With the first four ‘flyaway’ grands prix out of the way, it’s a good time to assess the start each team has made to the season and look at how each team has fared so far with the new hybrid turbo technology.
And the subject of our second post-‘flyaway’ analysis pieces is a team many expected to profit from the changing regulations but which has found itself once again facing troubled times…
Best result: P3 (Alonso, China)
Best grid slot: 4th (Alonso, Malaysia)
Average grid slot: 7th.
Constructors Championship: 4th
Drivers’ Championship: P3 Alonso, 41pts; P12 Raikkonen 11pts
Fastest race lap, gap to pace setter
What’s gone right?
A couple of weeks ago you’d have said “not much”. Pre-season season testing showed that the F14 T was encouragingly reliable but worryingly sluggish and the opening round of the championship only served to confirm that suspicion. In Malaysia, the first really representative circuit the F14T was seventh in terms of maximum race speed in every sector. Through the speed trap Alonso was ninth quickest at 307.4kph compared with Felipe Massa’s 324.56kph. Bahrain was the nadir, with Alonso and Raikkonen finishing ninth and tenth.
On the upside, Alonso has recovered from his dip in form in late 2013 and -whether inspired by the arrival of Raikkonen or just because he’s back to himself – is driving at an extremely high level, as like 2012. The improvements the team has brought since Bahrain have proved effective, especially in China where the most visible item were the larger brake ducts and blown wheel nuts first trialled in the Bahrain test. However, the revival of ideas already tried in the past by Williams and Red Bull, was probably not the signal upgrade run in China. Ferrari had clearly eked more power from the 059/3 engine. Rumours suggest that part of this improvement came from a new fuel from Shell and also via improvements on the software side.
Raikkonen was sixth-fastest through the speed trap, 4kph slower than fastest man Rosberg. Alonso, meanwhile, might only have logged the 16th-fastest speed but his pace was sufficient that Red Bull admitted to having doubts about whether Daniel Ricciardo would have been able to have a crack at the Spaniard due to the Ferrari’s better speed on the straights had he been free to fight with the Ferrari driver in the closing stages of the race.
Afterwards, Engineering Director Pat Fry admitted improvements had been made. “We made some progress and in general, the speed of the car has increased, both in the corners and on the straights,” he said.
Aerodynamically the car is solid, though clearly not in the same league as Red Bull’s RB10. While the team’s much-publicised wind tunnel issues were reported as solved in pre-season testing, with the team insisting the track data correlated with figures from the tunnel, former Team Principal Stefano Domenicali targeted poor aerodynamic performance as the team’s big weakness barely a week before stepping down.
With power unit issues being the most obvious handicap afflicting the F14 T, (not only in the unit’s output but also in power delivery that affects balance) the fact that the team is slowly getting on top of its problems is encouraging, especially in a championship in which the quest already seems to be to finish as ‘best of the rest’ to Mercedes.
What’s gone wrong?
Where to start. It has simply been a cataclysmic start for the season for Ferrari. Most of the teams issues have been put down to the power unit and the team’s inability to master it – specifically in terms of weight, power and driveability.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport has reported that the engine is 13kg overweight. The power delivery has also been called into question, with suggestions that the team hasn’t got on top of integration of ICE and ERS power and that this leads to rear end problems that make the car tough to drive and which harm the rear tyres.
Allied to that are the problems being faced by Kimi Raikkonen. Initially the team blamed a lack of comfort with the car’s brake-by-wire system only for the Finn to rubbish his own team’s excuse in public. The Finn admits, however, to struggling with the front end of the F14 T and so far those problems haven’t been cured. In China, too, Raikkonen confessed that his driving style was at odds with the circuit and the conditions. “I don’t think I work the tyres very hard. So obviously when it’s cool conditions and wet conditions it’s been many years that it’s been hard to get the tyres working,” he said. “Today it just feels that when you have a new tyre it works well until the grip from the new tyres goes away and obviously you have to go slower and then you start cooling down the tyres more. Everything goes round and round and you cannot fix that. I reckon it’s more to do with that.”
It isn’t just those issues that are hurting Ferrari, however, and again in the week before he parted company with the Scuderia, Domenicali’s assessment of where improvements need to be made was bleak: “Basically everywhere,” he said. “I don’t think by fixing one problem you fix the whole performance – so we need to work to have a more efficient car; we need to work to have a better engine; we need to work to exploit better the balance between electric power and traditional engine power. Everywhere!”
Add to all of those technical woes a political situation at the team that is characteristically Borgia-like. Domenicali’s abdication has resulted in the appointment of the previous little known company man Marco Mattiacci, a figure trusted by the parent FIAT/Chrysler board, who will be carefully steered, as he learns the ways of the F1′s ‘Piranha Club’ of team owner politics by Luca Di Montezemolo. Whether Montezemolo can turn around the apparent cultural malaise affecting his team remains to be seen, however. It also remains to be seen how the current hierarchy will be organised in the new Ferrari world order and how that will affect 2014. Former Mercedes technical director Bob Bell keeps being mentioned; he worked very well with James Allison in their Renault days and may find his way to Maranello by the end of the year.
Strong points of the team and car
Reliability has been excellent with a full complement of finishes so far. And despite the obvious issues the team is facing all buit two of those finished have been in the points, leaving Ferrari fourth in the Constructors’ Championship with 52 points, just five behind Red Bull. Alonso is third in the Drivers’ standings five points ahead of Nico Hulkenberg. If 2014 is a case of being ‘best of the rest’ Ferrari are well placed ahead of the European season.
Weak points of the team and the car
The climate at the team deosn’t seem to be conducive to a sudden revival and it remains to be seen what kind of positive strategic influence Mattiacci can ultimately have in the short term.
Raikkonen’s woes are hurting the team in its pursuit of it’s main rivals Red Bull Racing and (at the moment) Force India.
Power unit issues would seem to be the biggest barrier to progress.
Where do they go from here?
If you were in a confident frame of mind, you might suggest that Ferrari keeps plugging away as it did in China, where the power unit solutions they brought had a clear benefit. There’s been no major upgrade yet and it will be interesting to see what the team brings – particularly in terms of aero solutions – to Barcelona and the test that follows. Solving the issues affecting Raikkonen would seem to be an immediate racing goal. The Finn hasn’t lost any of the pace and skill that saw him take eight podium finishes from the 17 races he contested last year.
A more pessimistic outlook would be that there is no hope of making a dent in Mercedes dominance and that attention should switch to 2015 and plotting the right choice of power unit elements to focus on.
Overall Marks out of 10
Ferrari – 6/10
Fernando Alonso – 7/10
Kimi Raikkonen – 5/10
How many marks out of ten do you give Ferrari so far? Leave us your comments on this post in the comments section below.