2008: Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Bahrain, 2008, 3

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.

F2008

Ferrari F2008 launch

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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10 comments on 2008: Ferrari

  1. Ferrari do look strongest again, but the Gené thing is very interesting. Perhaps they’re worried that Massa will, like fellow Latino Juan Pablo Montoya, flounce off if he believes Raikkonen has an unfair advantage. Can’t see that happening myself though. Maybe he’s just there to make the coffees.

  2. Arnet said on 8th March 2008, 21:04

    Yes, on paper everything looks nice and red and shiny, but I have to wonder how much Montezemolo’s political shuffling and rumoured power struggles with Todt will affect things. To be sure, that was there behind the scenes last year, but I can’t help but wonder if they have what it takes to carry the momentum forward. I’m not saying they can’t do it, but I wonder whether the ghost of the 80′s and 90′s will return to haunt them.

  3. Gman said on 9th March 2008, 0:39

    For me, perhaps the biggest question surrounding this team will be Massa’s performance without the electronics that have been banned. I’ve been suprised to see him speak so candidly on the issue- is he trying to cover a bit for errors he may make down the stretch? The one thing that I do like about them is giving equal treatment to both drivers- statements that support that view will do alot in the eyes of casual fans who may have been turned away from closley following the sport in the days of Schumi’s dominance.

  4. Loki said on 9th March 2008, 3:42

    "The team has said test driver Marc Gene will be on hand at every race weekend this year. It’s not clear what for."

    In case Kimi’s hangover gets the better of him?

    I’ve had concerns similar to Arnet’s comments.  However, since Ferrari have re-established themselves as front runners, I see them being able to attract hot top drivers (and hot number 2 drivers whichever way you see fit) for a long time coming. 

    They certainly don’t have the long term sustainability as when Schumacher first arrived, there was a mass of elements that made that partnership work, and there’s hints of this will be Kimi’s final F1 team.  Assuming they’d want another WC/undoubted potential WC behind the reigns, there are few options so far with the intake of new school rookies.

    I personally think that McLaren may be able to win, just to defy all odds and everything that went against them the previous year, I don’t believe it’s as plain sailing as many may think.  The improvement in pace in testing (although it’s a bit of a misnomer to go by) has been encouraging from both camps, but I’d say by next week McLaren will have caught up more and it’ll be all to play for.

    Still, Kimi has that one championship under his belt now, I’m sure he’ll do all that he can to ensure he retains the title :)

  5. Steven Roy said on 9th March 2008, 4:59

    The only reason to have Marc Gene at every race is if Luca Badoer isn’t going to travel.  No team needs two test drivers at a race.  It’s not like one of them is young and inexperienced and need to become acclimatised to a GP.

    I guess when deMontezemolo returns to the team next month it won’t take long before we know the future for Ferrari.  Will they follow the path set down by Schumacher, Brawn and Co or will they resort to the traditional Ferrari in-fighting and backbiting?

  6. oliver said on 9th March 2008, 9:21

    First race last year, Massa had mysterious technical problems, Kimi was supposed to stay ahead in points from then on. But kimi became hesitant, Ferrari wasn’t so sure any more, then they gave drivers full equality again. Once kimi found his pace again, it was back to the status quo.
    Ferrari does know how to casually leave a car standing on the jacks during the formation lap.

  7. politicaly it will be more difficult for Massa without having Todt around. But Massa’s first priority is to learn to handle the car without TC … That is where he is behind Kimi. He will only get equal treatment from the team if he can prove he is worth it … Lagging behind Kimi will not justify equal status …

  8. Mark said on 9th March 2008, 11:05

    I agree with the call that Ferrari are about to descend into 80′s style chaos, it may take a while, but I have visions of the whole thing going pear shape. really, have we got to the bottom of Todt’s removal yet?

    Enormous season for Massa. He either matches Kimi or makes the seamsless transition into Felipe Barrichello.

    Keith don’t forget sending both drivers out on Inters at Fuji despite EVERY OTHER TEAM knowing it wasn’t on!

    (By the way I may be a bit slow off the mark here but what is the go with the idea that McLaren gifting Monaco to Alonso? It looked to me at the time that Lewis was a lot more ragged trying to keep up with Alonso who was smooth and quick. What have I missed?)

  9. oliver said on 9th March 2008, 11:26

    Mark, I believe Lewis was carrying 6 extra laps of fuel more than Alonso.  Meaning;-
    1) His qualifying time was fantastic considering his extra weight.
    2) He  would have come out way in the lead if Maclaren had not decided to pit him much earlier.

    Monaco is a circuit where u must brush the barriers consistently if u want to set a fast time. And if he was indeed ragged, he managed not to crash into it like Kimi did during qualifying.

  10. Mark said on 9th March 2008, 21:05

    Yup. Thanks Oliver, I can see that!

    6 days to go

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