When Did Ferrari Last Produce the Best Car on the F1 Grid?

Fraser MasefieldContributor IMarch 23, 2014

Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa driving the 2006 Ferrari 248F1
Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa driving the 2006 Ferrari 248F1Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Judging by the current noises coming out of the Ferrari garage, the team is certainly not where they hoped they would be after the opening grand prix of the season.

After an encouraging pre-season testing where they racked up the third-highest combined mileage of any team, Ferrari endured a disappointing Australian Grand Prix in which both drivers suffered issues before Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished a revised fourth and seventh respectively.

Worse still for Ferrari, Mercedes not only already look ominously quick but also reliable, Lewis Hamilton’s retirement notwithstanding. The Silver Arrows already have an edge of around a second a lap advantage over their closest rivals, and that isn’t even Ferrari.

It appears a familiar story for Ferrari. Only the brilliance of Fernando Alonso has masked the team’s deficiencies over recent years. The Spaniard took the title down to the wire in both 2010 and 2012 where he dragged performances from the car that it had no right to achieve.

You have to cast your mind back to 2007 for Ferrari's last championship win, when Kimi Raikkonen ambushed the McLarens of Hamilton and Alonso to creep under the radar and snatch the title by a solitary point. Even then, nobody could have said that the F2007 was a better car than the MP4-22.

So when did Ferrari last produce the best car on the grid? There is no question that, from 2000-2004, the combination of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari was an unstoppable combination, and Ferrari had an unstoppable car, especially in 2002 and 2004 when Rubens Barrichello was the runner-up.

Yet it is my contention that the last time that Ferrari enjoyed the luxury of having the best machine in the field, it was not a Ferrari driver who took the championship.

The season was 2006 and again the title went down to the wire, this time between Schumacher and Alonso. With only two rounds remaining, Schumacher and Alonso were level on points with the German having won one more race.

But for a late engine failure in Japan and an issue in qualifying in the final round in Brazil, surely Schumacher would have retired with one more title under his belt.

So why was the Ferrari 248F1 a better car than the Renault R26? It’s true that both were reliable, with both only suffering four retirements between their drivers over the course of the season. And it was Renault, not Ferrari who clinched the constructors’ title.

It was Alonso, at the end of the day, who made the difference. One title already under his belt, the Spaniard proved fast and consistent over the course of the season whilst Schumacher’s powers were on the wane. Uncharacteristic crashes in Australia and Hungary ultimately cost the German another title, and it was no surprise when he called it a day at the end of the year.

It has also been argued that Renault enjoyed the advantage of the superior Michelin tyre during both the 2005 and 2006 seasons, although that is a point of contention that has produced much debate.

What is for certain is that Ferrari already faces a massive challenge in 2014 if they are even to get close to matching the success of 2006. Even at this early stage, it appears likely that the Scuderia will miss out on both drivers’ and constructors’ titles.

But this time they will have the excuse of not having the best car.