Ferrari playing catch-up but still expect to be contenders

2013 F1 season preview

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013Ferrari has met the disappointment of its 2012 campaign and the heartbreak of seeing Fernando Alonso narrowly miss out on the drivers’ championship with a measured response.

The top technical staff have not been held up as scapegoats and dismissed, and the F138 is not a red RB8.

A lack of reliable wind tunnel data caused and later exacerbated Ferrari’s 2012 troubles. The team produced a car which was well off the pace in the opening races.

A series of upgrades introduced after the flyaway races brought them into contention for victories, but the same core problem undermined further development efforts.

Chief deisgner Nikolas Tombazis explained: “For various reasons, our development over the latter part of last season stalled and because our rivals continued their development to a certain extent, the gap between us grew, especially after the summer break. A gap which we had closed down to three tenths, thus became around eight in Brazil.”

The 2013 Ferrari has been developed at the Toyota Motorsport wind tunnel in Cologne while their own facility is brought up to scratch. Operating at multiple bases is obviously not desirable but it’s a compromise which the team expects to reap benefits from in the long-term.

Another key area for development is the simulator, where Red Bull and McLaren have stolen a march on their Italian rivals in recent years. The hiring of Pedro de la Rosa, with his extensive experience of McLaren’s state-of-the-art technoogy, is a coup, though one which will also take time to pay off.

Stefano Domenicali, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Ferrari F138 launch, 2013Team principal Stefano Domenicali is satisfied that Ferrari’s calm response to four years without a championship is the correct one, and will allow them to compete this year:

“The new business structure, the working methods, the modifications to the equipment that we have used to work on this car, the consistency of the results compared with our targets and what we saw in the recent tests ?ǣ these all seem to tell us that we are on the right path at last compared to the past.

“So, to make an analysis that is purely centred on ourselves, unless someone else has done an exceptional job I?m convinced that Ferrari will be in the battle to the end.”

Throughout the winter Alonso’s mantra has been that if the team can come as close to success with a car as inadequate as the F2012, a championship victory is a possible with a machine that’s only slightly sub-par.

That may exaggerate how poor the F2012 was for much of last season, but Ferrari’s core game is very strong.

Alonso left few points on the table last year and the team’s sharpness operationally and tactically meant they usually extracted the maximum from each race weekend. Their pit crew was seldom the quickest in the pit lane, but they were rarely far off and made few mistakes.

Four victories in two seasons is not the sort of win rate F1’s most successful team demands. And with arguably the best driver in F1 today in their line-up they will surely be in championship contention again this year. But they are taking care not to raise expectations:

“We have a well defined development plan and we are reasonably sure that the new components tested on track have produced positive results,” said Tombazis. “The Melbourne package worked as we had hoped, with no particular unexpected problems, but it?s still difficult to say where we are compared to our competitors, so it?s better not to speculate.”

Car 3: Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013For a large part of last year it looked as though Alonso was going to pull off the remarkable feat of securing his third drivers’ championship title despite having started the season with a significant handicap.

But he was undone by the sheer effectiveness of the Red Bull-Newey-Vettel machine and left wondering how different things might have been had his F2012 just been a few tenths faster at crucial points in the season.

Vettel knows Alonso’s consistency in a race and his cool-headed tendency to avoid mistakes make him one of his most formidable competitors. And Alonso knows if he is to keep Vettel from a fourth world championship he is going to have to start more races from the front of the grid.

Alonso is overdue a third title, having missed out by one, four and three points in 2007, 2010 and 2012 respectively. But there’s no sense of entitlement as he embarks on his fourth season of Ferrari – just an acknowledgement that they can and must do better.

Car 4: Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013After his dreadful start to last year – a continuation of his indifferent 2010 and 2011 performances – there can be little doubt that Massa’s continued presence at Ferrari owes a lot to him not being quick enough to ruffle Alonso’s feathers.

Massa raised his game when he needed to last year. He out-qualified Alonso in the final two races and was quicker than him in the races too, having to make way for his team mate in Brazil.

Can he carry that form into the new season? He shares Alonso’s optimism about the F138, but was unsatisfied at spending half of his pre-season testing allocation doing donkey work at a track the teams don’t even race at.

Massa will have to sustain his improved form to stand a chance of retaining his place at Ferrari. One threat to his seat may have vanished in the form of Sergio Perez but the appearance of Nico Hulkenberg in Perez’s place at Ferrari-engined Sauber shows Massa can’t afford to be complacent.

