Ferrari: Limping Horse or a Few Setbacks?

steven stonesAnalyst IAugust 6, 2008

We've all seen it and have been talking about it for a while. The performance of the Scuderia at the Hungarian Grand Prix was a shocker to say the least, not that at least one of the cars didn't have the pace, but that car failed to see the chequered flag.

In this article, I try to plot a path to how the team has come to this problem and to see if it really is a crisis we see at Ferrari, or whether these are minor setbacks.

As some may already know, I am a McLaren fan, but I write this with the strictest intention in remaining unbiased toward Ferrari in favour of other teams.

It seems this 2008 season is a far cry from the success that Ferrari seemed to be enjoying in the opening of the millennium. Watching Felipe Massa explode on the pit straight must have sent alarm bells ringing.

But Ferrari have had many different things going on around them for the last few years. In 1996, Ferrari boss Jean Todt and Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo managed a coup in attracting Double World Champion Michael Schumacher from Benetton.

Ferrari were driving toward a clear objective in this magic journey they all undertook together. Designers, managers, and drivers all had their alotted goals.

This is perhaps where things have differed most of all. In 2007, Kimi Raikkonen joined the Ferrari outfit as a hopeful to take up the Schumacher role and lead Ferrari into another World Championship, Drivers and Constructors.

However, the difference this time was that Felipe Massa showed himself to be capable of challenging the Iceman on a lot more days than people thought possible, and he stayed in title contention until the very latter part of 2007. Ferrari have not yet still backed just the single driver in the current line up.

Of course, the actual team of Ferrari is entirely different from those Michael Schumacher 'dream team' days. To begin with, 2007 saw the 'spygate' scandal affect both themselves and McLaren, their chief rivals.

The result was that the Ferrari top engineer Nigel Stepney was dismissed from the team. A top talent was missing from the Ferrari lineup.

Ross Brawn, too, was a key component in the Michael Schumacher days. He masterminded many Ferrari miracles on the tactical front.

Ross took a sabbatical in 2006, missing 2007 as well. When he decided to return to the F1 fray, he chose to leave Ferrari and join the Honda outfit. That was yet another blow.

Jean Todt also left the team, having been the guiding light at a highly successful team for almost two decades. Todt left the team at the end of 2006 as well.

Into his shoes stepped Stefano Domenicali. Aldo Costa came in to replace Ross Brawn too. These two men have been key members of the Ferrari team and should know the ropes.

However, to take the Ferrari team of 2006, we can see the details have changed almost unrecognisably.

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 2006

Driver 1: Michael Schumacher

Driver 2: Felipe Massa

Team Principal: Jean Todt

Technical Director: Ross Brawn

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 2008

Driver1: Kimi Raikkonen

Driver2: Felipe Massa

Team Principal: Stefano Domenicalli

Technical Director: Aldo Costa

So we come to what I have sometimes referred to as the steady decline of Ferrari, starting with 2007.

Reliability wasn't all that much of an issue for the Scuderia last season but new driver Kimi Raikkonen took a long time to adapt to the car. Felipe Massa, too, had his moments with the F2007, running it off the circuit rather more often than was necessary or expected.

Raikkonen also seemed off colour on numerous occasions for whatever reason. He came good in the end and with friction and pressure showing on both rival drivers in the 2007 McLaren team, Raikkonen showed good consistency and raw pace to seize the drivers title in that season.

Success came in 2007, the first season under the new leadership. But Ferrari is a very forward-thinking outfit and much of the groundwork for organisation and car design would have been completed late in 2006. It is interesting to note that the new team's first solo effort this season looks the way it does.

2008 has been an odd season. In a previous article, I stated that this title looks like nobody really wants it. However, it appears that Kimi Raikkonen, especially lately, wants it the least.

Niki Lauda said at the Hungarian Grand Prix that Ferrari's problems are very much driver-related as much as anything. Felipe Massa certainly does seem like the king of inconsistency, having a bipolar season with highest highs and lowest lows. 

The reigning World Champion of late seems to be just turning up to show his face. For the last two Grands Prix, and in at least two earlier races too, Kimi has not shown anything other than a mediocre turn of pace for the most part of the race. Niki wasn't kidding.

Tactical calls too seem to have gone astray this season, which is a huge surprise from Ferrari. The biggest blunder was not changing Raikkonen's tyres in the first pit stop at the British Grand Prix. This allowed McLaren to pull back into the lead of the Drivers Championship, albeit with an equal points standing.

But since then, the team has had to rely on Felipe Massa. Hungary saw Felipe dish out a solid beating on McLaren, probably forcing British golden boy Lewis Hamilton into getting a puncture from flatspotting his tyre in the first turn. Tactics and driving on one car was perfect.

Yet the fight back didn't come. An engine problem destroyed Massa's engine and ended his race three laps too early yet on the start finish straight. McLaren have improved their car without doubt. Perhaps the development race is taking its toll on Ferrari, who in previous years have appeared practically bullet-proof.  

The reliability problem, though could just be a glitch in the system, a one-off failure for Ferrari in their rare failures and a matter of statistics. You simply cannot finish every single race forever more.

The reason people are panicking and Massa is calling for more work at Ferrari is maybe just a question of timing, as the season is coming to the end stages.

Also, despite the fact that the Ferrari lineup are all experienced people in the team, they are running a team in their own style now. It's a new Ferrari team in essence, so some teething problems are perhaps to be expected.

So what is the real panic then?

For Ferrari and indeed for many teams, rivals McLaren included, it is a question of getting the most from the drivers. Cars appear equal at this time with the strengths and weaknesses of both cars well known. Hungary showed that the relative position at any given time is tough to call.

The real solution is to get Kimi Raikkonen back into the picture. In Germany and in Hungary, the champ turned up and raced with a very poor pace until the later stages of the latter Grand Prix.

If this was his ultimate pace, then he should be showing it all the time. With question marks over his career and Ferrari looking for solutions to their problems, Kimi needs to deliver.

So panic stations to do not need to be set to red alert just yet. However, the next race of the season in Valencia needs to see some positivity from Ferrari.

Tactical calls and race pace from BOTH drivers needs to be there. McLaren are putting the squeeze on the Scuderia now and they will choke if something isn't done.

A poor Valencia means there really is cause for panic. Nobody wants to see Ferrari do too badly.

As a McLaren fan, I and many others love to hate Ferrari, but we like to see Ferrari get beaten on the circuit, beaten going toe-to-toe with our respective team.

For the Tifosi, well, not being one I wouldn't know the exact feelings, but surely they are unhappy with the current situation? However, these last thoughts are genuinely meant.

Ferrari's new young lineup in the management area are inexperienced, but they are made in the mould of Todt and Company and are certainly no idiots. I'm pretty sure they have a handle on the situation. And Kimi Raikkonen?

He's the reigning World Champion.


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