Ferrari won yet another constructors’ championship in 2008, to the surprise of exactly no-one. Since 1999, they’ve only failed to win the title on two occasions, when Renault interrupted them from 2005-6.
What was fascinating about Ferrari this year was the shift in the balance of power between their drivers, with Felipe Massa taking over from Kimi Raikkonen as the main man.
At the beginning of the season it seemed to be business as usual for Ferrari. The F2008 was quick over a single lap, and consistent over a stint.
Melbourne looked like an aberration – the drivers and the team both went to pot with mistakes in the race and unreliability. They hit back with consecutive wins at Sepang, Bahrain, Catalunya and Istanbul.
After a shaky start to the season Massa dominated at Bahrain and Istanbul. That came as no enormous surprise – he’d won both those races in 2007 and the form book painted Massa as the kind of driver who ‘tuned in’ to circuits he had an affinity for and was hard to beat when he started from pole position. But, over the course of the season, Raikkonen was the better bet for the championship.
Massa takes control
Monte-Carlo began to shake the foundations of those beliefs. Massa delivered an assured pole lap and led away at the start. He made an error at Ste Devote, but kept the car out of the barriers and finished third. While he collected useful championship points, Raikkonen crashed into a Force India.
It’s true that both drivers suffered from unreliability in 2008, much more than, Lewis Hamilton or the BMW duo did. Both drivers stopped with engine failure at Melbourne (though Raikkonen still collected a point), Massa lost a dead-certain win at Hungary, and so did Raikkonen at Magny-Cours, but he at least kept second place, Massa grabbing the win. Raikkonen was also halted at Valencia.
At the beginning of the decade Ferrari’s rock-solid reliability was the cornerstone of five years of dominance by Michael Schumacher. This year the MP4/23 and F1.08 were the cars to have from a point of view of reliability.
Failures on and off the track
Taking the season as a whole, the F2008 was surely the quicker machine, certainly in dry conditions. Witness its 13 fastest laps in 18 rounds, ten of which were Raikkonen’s.
Ferrari contrived to throw away more of that advantage with some woeful pitlane blunders. Massa’s disaster at Singapore was the most high-profile, but he’d also been lucky to escape a penalty at Valencia. Raikkonen also ran into trouble at Valencia, though that was of his own making. That wasn’t the case at Silverstone, where his race was ruined when the team elected not to change his tyres.
Would these pitwall gaffes have happened in the days of Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn? Schumacher recently revealed he was offered Jean Todt’s job as Ferrari team boss after announcing his retirement. Had he taken it, might we now be celebrating Felipe Massa’s first world championship?
A bad year for Raikkonen
The combination of reliability problems and team errors held Massa back in the championship battle. Raikkonen, however, carried much responsibility for the damage done to his chances of retaining the title.
At the root of Raikkonen’s problems in 2008 was an inability to get the maximum out of the car in qualifying. Despite his ten fastest laps – equalling his own all-time record co-held with Schumacher – Massa out-qualified him 12-6.
That often left Raikkonen languishing in the pack on race day. And he compounded it with driving errors: spinning out at Spa and crashing in the closing stages at Singapore. Late in the season he rallied, but it was too late for the championship, and he ended up having to sacrifice second place Massa at Shanghai.
The other concern for Ferrari was the car’s wet weather performance. In the tyre war years we became used to hearing that certain tyres performed better in certain conditions. Now it seems some cars are better suited to wet conditions and the F2008 was not one of them. It also struggled in cooler conditions, creating an impression that this was the car to have in perfect conditions, but in adverse weather an MP4/23 was the place to be.
Unusually, towards the end of the season, Ferrari revealed it was having trouble with the KERS devices that will be legalised next year. Are they really struggling or just pretending to be?
After two seasons together as team mates, its one-all in terms of championship performances between Massa and Raikkonen. How will we review their partnership after another two seasons together?