Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali spoke today at the Wroom event in Madonna di Campiglio about the season ahead; his expectations of his drivers, his new engineering structure and other wider topics.
Against the backdrop of the snow covered Dolomite mountains, the 45 year old looked relaxed and positive after a very difficult end to the 2010 season. He said that after a lot of soul searching after the Abu Dhabi strategy disaster, he and the team had picked themselves up and were now 100% focussed on 2011.
Alonso, he said had been “extraordinary” in the second half of 2010 and he expected him to start at that level, “Certainly Fernando starts from an extraordinary baseline after a second half of the season which was almost perfect.”
One of the Spanish journalists suggested that Alonso had needed half a season to adapt to life in a new team and that his form in the second half of the year was more representative of what he can do. Domenicali agreed and clearly they expect the Spaniard to be at that same level from Bahrain onwards.
There was a lot of discussion about the other driver, Felipe Massa, who has a lot of pressure on him this year. I’ll do a separate post on Massa, but Domenicali said that he expects Massa to be able to pull himself together and put in a competitive season. I asked how that would be measured by Massa getting 60-70% of Alonso’s points for example, but if he has such a figure in mind, which would be the normal way to measure performance, Domenicali isn’t sharing it publicly,
“I’m expecting, because Felipe is very strong, for him to be closer to Fernando, or even better, ” he said. “I’m sure that the technical problems Felipe suffered last year will be solved. I saw him already in the first day of the Pirelli test with a different face. He knows that he has the full support of the team.”
Domenicali said over and again that a perfect start to the season is essential, not just from the drivers but also from the car. This is a logical way to approach the season, after what happened last year and it gets everyone focussed on maximising those early races, but it also puts pressure on and begs the question, what happens if they have a less than perfect first few races? That is for another day.
“What we have to avoid this season is failing to pick up the important points in the first half of the season, as we did last year. The reason why we lost the championship, leaving aside Abu Dhabi, was the important points we failed to pick up in the forst half of the season,” he said.
He’s “absolutely convinced” that the new engineering structure which sees ex McLaren designer Pat Fry in a role across all areas of the technical side including heading up operations at the race track, will bring more consistent results from drawing office, to wind tunnel to race track. Ferrari is putting a huge amount of confidence in Fry.
Fry, together with his boss Aldo Costa, has brought a new structure and “work flow” to the technical process at Ferrari and it is clearly in the linking up of all the technical areas that Domenicali feels Ferrari has made its biggest improvement over the off season.
“The (new engineering) group will also take care of improving the tools for the better integration of the activity on the simulator and will broaden the activity alongside all the other key areas like aerodynamics,” he said.
It was confirmed that the launch of the new car will be 28 January in Maranello, allowing the team to do a 100km promotional filming session as it has a new livery and new logo.
He spoke about the adjustable rear wing, saying that it is still not clear exactly where the loops will be placed by the FIA around the circuit to define the overtaking zone, the loops will trigger the activation of the system. The driver defending his position will not be allowed to use his adjustable wing in the defined area, so there will be overtaking no doubt. This together with the softer Pirelli tyres, which will require at least two pit stops every race, means that qualifying is not so critical as it was in 2010 when, barring safety cars, if you qualified at the front you finished at the front.
But there are some doubts about this significant change to the racing,
“The driver running behind another one will be able to activate it (rear wing) to get in the slipstream only in determined points of the track, and only if the gap between himself and his rival is very tight. It will be up to race direction so signal the possibility with a light on the cockpit.
“However, I wonder: besides helping overtaking, will this system make the duels more spectacular or too predictable? At the moment I’m a bit sceptical, but I hope to be wrong. I also hope that the TVs find a way to make people understand on screen who has activated the mechanism and who hasn’t, otherwise you won’t understand a thing anymore.”
I’ll do more analysis on this particular point separately.
Other notes from the hour long press conference were that discussions over the new Concorde Agreement for 2013 onwards would hit their stride in the early summer. Experience tells me that this means F1 is likely to get quite political again over the summer. I think breakaway threats are on the back burner but if things go badly we could start to hear that kind of talk again as we did in 2009.
Domenicali also reitereated Ferrari’s position that 20 races a year is the right number and that it is not appropriate for a country to host two races. Ferrari supports the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and does not seem to be in favour of the Grand Prix in Rome.