Ferrari launched its challenger for the 2011 F1 season at Maranello today, the first team to reveal its car, with much talk of optimism and fresh beginnings.
The 57th new Ferrari F1 car to roll off the line, the car looks quite similar to last year’s, apart from the areas affected by rule changes such as rear wing and diffuser, but it doesn’t mean a great deal at this stage. The stopwatch in Valencia, Jerez, Barcelona and Bahrain will decide if it is any good or not and the car will evolve significantly during those four official test sessions and will look quite different when it lines up on the grid in Bahrain on March 13.
The monocoque however, is homologated so that will not change and it looks like an evolution of last year’s car, rather than some clean piece of paper design or indeed Red Bull copy, as one or two of the other new cars might be.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said, “This year we have to win”, ramping up the pressure on the team and its drivers to deliver. As has been widely reported there has been a restructuring of the technical department with the arrival of top engineer Pat Fry from McLaren who will work alongside former McLaren colleagues Nicholas Tombazis (designer) and Neil Martin (strategy).
Formula 1 has a unique ability to reinvent itself, as occasions such as this remind us.
The sport never stays the same for long, never rests, as new partnerships are formed, new cars released, new drivers hired. It is a sport that is on permanent auto-refresh and that is one of the main reasons for its popularity. But on a human level the strain is immense; there is an insecurity which comes from standing on shifting sands and in F1 the sands shift constantly; whether it be in politics, sporting fortunes or technical innovation.
The way to fight that insecurity is to stand together as a team, to challenge each other constantly and to trust that every key member will do his job to the best of his ability. Ferrari was unbeatable in the era when the ‘circle of fear’ existed between team boss Jean Todt, engineer Ross Brawn, designer Rory Byrne and driver Michael Schumacher. They drove each other on to achieve total domination by maximising every single aspect of F1.
Ferrari know that to attempt to recreate the past is futile. Domenicali is not Todt, Fry is not Brawn, nor is Aldo Costa, Alonso is not Schumacher, although he has some similar qualities in terms of his approach to winning.
In many ways the challenge they face from the opposition now is greater than the one faced by the “Dream Team” of the early 2000s. Red Bull is a formidable force, with Adrian Newey at the heart of it, more potent and inspired than he was in his later McLaren years, which co-incided with Ferrari dominance. Ferrari did a great job back then, but the opposition did a poor job. Williams fell away, McLaren were erratic, BAR Honda couldn’t hit the peaks and only Renault eventually came through with Alonso, to end the dominance.
Having lost the mantle of “the team to beat”, Ferrari is keen to get it back again. President Luca di Montezemolo said so in his presentation today, emphatically.
Undoubtedly they will win races this year, especially with Alonso, who consistently got top billing today, in videos, in speeches in speech order, even down to his name being above Massa’s on the cockpit of the car. From Massa they expect more than last year, Montezemolo referred to him as “our child” and again cracked that joke about Massa’s brother being in the car last year by mistake. A forced smile from Massa, who wants to surprise people this year and – frankly – cannot afford not to.
From Alonso they expect the championship, nothing less, and he expects that from himself. He almost won it last year from a seemingly hopeless position. He’s the right driver for them at this time.
To beat Red Bull, McLaren and even Mercedes this year they will need to get all the details right; development rate, decision making, race strategy, even team orders, which are now legal. Of course it can be done and if anyone can beat Red Bull it is Ferrari and Alonso.
Today Ferrari got their first. Will they still be there on November 27th?