This weekend Ferrari and Fernando Alonso go into the Hungarian Grand Prix with the objective of reducing the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the points before the summer break.
With former Lotus technical director James Allison set to join the team later this year, there is a palpable sense of the team pointing forwards, but this championship is still there to be won, even if the numbers suggest otherwise.
Alonso has always maintained that the title will be decided in the nine races from Spa onwards, which come thick and fast in a three month period, unlike the first half of the season, where nine races have been spread out over five months.
This means that there is less time for race-to-race development in the second half of the season while at the same time, teams are focussed on the the 2014 cars, which will take up 90% of a team’s wind tunnel time from now on.
Last year Alonso had an advantage over Vettel of over 40 points at the summer break and yet the German overhauled him in the back stretch of the season. Alonso aims to turn the tables this year, with a significant upgrade coming to the car in Spa.
But qualifying remains the Ferrari’s Achilles Heel – Alonso was qualifying around 5th or sixth at the start of the season, but that has slipped to 8th and 9th in the last couple of races; too far back to make any impression on Vettel.
“Qualifying has been missing for the four years I have been at Ferrari,” said Alonso yesterday.
“Our best strategy is to start close to him on the grid, attack him hard in the opening laps and make his race difficult. But we don’t start close to him and we can’t make the decisive blow at the start.”
Red Bull has the best balance between single lap qualifying pace and tyre management in the race. Mercedes is the best over a single lap, but chews its tyres up in races and Lotus and Ferrari are the opposite. Red Bull has the best compromise and Vettel is able to get close to the maximum in both conditions on a consistent basis – that is is the story of 2013 in a nutshell.
Can Ferrari change the story’s ending? If anything they have faded in recent races, as Mercedes has translated some qualifying triumphs into points and Lotus has started to come good. It’s crowded at the front now and Ferrari need a new trick to join in.
A new exhaust this weekend is part of the solution, they hope, but others have similar tweaks on this important area, with extra downforce in the Hungaroring’s slow corners being the name of the game.
“We will try to close the gap a little here, ” said Alonso, “Even if we don’t have a revolution on the car. We think we know what the problem is and hope that after the summer (with the Spa update) we will be closer.”
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