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.
Whether they should back one driver and whether they are – two intriguing questions.
I don’t believe they are favouring one driver at present. I think Massa gets the lighter fuel strategies because, at the moment, he’s able to drive the car quicker than Raikkonen.
Should they back one over the other? I’m going to duck that question like a coward and ask this instead – could they back one driver over the other?
If Stefano Domenicali walked up to his world champion and asked whether, though he is very much still in the hunt for the championship, he wouldn’t mind playing number two to Massa, I think a rather icy Finnish silence would be the response.
I would have to agree. The final line of the post hinted at this. I suggested that should Domenicali try to ask Kimi to play rear-gunner, Kimi would probably pack his bags and leave. It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Given how this season is panning out, I don’t think they can back one driver over the other as well. The constructors title isn’t sealed up yet and it probably won’t be until the final race if the points continue to be equally shared. Therefore, putting all the red eggs in one basket would be very risky.
Here’s another question: If it came down to it, do you think Ferrari would prefer to have the drivers title, or the constructors? Obvious answer is the constructors, but I’m not so sure…
I think Ferrari would see anything less than both championships as downright failure, so they probably haven’t even thought about the “driver’s or constructor’s” question. The trouble is that the team structure is primed towards having a 1-2 arrangement, but the drivers they have makes implementing it impossible.
Kimi was never cut out to be a No. 2, and even if he was out of the driver’s championship and were willing to take on the role, he’d fare badly. His natural inclination is simply to drive as fast as possible and never mind the consequences, something incompatible with No. 2-dom.
Massa could be a No. 2 (he spent a year in 2006 being precisely that) but making the guy leading the team assault into No. 2 would defy logic and probably lead to a serious morale plummet.
So Ferrari are stuck with a 1.5-1.5 driver combo in a team wired for 1-2. No wonder they’re not performing as well as usual.
I thought Keith’s question as to whether they could back one of their drivers was going somewhere different. My argument against them being able to back one of their drivers is that we rarely see the Ferrari drivers in a position to help one another. There always seems to be a couple of places between them. If the drivers are running close to each other things can be manipulated between them unless of course Max decides to place an equality steward in the Ferrari garage.
I think it was Hockenheim when I said that I was convinced that Kimi would retire then at the next race on the Saturday I saw a full onboard lap with Massa and changed my mind. The car was horrible. Nothing to do with Massa’s driving. The car simply refused to turn in and when he eventually go it pointing at the corner he missed at least six apexes and some by 3 feet. It was ridiculous how bad the car was. The thing is though Massa likes an understeering car and can cope with it. They obviously dialled it in to the track but the video gave a clear insight to the inherent characteristics of the car. Raikkonen on the other hand like Hamilton needs the nose to be planted and that is never going to happen in that car particularly in qualifying. So my belief is that Kimi’s performance is being dictated by the wayward handling of the car and his mood is following his performance rather than leading it. I think Lewis in that car would have the same problem unless he is more adaptable than his style would suggest. However put Alonso or Kubica in it and it would be a different story.
Kimi has never hidden his lack of enthusiasm for all the sponsor pleasing activities and that coupled with Ferrari finally giving up tobacco sponsorship several years beyond the deadline they committed to with the other tobacco sponsored teams may just be enough to push him to retirement. Although to be fair he has stated several times that he has a contract for next year and he will honour it.
The only thing ANY team could want—other than winning the manufacturer’s championship—is 1–2 race finishes. Having one of their drivers win the driver’s championship is just icing on the cake. The only purpose of having a #1 and #2 driver situation is to help the #1 driver win the driver’s championship, and such systems are only desirable if one driver has a clear chance in winning it—and the other doesn’t. What a terrible mistake it would have been for Ferrari to have backed Kimi to win at Valencia.
I would think it would be a bit difficult for Ferrari to establish a number one and number two driver ranking at this time. Sure, Felipe is going great guns lately. But, hey, Kimi is no slouch this year…and a world champion. You could logically make a case for either one to be the number one driver. Therefore, I think it’s a decision that can’t be made until one or the other is clearly out of the championship. Just my thoughts.
And you don’t work in F1? With thoughts like those, Ali, I’m surprised team’s aren’t asking you to sort them out. 🙂
That’s an interesting line. Certainly got me thinking a little about Ferrari, their car and how the BMW isn’t to Heidfeld’s liking either this year. Wouldn’t the teams be better off then hiring two drivers with similar styles?
Almost certainly true, especially given the part on one-twos you mentioned, William. Thanks, and welcome to BlogF1.
My feeling is that neither will be totally out of the championship hunt this year until after the final race. Always good thoughts donwatters, great contribution.
Thank you. I agree that it’s all going down to the final race. And that’s a good thing for all concerned…particularly us fans. What else can Ferrai sensibly do except offer full support for each driver?
I think that is what is likely to happen. Massa’s upped his game, though still a little shakey at times. And Kimi is clever and fast enough to keep himself in with a shout, even if the car isn’t to his liking and/or his motivation is waivering.
RE: 1.5 & 1.5 reminds me of a friend’s dad who used to ask; “How many beans make five?” to which he would answer “Bean and a half, bean and a half, bean and a half, half a bean” I never really understood it, but it always made me smile..
Although venerable pundits are required to create these stories to keep people interested / commenting / angry – and pay their mortgages, I think that it is maybe too early to suggest any clear direction.. Historically Ferrari is unlikely to let two drivers take points off each other for the win and are hoping over the next couple of races a clear ‘1st driver’ will emerge and Ferrari will back them to the title – Kimi has already prepared himself and the world for the possibility that it is not him by alluding to his desire to spend more time with his family/rally drive/become a cheesemaker etc..
