The 2009 Formula One season is only two races old, but for a team that is so used to success, Ferrari must be feeling a little off-colour right now. The Scuderia are yet to score any points, instead the majority going to Brawn and Jenson Button. This isn’t the usual schedule of events, and while Brawn deserve all the success from winning both races in convincing style and strategy, one cannot help but wonder what is happening to Maranello’s beloved team.
In 2006, Ferrari’s long-serving and devoted driver, Michael Schumacher, hung up his boots and called it a day. The following year saw much change at the red team as personnel were shifted around, some even being transferred to the company’s road car division. Ross Brawn took a year out and Kimi Raikkonen was brought in as a replacement for the multiple world champion. It wasn’t as dominant of a season as the team had experienced in the past, but both titles still went their way.
In 2008, Brawn chose not to return and instead headed to Honda. Of course, the result of this has meant the Briton is now a constructor, fielding Button and former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. And much success Brawn is enjoying at the moment. For Ferrari though last year saw a few more chinks in the Italian armour appear. Bungled pitstops, off-form races and disgruntled drivers all added to a difficult year. Ferrari still won though, the spirit and energy carrying through hard times as well as good. The constructirs title went to Ferrari, although the drivers title fell to Lewis Hamilton at the very last race.
It is often said that the winner of the first race of the season usually goes on to take the championship, and if that is going to be the case in 2009, then I’m sure Jenson Button and the Brawn team will have worked tremendously hard for it come November. But what of Ferrari? If the result from the first race of the year is anything to go by, it doesn’t look good for the squad that has won a record 16 constructors and 15 drivers titles over the years.
In 2008, the Australian Grand Prix was just as much of a disaster for Ferrari as it was this time around. Traction control had been banned and both drivers skated over the gravel during the race. Kimi Raikkonen scraped a point from Melbourne in ’08, but neither driver were able to leave Australia this year with any. Malaysia, which is traditionally Ferrari-territory, went well for the team in ’08. Felipe Massa took pole position while Kimi romped to victory the following day. For 2009 though, it was in essence, a retirement for Raikkonen, and another non-points finish for Massa.
From Malaysia the circus travels to China, which has also fared Ferrari well in the past. The Scuderia have won three of the five races held at Shanghai so far, secured second and third last year when Lewis Hamilton won and have only failed to score on one occasion, 2005. But the troubles with the car cannot be solved immediately, and the problems Kimi Raikkonen is facing with his KERS is worrying. During testing, the unit overheated, and in free practice for the Malaysian race another problem occurred which resulted in the Finn leaping from the car, smoke pouring out and the fire extinguisher having been automatically triggered. Once again, KERS-related.
Strategy blunders in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix cost the team vital grid positions, and strategy errors during the race, which saw Raikkonen go onto wet weather tyres well before any rain actually fell, cost the team dearly. Another KERS issue brought the Finn’s race to an end, and although the team said they may have been able to resolve the issue, Kimi clearly didn’t want any further part of the race.
These issues of reliability and morale will be carried over to Shanghai, and one possible solution is for the Scuderia to simply dismount the KERS from the Ferrari. This may affect performance, but would also be a weight saving, allowing the drivers more ballast to play with. I think it is clear though that the F60 is not looking great right now, and with the close battle in the midfield, Felipe and Kimi are in for a very tough season.
What a difference five months make.