Despite the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend being back to back with Malaysia, the three main managers of Ferrari’s F1 team have made a 48 hour return trip to Italy this week to try to resolve some issues relating to the performance of the cars.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali, technical director Aldo Costa and his deputy Pat Fry made the two day round trip to investigate why the car is not performing the way the simulation tools say it should. The problem is particularly clear in qualifying. Downforce is central to this. Massa said on the eve of the Malaysian race that they are not getting the best from the front wing and its clear that their rivals are also getting more from the exhaust blown diffuser. But the problem is also more basic than that.
The background story here is that Ferrari updated their windtunnel from 50-60 percent last year and the correlation between tunnel and track isn’t there at the moment. They spent a lot of time on Friday in Malaysia doing aero tests instead of setting up the car – time they never made back.
Wind tunnel correlation problems are nothing new in F1; Renault had them a couple of years ago as have plenty of other teams. Until they are understood and rectified, it’s very hard for a team to move forward on development. And with strong rivals like Red Bull, McLaren, Renault and even Mercedes likely to make big gains in the coming weeks and months, you can see the urgency to solve the problem.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo raised the bar at the launch of the car in January when he said, “This year we have to win”. After Sunday’s race he said, “I am definitely not satisfied with the way the season has begun, but I have complete faith in the people here who know how to react when the situation is tough.
“I reckon that will be difficult as I don’t think Ferrari can turn it around in the space of a week.”
Ferrari were much stronger in the race than they were in qualifying, where Alonso was 9/10ths off Vettel’s Red Bull and 8/10ths off Hamilton’s McLaren. Massa was 1.3 seconds off the pole. The concern is also the Renault; Nick Heidfeld split the Ferraris in qualifying and with the Renault’s awesome starts and straight line speed, he threatens to be in front of them on the opening lap and hard to pass, unless they can keep him behind them on the grid.
But in the race, even if Vettel was cruising, the McLarens definitely weren’t and Alonso was giving them a hard time. Add in to that the fact that Alonso’s DRS rear wing wasn’t working and there is some encouragement for the team. Their strategy decisions were pretty sound too, even if they had some problems with the execution of the pit stops.