“We don’t ask to be half a second in front of everybody, but two tenths behind everybody is OK.”
This is a quote from Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver. Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport’s history.
Taken in that context, it appears at first glance to be quite a strange attitude for a Ferrari driver.
Is it not the prerequisite of Ferrari to have a car at the apex of the grid? Certainly, the weight of criticism whenever they lose a championship would encourage you to believe that it is their right to be the best at all times.
Indeed, they are the only team expected, not just predicted, to be at the very front all the time. Anything less than a victory is a disappointment for the Tifosi worldwide.
But if you analyse the situation that Ferrari is in, the quote becomes much more illuminating. Ferrari have openly acknowledged what they have been complaining to the FIA about for a while, that their development process revolved around real track based testing and that the current ban on such methods puts them at a major disadvantage.
Ferrari were the masters of such testing based development. Their test drivers such as Luca Badoer pounded round Fiorano, their own private test track, trying out hundreds of new parts the Ferrari millions could put out.
The money is still there, but the track isn’t. While Ferrari enjoyed their own test track, McLaren and Red Bull were piling the funding into developing simulation based methods of development and improving their windtunnel technology.
This lack of development of their own simulator and windtunnel is now damaging Ferrari chances of winning another championship. The team is simply not able to keep up.
Ferrari themselves now realise this. They used a day of pre season testing this year to give Pedro de la Rosa the chance to get a feeling of their car in order to compare it with their simulator and to help further improvements to it.
De la Rosa was a very specific choice as he spent most of the last decade developing and working on McLaren’s very advanced simulator and therefore will have a firm grounding in how they work and also on how far Ferrari have to go to catch up.
Also last season a vital decision was made. The discovery that the Maranello windtunnel was not giving the results it should led the team to transfer their operations to Toyota’s high-tech windtunnel in Cologne while Ferrari upgraded theirs.
The first benefits of this move will be seen this year as the F138 was conceived and will be developed in that windtunnel.
This acknowledgement of inferiority is a radical shift in attitude that adds up to create a new image for Ferrari, one of the old, aged hero fighting against the advanced newbies, rather than the dominant force of old. And is there not a better man to lead this underdog team, than the ultimate embodiment of tenacity, Fernando Alonso?
If Ferrari are to become world champions this year, a lot of factors need to fall into place. Felipe Massa needs to continue his good run of form seen at the tail end of last season in order to take as many points as possible from their competitors; and the technical team need to finally get some development momentum from their interim windtunnel.
They’re starting from a better place than last year, and we all know how close they were to winning then.