The controversy over the Red Bull collision on Sunday has taken attention away from what was a very painful weekend for Ferrari, as it celebrated its 800th Grand Prix.
Not only has the team fallen further behind Red Bull and McLaren, it has also been passed on pace by Mercedes and Renault. In the last two races, Robert Kubica has qualified ahead of both Ferraris.
And with such a long history, there have inevitably been ups and downs along the way. Some sections of the Italian media have called this moment a “crisis”, but there have been worse.
Having said that, Turkey was a worrying development for Ferrari, which set the benchmark during winter testing. Let us not forget that the technical team stopped working on the 2009 car in July last year to focus on the 2010 car.
And yet while McLaren managed to develop its car right up to the end of 2009 and is now proving its technical strength again in 2010, Ferrari seems not to have the ability to match its long standing rival.
It would be wrong to say that it has been in a steady decline ever since Bahrain; Alonso was on the podium in Spain and the Ferrari was considered a contender for the win in Monaco, but for Alonso’s accident in practice.
But Turkey was a genuinely uncompetitive showing. Right from the start of qualifying it was clear that the Ferrari was in trouble on low fuel. Alonso’s Q1 time was 8/10ths slower than Vettel’s benchmark and that pattern stayed consistent through the qualifying session. Alonso missed the cut for Q3, but Massa’s Q3 time was 8/10ths slower than Webber’s pole. So that’s where Ferrari are and it shows the ferocity of the competition at the sharp end this year.
So why is this?
Well for the last few races now team boss Stefano Domenicali has said that the car lacks downforce. But that is just code for ‘it isn’t fast enough’. Last year’s Ferrari was a poor car which lacked downforce, but it still managed to qualify more strongly in Turkey than this year’s model, which won the first race.
Ferrari say that the reason for the poor showing in Istanbul qualifying is simple – the car just didn’t produce the goods when running low fuel and new soft tyres, compared to the opposition. Interestingly a pattern has emerged in the way the top teams approach Friday practice; McLaren and Mercedes tend to run lower fuel, while Ferrari and Red Bull run much heavier loads. For this reason the McLarens are usually on top of the time sheets on a Friday and seem more consistent than Ferrari in qualifying.
In Istanbul the temperatures changed a lot from Friday afternoon (50 deg) to Saturday morning (26 deg) to qualifying in the afternoon (36 deg). As Bridgestone’s Hirohide Hamashima observed after qualifying, “The changing temperatures made finding the best set-up even more difficult for the teams at this venue, where this is already a challenge due to the track surface evolution over the weekend. The difficult to judge grip levels meant that many people found the limit as they danced on the edge of adhesion today.”
F1 is all about trends and managing them. If you are on a negative trend you want to reverse it as soon as possible. If you have a positive trend you work hard to maintain it.
Perhaps the most worrying development which the team hope will not become a trend was Alonso criticising the team after qualifying. He said that the work done on the Ferrari was not sufficient, “In China, Spain, Montecarlo and here we haven’t brought developments, while Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes have moved ahead.”
A lot of Ferrari’s effort has gone into developing its drag reducing rear wing or F duct and it still isn’t right. Red Bull has been adding performance in other areas, while reluctant to run its F Duct until it is sure that the benefits outweigh the losses.
Ferrari has gone ahead with it, clearly believing that it is an essential component of the long term fight with McLaren in particular this year. Very soon Red Bull will be forced to do the same, judging by the threat the McLarens posed to them on Sunday.
McLaren’s strong showing in Turkey indicates that it is on a strong development curve at the moment and it has the luxury of a fully optimised F duct so it can focus on other areas, while Ferrari and Red Bull toil away at the F Duct and get distracted by it.
“It is for sure true that we have invested a lot in the new system with the wing, but it is not enough and it is not perfect yet,” admitted Domenicali. “What should happen in the next month is that in Valencia we should have a big update where there will be a lot of new parts on the car. But it is true from the fact point of view that the bits we tried to put in place were not enough to cope with the pace of the development that the biggest teams have done.”
And that is the trap Ferrari finds itself in. It is also clear that the technical team at Maranello isn’t strong enough, particularly in developing a car, compared to McLaren. There are reinforcements on the way to beef up the department, but Ferrari has to really dig deep now to get back in the game. Alonso knows that better that anyone. McLaren’s ability to develop a car was the reason he went to the team in 2007.
Meanwhile it is to be noted that Mosley rather soured Ferrari’s 800th Grand Prix celebrations by accusing the team of trying to fix an appeal court hearing.
Coming a year after F1 was embroiled in the fixing scandal over the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, this is uncomfortable ground.
“He (Montezemolo) was on the phone every day saying, ‘you have got to sort the Court of Appeal out and make sure we win’,” Mosley, referring to Ferrari’s charismatic president, is quoted by the Daily Mail.
“He didn’t put it as baldly as that but that is what he said. I said, ‘Luca, I’m sorry, but first of all they wouldn’t take any notice and secondly I am not going to do it’,” he added.
A spokesman for the famous Maranello based team responded: “We don’t want to make any comment. It is better to look ahead and not waste time talking about what is – luckily – old and gone.”