What’s gone wrong with Ferrari this season?
27 April, 2011
Apr.27 (Daniel Chalmers) After a strong showing in winter testing Ferrari would have expected more than fourth place as their best result in the opening three races of 2011 and as a result the pressure is mounting on the team’s leadership to trun things around.
A combination of their rivals making big leaps forward, alleged wind tunnel problems, poor one lap pace and failing to take the maximum from each race have all contributed to a very disappointing start for the Maranello outfit.
They need to be back at the front competing for wins as soon as possible – demanded by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, the Italian media and legions of tifosi.
Can they recover and if so quickly enough to challenge for the title?
During testing many considered Ferrari to be the leaders, even ahead of Red Bull. When you studied the times on all the long runs Ferrari’s pace was comparable to the world champions, if not better.
However between that last Spanish test and the season opening Australian GP, McLaren who had been woeful in testing completely altered their “octopus” exhaust system to one which resembled the one on the RB7 penned by Adrian Newey. The Woking team suddenly found a whole second which put them ahead of Ferrari when it mattered.
Red Bull themselves spent much of pre-season testing sandbagging, and never really emptied their fuel tank to reveal their true pace. We only saw the full extent of that pace in qualifying at Melbourne.
Ferrari’s main issue has been getting heat into the tyres in qualifying. Whilst the car is easy on its rubber, it doesn’t help when you need to get heat into the tyres quickly, for that one all-important flying lap. The team have struggled to get the tyres into the ideal operating window.
The combination of Albert Park’s cool conditions and lack of high speed corners really revealed the true extent of the problem.
Ferrari may not have been aware of this problem during testing due to the Catalunya circuit’s (where the last two tests took place) characteristics. The circuit features a number of long and high speed aerodynamic corners which really put energy into the tyres.
This makes it one of the easiest tracks to get heat into the tyres, so that could be why Ferrari looked strong on the shorter runs there in testing. This could have been what has caught Ferrari out.
Although starting at the front isn’t as essential this year, it’s is still easier if you qualify right at the sharp end. One issue for McLaren and Ferrari is being beaten on the run down to Turn 1 by fast starting Renaults, and their races being complicated as a result.
Another knock-on effect we have seen is Ferrari has to use more soft tyres to get to the final stage of qualifying. This puts Ferrari on the back foot when it comes to Sunday.
Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that Ferrari haven’t extracted the most out of the Pirelli tyres yet, considering the special relationship the team had with Bridgestone for so many years.
The other major issue has been the calibration of their upgraded wind tunnel. Recent aerodynamic upgrades to the car haven’t performed as well Ferrari had hoped.
This is an issue which Ferrari has to sort out immediately. Whilst the problem persists they will be losing out badly to their rivals who have fully working wind tunnels, and are able to get upgrades working to their full potential immediately.
Stefano Domenicali says: “We need to understand as soon as possible why the performance on track has not matched the figures coming out of the wind tunnel.”
He added: “If we have not a clear picture, then we need to change the direction of the work we are doing in terms of development.”
What makes life so much more difficult these days is the testing ban. This is unlike the days when Ferrari could pound around their private test track until the late hours of the day to solve any issues they had.
Friday practise sessions are the only time when Ferrari can check if upgrades are performing as they should, and what is going wrong with the car. It takes so much longer to solve car issues these days.
Correlation problems between the wind tunnel and the track are a familiar issue in F1. Renault had problems with their wind tunnel for a couple of seasons, as did Honda back in 2007 when they produced a truly atrocious car.
Renault has shown what’s possible when the wind tunnel does get fixed though. Currently Renault is one of the quickest developers in F1, and every upgrade they have put on their cars recently has worked. Ferrari’s upgraded wind tunnel will certainly help in the long term, even if it’s proving problematic right now.
Despite these problems Ferrari’s actual race pace isn’t that far off, due to their ability to preserve the tyres. It’s just that they haven’t got the results they should have done.
In Australia both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were very quick in clean air. However a bad start for Alonso dropped him from fourth to ninth and he lost a lot of time fighting with other cars.
Had he maintained his position off the line he could have had a much bigger impact on the race. Third was definitely on the cards, and maybe even second bearing in mind the broken floor on Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren.
In Sepang Alonso was very quick in the second half of the race. Had it not been for a badly judged overtaking move on Hamilton, Alonso would have been contesting second place with Jenson Button.
In China it was strategy which let the team down. Clearly three stops was the optimum way to run the race for the front runners. Massa kept in touch with Sebastian Vettel for a large portion of the race, until the fresher rubber on the three stoppers made the difference.
So when you look back it’s conceivable that Ferrari could have had three second place finishes, certainly three podiums at the very least.
Therefore both Alonso and Massa could have been closer to the championship lead than they are currently (42 and 44 points behind respectively).
The question now is can Ferrari get back into the championship. Ferrari does have a history of comebacks as Fernando Alonso reveals: “In the past I have experienced, first as an opponent and then as an insider how capable the Scuderia is of staging a comeback. I well remember when I was at Renault in 2006, that in the first part of the season I had built up a big lead but then Ferrari made such a good job of developing its cars that [Michael] Schumacher staged a great fight back, overtaking me with two races remaining. Then you only have to look at last year: first in Turkey and then in England, it was suggested we should already be looking to the following year, but we did not give up and we managed to be in the fight for the title right up to the final race.”
Clearly the two most important factors are going to be whether Ferrari can sort out their wind tunnel issues quickly enough, and are able to unlock more of their pace over a single lap.
On the plus side for Ferrari the next four tracks could be good for them. Istanbul, Catalunya, and Montreal are all renowned tyre eating circuits. Therefore Ferrari’s ability to look after the tyres could make them a factor in these races.
Although the streets of Monte-Carlo aren’t as hard on the tyres, it does see the introduction of the Pirelli super soft tyre. The softer the tyre the easier it is to get heat into so that could help Ferrari in Monaco.
There’s no doubt Ferrari have a lot of work to do to solve their problems, but at the same time it’s clear there is some hope as the first three races have revealed.
The current situation could well reveal to us just how strong the current Ferrari team is or whether McLaren and Red Bull are now stronger teams. However as the saying goes in F1, never rule out Ferrari!