Ferrari chairman and newly appointed CEO Sergio Marchionne expects the Scuderia to start winning Formula 1 races from this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix and blames bad luck for its disappointing start to the season.
After the first four races of 2016, Ferrari has scored 76 points to Mercedes’ 157, and has achieved a best finish of second for Kimi Raikkonen in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel in China.
The squad was in a position to win the season opening race in Australia but made the wrong call on tyres during the red flag period caused by Fernando Alonso’s enormous crash with Esteban Gutierrez.
There had been much speculation over the winter months, from Marchionne and other Ferrari figures, that the team could bridge the gap to Mercedes and fight the German manufacturer for this year’s world title, but so far this has not been the case.
As he spoke at a presentation for the new Alfa Romeo road car, the Giulia, in Italy, Marchionne predicted that the Scuderia would return to the top step of the podium as early as this weekend’s race in Barcelona, which would be its first F1 win since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.
He said: “I am confident. Sunday will be an important day. So far, much of it was down to bad luck, but the season has just begun. I expect us to win shortly, starting with Spain.”
Marchionne also explained that he was happy with the performances of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, who have both been involved in high-profile mechanical retirements and crashes so far in 2016. The pair even collided at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, which Vettel vocally blamed on Red Bull’s former driver, Daniil Kvyat, before saying it was a racing incident.
That was also the only race where both Ferrari drivers made it to the chequered flag. Raikkonen retired with power unit problems in Australia, Vettel suffered a parade-lap engine failure in Bahrain and Kvyat punted him out of the Russian race.
The Ferrari boss said: “I’m very satisfied with both Vettel and Raikkonen. The only thing that hasn’t worked well is luck.”
Whether Ferrari truly does have the pace to challenge Mercedes this year will surely be revealed in Spain. At last year’s race in Barcelona Nico Rosberg finished 45 seconds clear of Vettel, the top Ferrari driver in that race.
What will be a concern to the Scuderia, as well as the incidents that have blighted its recent races, is that it has spent 26 power unit tokens (out of a possible 32 for the season), and it introduced a big upgrade from the last race in Sochi.
Mercedes has spent five fewer tokens and yet the closest Ferrari has come to beating the Silver Arrows in qualifying was in Shanghai where Raikkonen was 0.5s adrift of Rosberg and behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
A clean race for the Ferrari drivers in Barcelona should finally give us an answer on the team’s gains, but we believe that Mercedes remains a good half a second quicker.
There has been speculation in the last 24 hours that Marchionne could move to replace Arrivabene as team principal with technical director James Allison. We have made some discreet enquiries in Italy about this and it seems to be nothing more than speculation, possibly triggered by the confirmation of Marchionne’s new executive role.
There is no move in hand to replace the former tobacco executive and Allison only recently returned to work after the sudden and tragic death of his wife Becky.
Alfa Romeo return dependent on sales
There have also been rumours that Marchionne is planning to bring the Alfa Romeo brand back to F1, he is the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which owns Ferrari and Alfa. But the Italian described how this would only be possible on the successful sales of the company’s road cars.
He said: “It will depend on the success of the Giulia. Surely our participation will be limited to F1. We are not, however, available to run only as engine suppliers, but we would focus on a complete package like Ferrari.
“To finance the races you have to sell the cars. Today is only the beginning of a long road. ”
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