exhaust layout looks set to be pressed into service – having to wait until Barcelona. “Next week in Bahrain we won’t have any particularly significant updates, so we cannot expect a miracle: we must try and squeeze the maximum out of what we have to work with,” he added.