Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali took the stage today at the Ferrari pre-season Wrooom event in Madonna di Campiglio. He said that the 2013 season would be “complex” in terms of managing resources, ruled out a move for Sebastian Vettel while Fernando Alonso is with the team and confirmed that Pedro de la Rosa will join the team in a support capacity. All of these are worth deeper consideration.
First the challenges of competing in 2013 while developing a 2014 car. Ferrari finds itself in a tricky position with regards to wind tunnel time, as its own tunnel is being recalibrated and will not be back on stream until the summer, when it will be working on the very different aerodynamic challenges of the 2014 cars. Ferrari has been using the Toyota wind tunnel in Cologne. But so too has McLaren, which is in the process of developing a new tunnel of its own and needs extra capacity – and both teams have a big demand for tunnel time. So there is a bit of a bottleneck.
One fascinating aspect of this is that it will be a rare opportunity to see what two top teams of engineers can do using the same development tool; normally the teams use their own tunnels to produce the best car they can.
“The development of the 2013 car began in the Cologne wind tunnel and is ongoing,” said Domenicali. “I certainly expect to see greater efficiency than last year because we will no longer need to carry out comparisons of data and correlation with the Maranello wind tunnel, which is currently being rebuilt and is due to be operational again after the summer break.”
Without the problems of tunnel correlation they suffered in 2012, with a stronger aero department and continuity of rules for the most part, there is no reason why Ferrari shouldn’t have a car that is a match for Red Bull and McLaren from the outset. The key will be in developing at the same rate as their rivals, while losing nothing on development of 2014. Mercedes looks to have everything geared to a title assault in 2014, they can afford to focus on that in terms of allocating resources in Brackley and Stuttgart this year and there is great confidence about their 2014 engine.
The other top teams will have to be wary of this when committing tunnel time and resource to 2013 development.
“We have always said, and I think that the president also declared, that a ‘dream team’ is something extraordinary if it is well managed and if things work well,” Domenicali said.
“For now, I think that this is not our goal. We have to maximise the balance of our performance of the team. We must be very careful. “It is not just in F1 because it is true also in the world of sport. If you put all the number ones together around the table it can be more damaging than positive. So for the time being, this is not our goal.”
Of course the caveat is the “for the time being” line, which could mean that tomorrow morning it could become their goal, but it seems that the idea of Vettel and Alonso in the same cars is not on the agenda. For Vettel a move to Ferrari post-Alonso makes sense from the point of view of showing that he can do it in a non-Newey car and for the other benefits of Ferrari association. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.
Domenicali admitted that he was under pressure to replace Felipe Massa last season, the little Brazilian under performed badly in 2011 and the first half of 2012, but raised his game in the second half of the year and helped Ferrari to beat McLaren to second in the Constructors’ Championship, which brought some extra prize money and bragging rights.
Mark Webber and Jenson Button were made serious offers to join the team but both declined in order to stay with their existing teams, so Massa got a stay of execution and Domenicali believes that he will be stronger for it. Most of Massa’s problems last year were in his head, trying to deal with having Alonso in the other car. But once he learned to focus on himself, the results started to come.
“I think the toughest part of Felipe’s career is now behind him,” said Domenicali, “After last summer his approach turned about and, as a result, his performance on track changed and he managed to show just how talented he is.
“I’m sure his problem was not linked to his contractual situation. Personally, there was a lot of pressure on me regarding possible changes, but in the interests of the team, I preferred to wait and today, I’m convinced that keeping Felipe in the Ferrari family was the right decision.
On the driver front the Ferrari boss confirmed that the team is trying hard to get test driver Jules Bianchi a move which will “progress” his career; as he was a third driver at Force India with opportunities to drive in Friday practice sessions last year, “progress” can only really come from stepping up to the race seat that is still up for grabs.
There has been talk of Ferrari cutting a deal on engines in return for a seat for Bianchi, but Force India will have to reflect carefully on this as all the signs are that the Mercedes will be the dominant new generation engine in 2014 and they’d be mad to give that up.
Meanwhile an interesting move was made in hiring veteran Pedro De la Rosa. The Spaniard spent many years with McLaren and has intimate knowledge of its simulator, which is an area where Ferrari are still striving to improve. De la Rosa will help them get more from the simulator and will boost development, taking some of the strain off Alonso. He worked very well alongside Alonso at McLaren in 2007 and this should help push up the rate of development.
Ferrari confirmed that it will launch its new car on February 1 in Maranello.