Ferrari are in trouble – there is no doubt about it. They never looked like running with the leaders all weekend long, and by the end of second qualifying Michael Schumacher was four seconds behind, languishing in 13th. After 56 laps he was 1m 20s behind Alonso, and had been lapped at one stage.
A year and a half ago we saw a similar turn of events at Hungary in Budapest. Fernando Alonso scorched off to his first Grand Prix win, lapping Schumacher on the way. Ferrari went ballastic and unleashed what they believed was an ace they had had hidden up their sleeve since 2001. The Michelin tyres, they claimed, were too wide: over a race distance they deformed to a width exceeding that stipulated by the FIA. Never mind that the regulations stated that tyres would only be measured before a race, and not after.
The outcome of the situation, predicatably enough, was that the relevant rule was rewritten to state that tyres would now be measured after a race. Never mind that the rules assured the teams that changes to tyre rules could for a season had to be declared the previous September.
With Michelin forced to design a completely new tyre, Ferrari won the next eight races in a row – indeed, 15 of the next 16. Now they are in a similar sorry state of affairs, and you can’t help but wonder whether we’ll see any dubious legislative fumbling a second time around.
Ban Red Bull, perhaps, because it tastes like cough medicine. Ban McLaren for fielding two drivers who so far have been infinitely less exciting than the pre-season hype would warrant. And ban BAR for… wait, no, there’s no need to ban BAR.
Fortunately there are two compelling reasons why we can be confident that 2003’s disgraceful turn of events will not be repeated.
First, it’s still early days in the championship and Ferrari are yet to roll out their proper 2005 model. It has already been delayed once to have the rear suspension reworked, and so we can be confident that Ross Brawn has done everything in his power to maximise the car’s potential under the regulations. After all, the only team to have spent longer preparing their new car is Minardi, and that is because they cannot afford to build one.
Brawn has predicted confidently that the new car will be one second per lap faster than the old one. But even this might not be enough – a 1m 20s deficit in 56 laps translates to 1.43s per lap – and Schumacher was not really held up all that often during the Malaysian race.
Second, we have the infernal political machinations to consider. With the manufacturers already steaming over Bernie’s handout to Ferrari and rumours now suggesting that the new Concorde agreement will give the Scuderia power of veto over any decisions agreed by the other teams, any further capitulations towards the men in red would be political suicide for Mosley and Ecclestone.
Fingers crossed, then, that the F2005 is pretty good. But not too good.