F1 2007 Preview: Ferrari

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2004The great Italian team enters its third era following the death of founder Enzo.

First came political chaos, turmoil and defeat. Then a wholly different Ferrari emerged under the Todt-Brawn-Schumacher leadership – a devastating efficient winning machine, a wholly unromantic entity comparer to the Ferrari of old, that dominated the sport with a completeness never witnessed before: six consecutive constructors’ titles, five consecutive drivers’ titles.

Whatever role Michael Schumacher has to play in the new Ferrari, the fact that this is truly is a ‘new Ferrari’ is undeniable. The recolouring of the car signifies a change that is more than skin deep. The lead driver, top personnel, even the technical direction of the car have all changed.

Which leads to an inevitable question: can they really expect to be championship contenders this year?

New driver

Luca Montezemolo, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Vallelunga, pre-season, 2007Exit Michael Schumacher – seven times world champion. Enter Kimi Raikkonen – nine times Grand Prix winner. The iceman has some gigantic shoes to fill.

Raikkonen will pair up with another of Peter Sauber’s discoveries, Felipe Massa, in his second year with the team. Quite a few commentators are suggesting that Massa will have the upper hand on Raikkonen and, I’ve got to say, I don’t believe a word of it.

Yes, Massa exceeded expectation in the second half of 2006. But his two Grands Prix wins rather exaggerate just how well he was doing – he did have the bet car on the grid underneath him, and both came on days when team mate Schumacher was compromised.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Interlagos, 2006, 2Massa may have won the final race of the season but Schumacher set eleven laps quicker than the Brazilian’s fastest. Massa succeeded in getting his head together in 2006, reducing the silly crashes and becoming more consistent. But he did not metamorphose into a Raikkonen-beater.

As much as Raikkonen is criticised for allegedly not being enough of a team player or working hard enough to develop a car, at least that suggests that the act of swapping teams may hinder Raikkonen less than it would other drivers.

New staff

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Shakedown, Fiorano, 2007Schumacher’s right-hand men have stepped aside. Strategic master Ross Brawn is replaced by Mario Almondo as the team’s technical director.

Almondo is expected to be based primarily in the factory – and Luca Baldisseri will be making the high-pressure calls from the pit wall. Moments of tactical genius are all well and good but most of the time this job is about not making the wrong calls, rather than spotting the master-strokes. Can he do it?

Jean Todt’s promotion to managing director has complex ramifications. He remains team principal, but Stefano Domenicalli has become sporting director and will run the team at the races. Amadeo Felisa has become general manager.

Changes like this present opportunities and threats – two heads may be better than one, but only if they agree with each other.

Aldo Costa became the team’s pre-eminent aerodynamicist in 2004 as Rory Byrne sought to move gradually into retirement. Although his cars have not been conspicuously aerodynamically deficient, neither have they won any titles in two years.

And for 2007 he has produced a quite startlingly different car to many of his rivals.

New design philosophy

Ferrari, F2007, launch, 3, 2007If either of the Ferrari drivers should flip their car earlier in the season, try to get a good look underneath the nose where the front wheels join the tub. This is where Ferrari have taken their most radical new direction in car design for years.

While other teams have been experimenting with twin-keels, zero-keels, V-keels and the like since Sergio Rinland’s 2001 Sauber C20, Ferrari stuck to the traditional means of attaching the lower wishbones to the car – the venerable ‘single-keel’.

I.e., the wishbones simply attached to the tub. And that uncomplicated philosophy spared them the weight and stiffness problems that other teams had to solve that were so graphically illustrated by Williams’ monstrously ugly FW26.

The F2007 features a long central keel to which not only the front but also the rear wishbones are attached – a dramatic changes which fundamentally alters how air channels beneath the car.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 2007, preseason, 3On top of that the car’s sidepods are tightly tucked in around the bottom forcing an extremely compact radiator area. This is allowed for by the engine regulations that have capped rpm at 19,000 and consequently allowed teams to run less cooling.

Another significant change of the lengthening of the car by 85mm. This may sound like a minor change on a 3,135mm long car, but it points to a fundamental shift in weight distribution which contradicts every other team bar Honda.

It moves the weight balance rearwards at a time when all other teams are struggling to reduce rear tyre wear. This leads one to suppose that Ferrari, with their vastly superior knowledge of Bridgestone’s tyres (which all teams use this year), may have found an advantage.

But it requires one qualifier – both Ferrari and Honda had short cars to begin with.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams-BMW, Melbourne, 2004, 2Changes as significant as this tend either to be a technical blind alley (as was Williams’ FW26) or a revolutionary step forward that every other team in the paddock will be forced to clone.

Three years ago Ferrari’s F2004 turned in some sensational testing times at Imola shortly before the season. It turned their rivals ashen-faced and the Scuderia pole-axed the opposition that year.

Keep a watchful eye out for another tell-tale test this year…

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1 comment on F1 2007 Preview: Ferrari

  1. At last some sense spoken in the Rakkonen/Massa debate. Kimi may have all the failings listed so gleefully in our boredom over the off season but he remains one of the three quickest drivers in F1 – and I don’t see Massa amongst that trio, no matter how much he has improved.

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