For the last 12 years or so, Ferrari have adopted a strategy for the championship campaign that has seen them win seven constructors titles and six drivers titles. The success of Michael Schumacher in the team as well as employing many of Formula One’s most talented personnel has brought almost unprecedented domination over the sport. Although this domination has wained a little in recent years, it is without doubt that Ferrari’s tactic of backing one driver worked.
I mention this now because Felipe Massa has just overhauled team mate Kimi Raikkonen in the 2008 championship hunt, and at somepoint in the not too distant future, the Maranello team will need to consider their strategy for the final few races of the year. During the live blog yesterday, Sebastian (1:39) asked why it appears that Ferrari are giving Massa the better option for pitstops and fuel-loads, to which a few commenters offered opinions. The most likely is that Massa has been the faster of the two in recent events, and thus it is only fair that the Brazilian be offered the choice strategy.
But when I suggested that maybe Ferrari are already backing Felipe for the title, some felt I was being too hasty. I should point out that I only suggested it as a theory, after all, I know as much as the next person. The reason for suggesting that Ferrari may have already made a decision though stems from Kimi Raikkonen’s apparent reluctance to officially confirm his future involvement in the sport. Of course, he doesn’t have to confirm anything – the contract is in place – but the rumours refuse to disappear.
Raikkonen has a contract for next season, and I’m sure Ferrari would want the Finn to continue with them. However, Kimi has showed signs of not really wanting to be a Formula One driver of late, and while this in itself may be unnecessary speculation, you can’t help but wonder with Kimi – the man is quite the enigma at times. So if it is true that Raikkonen is yet to make up his mind, maybe Ferrari are now looking beyond this year and into a future that may see another driver take up the helm alongside Felipe Massa. If that is the case, it would be better for Ferrari to have an active world champion on the books than a retired one. For nothing else, the marketing would be easier to push.
Couple this with a recent rumour surrounding Philip Morris ending their relationship with Ferrari prematurely, and you can understand why the Scuderia are going to need every trick available to them. Philip Morris essential own the Ferrari car, and any space they have left over after their sponsor’s logos have been placed is negotiated via Philip Morris themselves, not the team. If Marlboro left, Ferrari would once again have to take over the negotiations for the sponsorship. A key ingredient to this rumour is the recent employment of two key people in this field; Steve Wright from McLaren (Johnnie Walker) and Rhys Edwards from Renault (ING).
While the two issues of tactics and marketing are separate, they do come together at times and although the difference between an active and inactive world champion is small, it can make a difference to who is attracted to the brand for sponsorship.
In all honesty, I doubt Ferrari have already decided who they will back. In fact, it may be that they don’t back any one driver, given how this title race is panning out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kimi came back strong in the final few races and the title went down to the wire in Brazil, with Massa, Raikkonen and Hamilton all still in with a shout of winning. But if Massa did well in Spa and Singapore, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kimi is asked to stand aside for his team mate, something that they may break the camel’s back.