The Spanish Grand Prix was a strange one for Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso rocketing into the lead at the start and then sliding backwards as the race went on, later to be lapped by the two leaders. He now lies 67 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ championship.
There were a number of problems on Sunday for the Scuderia, but the main one was the car’s inability to generate heat and grip in the new hard Pirelli tyre.
But that lap was set on soft tyres over a single lap, the story on race day, especially on hard tyres, was very different.
The extent to which the Ferrari was at sea on the new harder compound hard tyre was clear from the problems of Felipe Massa.
But it wasn’t just the tyres that were the problem for Ferrari; it was the lack of downforce generally, which caught them out.
“What we have seen today was expected, ” said team principal Stefano Domenicali after the race. “Here unfortunately in the condition where the car needs to have the maximum downforce – and we know we don’t have it – we had a multiplied effect on the tyres, above all on the hard, because we were not able to let them work.”
After a stellar start, Alonso led the first two stints – 18 laps in total, before his second stop. Some 46 laps later he was lapped by Vettel, meaning that he had lost an average of 1.9 seconds a lap between those two moments, most of it in the two stints on hard tyres after he switched to them on lap 29. At that time the gap to Vettel was just under 20 seconds. In the next 35 laps it increased to 87 seconds – a loss of 2.4 seconds per lap average.
“Basically we were out of position in a way (in the opening laps) we were not quick in the weekend,” said Alonso. “We did a very good lap yesterday and we were fourth, and maybe it was a strange result, and today on lap one we were first.”
As for his start, which was one of the highlights of the race, it was against the run of form. Alonso has generally had a poor time of it off the line this season. In the first three races he lost places; four in Australia, two in Malaysia, one in China and then he gained one place off the start in Turkey.
“We were missing some good starts this year and it finally came today,” said Alonso “And here with the long straight to Turn One you have the opportunity to take the slipstream as well.”
The rule says that the rear wing must be no more than 950mm above the floor of the car. The Gurney flaps on top of the Ferrari wing took it 30mm over that limit. Ferrari’s idea was to engineer the wing in such a way that they could argue that the Gurney flaps were part of the rear wing support, which doesn’t fall under the height restrictions. But the FIA didn’t buy it and on Saturday they had to go back to the Turkey specification wing, with a resulting small loss of rear downforce.
The team has been criticised for not being creative enough in recent years, in comparison with Red Bull and McLaren. Here was an example of them pushing the envelope a little, but it didn’t work out.
The next race is Monaco, a track where Alonso could have had a say last year had he not crashed in practice. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Ferrari’s last win in the Principality, a surprising record given how strong Ferrari was in the mid 2000s.
You wouldn’t put it past Alonso and Ferrari to have a strong weekend there with the new supersoft Pirelli tyres on offer.