On paper, 2008 should be all about Ferrari. Double champions last year, they ended the season on an upswing in form that saw them dominate the Brazilian Grand Prix. They appear to have carried that momentum through into the off-season where Kimi Raikkonen has usually been the man to beat.
As far as technical director Aldo Costa is concerned only one thing can beat them, and it’s not Lewis Hamilton:
The little problem of reliability. We need to take care of all aspects. We are sure we will get to the first race in the best possible condition, not only from a performance point of view, but also in terms of the reliability.
Two number ones?
The driver situation at Ferrari is particularly interesting. After 11 years of being focused on one man – Michael Schumacher – last year the team allowed Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa to fight for the championship. They persisted with the approach until the end – Massa taking points off Raikkonen as late as the Turkish Grand Prix – but once Massa was out of the title race he dutifully slipped into ‘number two’ mode and let Raikkonen win at Interlagos.
Apparently Ferrari intend to afford their driver equal status again this year. Massa said:
In the team, there’s 100% equal conditions between us until the point when one has any more chances, just like last year. I’m very comfortable in the car, 100% confident and with a big chance of fighting for the championship.
This is great for the sport but as McLaren showed last year even the best of intentions can lead a team astray. Giving “100% equal conditions” in the days when fuel strategies have to be decided before qualifying (which can decide which of a team’s drivers wins the race – as at Monaco last year), is exceptionally difficult.
How are Ferrari apparently succeeding in this where McLaren have failed? Perhaps their man management is better – given Ron Dennis’s track record I wouldn’t bet against it. If they really have switched from being entirely geared towards a number one driver, to giving two drivers absolutely equal equipment, testing, strategic preferences and all the rest of it, then that’s an impressive feat.
It may not be an issue at all as the verdict of many who observed testing at close quarters, such as Autosport’s Mark Hughes, is that Massa is struggling with the loss of electronic aids like traction control and electronic engine braking.
Many were surprised to see how close the gap between the Ferrari drivers was last year, and even in the second half of the season Massa was still able to beat Raikkonen. But that may not be the case this year, especially as Raikkonen has now had 12 months at the team and brought them a world championship.
Ferrari pole-axed the opposition at the first round last year but from that race on we saw a see-sawing battle between them and McLaren. Various theories competed to explain why Ferrari couldn’t sustain their early advantage: a failure in their wind tunnel, the changing of the regulations on flexing floors, and McLaren’s rapid rate of development.
This year again they look set to go into the first race with an advantage – a slim one, but enough to comfortably out-qualify and out-race McLaren and the rest. Massa had this to say about the car:
The car is definitely good for me: we’ve made a step forward especially in the slow corners. As for the quick corners, the car is pretty good as it was last year too. So I think we’ve improved the car a bit in that aspect.
With this car it’s a bit easier to be without traction control. We had a good feeling on the kerbs at the chicane here, so I’m happy from the start about the car’s balance. We didn’t have to work so much on the car to get good lap times, so it’s definitely positive.
Last year’s car was strongest on the most aerodynamically-demanding tracks but weaker at venues like Monza and Monaco that require lots of mechanical grips and the ability to ride bumps and kerbs. To achieve the latter the team have shortened the car’s wheelbase (last year it had the longest on the grid), which should mean sacrificing downforce, but it seems the team have preserved their edge in this respect.
The team have suggested the F2008’s greatest weakness is reliability – a problem for the team last year. Raikkonen and Massa were forced out of races on three occasions, and other problems hindering them in qualifying. There have been several terminal failures in testing this year.
I would also question whether the team has lost its razor-sharp organisation at a race weekend with the departure of Ross Brawn. Failing to adequately refuel Massa during qualifying at Hungary was amateur stuff from a usually red-hot pit crew. The team seemed thrown into a panicky funk by Raikkonen’s crash at practice in Italy last year, which may have been related to Massa’s reasons for retiring from the race.
The team has said test driver Marc Gene will be on hand at every race weekend this year. It’s not clear what for.
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