There will be disappointment at Ferrari this morning on two levels; first that they were unable to take any more advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty in Abu Dhabi than a mere three points.
And second that the raft of updates on the car at this race didn’t produce the jump in performance they were looking for.
Vettel had a bad day on Saturday and then a very good day, with some lucky breaks on the Safety Car, on Sunday, when the points were handed out.
But the problem for Ferrari is clear: Alonso qualified 7th, 0.952s behind the pole man Hamilton and although the Ferrari was quicker in the race, he didn’t have the race pace to overhaul Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus to take the extra seven points for a win on Sunday.
He set the second fastest race lap at the end, less than a tenth off Vettel’s best on much fresher tyres, so there was some encouragement there. But it’s clear what the problem is:
“Qualifying remains our weak point. With what we had, that was the maximum,” said Fernando Alonso on Saturday, while team principal Stefano Domenicali described it as “one of our worst qualifying sessions of the season.”
After a strong rallying call from Alonso in India, suggesting that he was competing with Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey, Ferrari brought a new front and rear wing to Yas Marina as well as new turning vanes on the car, quite a substantial set of new parts. The team did extensive back to back testing in Friday practice, trying various combinations of the new parts.
The main difference with the new front wing from the previous one was a new main profile and different wing endplates, to channel the air more effectively around the front wheels and down to the highly sensitive areas of the floor.
There were also new turning vanes and a new rear wing with a more powerful DRS, to help with qualifying pace. It’s still some way short of the double DRS used by Red Bull, but Alonso hinted that Ferrari has one of those under development. It is not clear whether it will come in time to make a significant difference to their qualifying pace.
BBC technical expert Gary Anderson believes that the problem Ferrari has in qualifying relates to instability on corner entry due to the way the diffuser and DRS wing are working (or not working) together
When the driver brakes for the next corner, the car changes attitude – the rear comes up.
“I am 99.99% sure that at that time, on the Ferrari, the diffuser does not re-attach immediately,” he writes on the BBC F1 website
“Because of that, the airflow at the back of the car is different, so the rear wing does not re-attach either.
“So on initial corner entry, 18 or 20 times a lap in qualifying or whatever, the rear of the car has less downforce and therefore is unstable for a given amount of time until the diffuser and rear wing re-attach.”
Alonso pointed to the fact that he did a 1m 41.5s lap in both Q2 and Q3, as proof that he got the maximum from the car, but what that analysis fails to account for is track improvement course there is always track improvement which is usually a significant factor in the gains drivers get on their final runs at the end of Q3.
For example, Hamilton improved by 3/10ths from Q2 to Q3, the same amount as Raikkonen, Webber and Button, while Maldonado found 7/10ths. This would suggest that some of the shortcoming in Alonso’s case was the driver. Analysis of his sector times shows that he was a tenth up on Massa in Sectors 1 and 3 but a tenth down in Sector 2.
That said, Massa found only a tenth from Q2 to Q3.
But Massa did a three lap run and set his fastest time in first lap, when he had more fuel on board than he would have had on a single lap run. So that cost him probably another two tenths, which would be consistent with the improvement of Raikkonen, Webber and Button.
Massa shed some light on the thinking internally on the Ferrari updates and how they audited their performance, “We have a new front wing which is definitely exactly what it is supposed to be on his [Alonso's] car, and he has a new rear wing which is a little bit less than half of what it is supposed to give. So it is not everything it is supposed to be.
“So if we bring the pieces and they are on the car that is positive. But for sure when you see that it is supposed to give one thing and it is giving half, then it is still not 100 per cent great. But it is [at least] important to improve the performance.”
So in summary, the aerodynamic work carried out by Ferrari for Abu Dhabi was fairly comprehensive, but didn’t bring the hoped for gains. “Perhaps expectations were too high,” said Alonso.