Ferrari's British GP Qualifying Gaffe Shows Big-Time Mentality with Midfield Car

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Ferrari's British GP Qualifying Gaffe Shows Big-Time Mentality with Midfield Car
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Rob Smedley, Felipe Massa's former race engineer at Ferrari, explained the route that Williams—his new employers—must take to return to winning ways.

Massa and his teammate Valtteri Bottas had secured the team's first front-row lockout since 2003 at last month's Austrian Grand Prix—but a conservative strategy, on a day when Williams had the car to challenge the all-conquering Mercedes for victory, led to Massa and Bottas slipping to fourth and third, respectively, by the chequered flag.

Having won only one race in the last decade, Smedley implied that Williams' mindset played a large role in the team's fall down the order at the Red Bull Ring, telling Ben Anderson of Autosport:

I think we have to look inwardly at ourselves and understand how we improve in every single tiny detail, because it's in the details, there's no big magic bullet.

We were racing against a very professional outfit [Mercedes] with a quicker car, but very well organised. And why are they so well organised? Because they've got such a depth of experience racing at that end of the field.

From racing last year, as Williams were, in 13th, 14th, 15th position, to racing in first, second, third, fourth position is a completely different thing. Believe me, because I've done both ends.

It's just about learning how to race at this end—from an operations point of view, from a performance point of view—it's just about adding little bits of performance in all areas of the car, [looking at] how we operate, making mistakes and going back and fixing them and not doing them again.

While Williams, with the help of Smedley, are in the process of transforming from a midfield team to a front-running outfit, Ferrari are rapidly heading in the opposite direction.

The Prancing Horse's lacklustre display in qualifying for the British Grand Prix, which saw former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen fail to progress from Q1, was the lowest point of a draining 2014 season.

The campaign that had resembled a fresh start, a clean slate, has delivered the same old disappointment, with a best result of only third place in the eight grands prix thus far.

Ferrari are without a win in almost 14 months—but despite their extended absence from the top step of the podium, they retain the mentality of serial world champions.

And Ferrari's approach, like Williams' in Austria, played a role in their own downfall at Silverstone.

The team's decision to hold Alonso and Raikkonen in the garage, aiming to extract the most from the ever-drying track on fresh slick tyres in the dying minutes of Q1, backfired spectacularly. 

While other teams took advantage of the optimal conditions to book their tickets to Q2 in advance, Ferrari were among the last to send their drivers out and were therefore always bound to be vulnerable to the threat of yellow flags and the return of wet conditions.

Both of those hazards, of course, came into play—with Alonso himself bringing out the caution flags after an off-track excursion in the rain—and Ferrari were trapped in the danger zone.

The most curious aspect of Ferrari's performance, however, was how the team adopted the role of front-runner.

The privilege of sitting in the garage, staring at the timing screens and waiting for your peers to do the drying up is usually reserved for teams such as Mercedes, whose performance advantage is such that they can go on track whenever they please and immediately set a leading lap time. 

With a season-best grid spot of fourth, though, Ferrari have never had that margin for error this year.

Their handling of Q1 smacked of naivety, which—along with Alonso's comment to Ben Anderson and Pablo Elizalde of Autosport that the team need to "speed up some of the communications"—suggests the blame lies at the feet of Marco Mattiacci, the painfully raw team principal.

A session played out in changeable conditions presents opportunities for those on the pit wall to make challenging, yet potentially decisive, decisions for their drivers, and although Mattiacci gained praise (of sorts) from Raikkonen this week—with the Finn telling ESPN F1 how his team principal is a "very nice guy"—the Italian has failed his first real test in the heat of battle.

That Mattiacci has the power to make such decisions at all, having replaced Stefano Domenicali in April, despite having no previous F1 experience, is a reflection of Ferrari's fall from grace and lack of stability.

It remains hard to believe that Mattiacci will be anything other than a short-term appointment, while Alonso continues to be linked with a return to McLaren—according to Jonathan McEvoy of the Daily Mail—and Raikkonen seemed to target 2015 as his last season in F1 when speaking to Autosport's Jonathan Noble and Glenn Freeman at Silverstone.

There is an aimlessness at Ferrari, a team full of individuals, which is now seeping into their on-track performances and results.

And with no direction, they are a midfield team with the mindset of world champions.

The Silverstone shock should provide a much-needed reality check.

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