Ferrari F138

Ferrari championship form

Ferrari is the only team to have competed in every season since the world championship was inaugurated in 1950.

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/stats.csv

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Championship position 2 2 3 1 6 4 1 4 2 5 4 5 2 3 4 6 2 1 1 1 2 1 10 5 1 1 2 2 4 4 2 3 2 3 4 4 3 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 4 3 3 2
Wins 0 3 7 7 2 1 5 0 2 2 1 5 0 1 3 0 2 0 1 0 4 2 1 0 3 6 6 4 5 6 0 2 3 4 1 2 0 2 1 3 6 0 0 0 1 1 3 5 6 6 10 9 15 8 15 1 9 9 8 1 5 1 3

Ferrari in 2013: Your view

Will this finally be the year that Fernando Alonso claims his third drivers’ championship? And will Felipe Massa carry his late-2012 form into the new year?

Have your say in the comments.

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50 comments on Ferrari playing catch-up but still expect to be contenders

  1. Garns (@) said on 8th March 2013, 13:38

    @kingshark
    “Marko defended Vettel for cheating/illegally overtaking. Big difference.”

    Yes mate I do and agree with your comments- I have said before I take Marko’s comments with a grain of salt and wished he had nothing to do with Red Bull at all. But yes, I guess it does allow Horner to get on with it and let someone else make the comments instead.I just think that like the gearbox seal, while well within their rights as a team, and rules of the game, would not have been done by the vast majority of other teams on the grid, thats all.

  2. The Limit said on 8th March 2013, 14:52

    ‘Massa kept his Ferrari drive by not being fast enough to ruffle Alonso’s feathers’. I liked that, sad but true.
    What surprises me is you would have thought Ferrari would have had the most advanced wind tunnel in the business, or the most advanced simulater. Having to use Toyota’s windtunnel in Cologne for me is nothing short of embarrassing for a team of Ferrari’s standing, I don’t think Enzo would have relished that one.
    That being said, atleast Ferrari appear to have identified their errors and have admitted them in public. Their approach is not too different from the one Lewis Hamilton is taking, a ‘lets wait a see’ stance which kind of gives them the air of an underdog. Let Red Bull have all the pressure of being defending champions, let them have to answer all the questions if their car is not fast enough.
    For me though, the pressure really is on Ferrari. This is Fernando Alonso’s fourth season with the team and he is yet to win the championship, through no fault of his own ofcourse. One has to wonder how the relationship between driver and team will fare if Alonso has to endure several more fruitless campaigns?
    Ferrari know that in Alonso they have one of the very best, possibly the best, driver on the grid. In Massa they have a very loyal and on his day quick number two driver. The pieces of the jigsaw are all there it is just making them all fit into place.

  3. Jon Sandor (@jonsan) said on 8th March 2013, 19:54

    A lack of reliable wind tunnel data caused and later exacerbated Ferrari’s 2012 troubles. The team produced a car which was well off the pace in the opening races.

    Alonso’s ineptness in qualifying really flatters his Sunday drives. If the F2012 were genuinely slow I’d expect it to be slow in Q1, Q2, and Q3. But throughout 2012 Alonso was frequently slower in Q3 than Q2, which is an unusual trait in any champion F1 driver. He often did very competitive qualifying times – just not in final qualifying when he needed them.

    Look at his qualifying times in China.

    Q1 1:36.292
    Q2 1:35.982
    Q3 1:36.622

    He set his worst time of all three qualifying session in Q3, while all the other drivers were getting faster from one session to the next. If Alonso had merely duplicated his Q2 time in Q3 he’s have started 4th in China instead of 9th. His 9th place start was not down to a “slow car”.

    And that”s no anomaly – several times during the season Alonso went backwards during qualifying.

    At Monza Alonso set the fastest time in Q1 with a 1:24.175. He set the fastest time in Q2 with a 1:24.242. Then, while every driver either got faster or stayed about the same in Q3, Alonso set a 1:25.678. He did not lose 1.5 seconds of pace over a matter of hours because his car was badly designed or Ferrari had a poor wind tunnel.

    Those are just two examples out of many. Granted that the F2012 was no rocket ship, there is abundant evidence that Alonso’s poor starting position last season was caused in large measure by his own errors on Saturdays.

  4. zhaviator (@zhaviator) said on 10th March 2013, 12:36

    Avanti Fer, this is going to be your year !

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