“That’s an interesting line. Certainly got me thinking a little about Ferrari, their car and how the BMW isn’t to Heidfeld’s liking either this year. Wouldn’t the teams be better off then hiring two drivers with similar styles?”
So many teams have gotten into trouble over the years having drivers with diametrically oppsed driving styles and diametrically opposed set ups. I still find it incredible McLaren made a car last year that both Alonso and Hamilton could drive.
It backs up my long held belief that a lot of the people who hire drivers in F1 know nothing about the art of driving. If I was running a team I would want two race drivers and a test driver with similar styles. I would also be looking at my young driver program to be filled with drivers with similar styles unless I saw a real diamond in which case you grab him and change everyone else.
Heidfeld’s style is a bit like Button or DC as far as I can tell. He follows the classical style where he likes the car to be very neutral where Kubica is the only driver who likes as much understeer as Alonso. The two of them would be an ideal match with Ferrari’s car if it wasn’t for the guaranteed personality clash. So if Ferrari are after Alonso they should keep Massa in the other seat as he likes understeer although not to the same extent as Alonso.
I am sure one of the reasons so many people are underwhelmed by Kovalainen’s performance is that the car is designed round Hamilton’s style which is exactly the opposite of Alonso’s. He likes the nose to stick and let the tail hang out. Probably his closest match is Raikkonen. I think Lewis would struggle with the Ferrari just as badly as Kimi and Kimi would out pace Heikki just the same as Lewis. Then people would say Kimi is a star and Lewis was a flash in the pan.
Circuits affect this as well. One of the reason’s Massa owns Turkey is because so many of the corners are understeer generators. Kimi will never beat him there in the same car. The thing is if Alonso goes to Ferrari and beats Massa comfortably a lot of people are going to claim that it proves he is better than Raikkonen when it really doesn’t.
I wonder how much thought drivers put into the inherent characteristics of a team’s cars when they switch teams?
Too true, Steven!
Some drivers have been known to adjust their style slightly and be relatively successful, but most of these, if my memory serves me correctly, were back in the mid-late ninties. So either this isn’t talked about as much anymore or the drivers don’t change their styles as much. (I’m trying to think of someone, his name is on the tip of my tongue, but I’ve had a long day at work, so I’m not gonna try too hard. I might break something in my head!)
Conversely, teams have also been known to adjust their car to better suit a driver. But as you say, only if they’re a star. And only if the designer isn’t Adrian Newey – that man does not know of the word ‘compromise’.
I would suspect that if Alonso went to Ferrari in replacement of Raikkonen, two things would be made clear from the outset: number one status and the following year’s car built around him. Whether or not he would get those demands met is another story for another day.
Had Alonso remained at Renault for 2007 and then for 2008 as he’s now done, I think Renault+Alonso would be in a much better position. Obviously the consistency factor, but also the fact the Alonso would have been involved in continuously developing a car that was already agreeable with him.
“…following year’s car built around him…”
Isn´t what should has happened in Ferrari this year? Or Kimi don’t give a damn for that?
“…two things would be made clear from the outset: number one status…”
And… if Felipe win the championship this year? I think “Fern” will be obligated to fight for his number one status again and when he must to do that…
I think Steven hit the nail and made a great insight. Driving style and driver inputs is one of the great mysteries of Formula 1 nowadays. Always when a guy from Autosport try to discover something from the own mouths of the engineers and drivers, they always seems to avoid the issue. Example:
NOBLE: “It’s not the first time that Kimi has struggled with the set-up between the test and the weekend. Is the window of the set-up quite small on the Ferrari, or is he generally having more difficulties to find it than Felipe?
STEFANO DOMENICALLI: “For sure the window of set-up can be wider if you go to the direction that is not taking the car where you want. Generally speaking the difference is not so big.”
We need to see a guy from the suppliers (Hideo Hamashima, Bridgestone CEO, has made an interesting insight into the matter) to do the job and explain a little what is happening.
“Isn´t what should has happened in Ferrari this year? Or Kimi don’t give a damn for that?”
Ferrari cars of recent years have all tended to understeer a little. I think the difference is this year it understeers a lot until the tyres are properly up to temperature. So Kimi struggles in qualifying and in the races struggles to gain positions because the grid is so evenly matched this year.
Mark Hughes from Autosport is very good on driving styles and the like. It helps that is brother is Warren Hughes who was a good F3000 driver and was in the McLaren young driver program so he has good inside info.
I think you hit the nail on the head with compromise Ollie. Look at a team like Renault who ran with a big rearward weight balance. If a new driver struggled with it they could modify it slightly but the the driver had to modify his style to suit because all the data they had for the previous two or three seasons was based on that setup. Change the setup and you have no data. Move the centre of gravity and you have to move the centre of pressure so all your aero data is screwed too.
This explains a lot, mainly why Mclaren has the edge on low temperatures, as Germany this year!
Just as a quick aside, it needs to be said that Becken has the coolest Gravatar I’ve seen in a long time. Okay, I’m done being weirdly geeky about 1369 pixels, you can get back to the show now! 😉
I think it’s time to get a decision, not only based on the standings, but also on the behaviour of the drivers in the last two months. Everything now seems to suggest that Kimi it’s not the same we knew in the past. So, why don’t try Felipe?
Timing, they say is everything.
I was conducting my usual perusal of the news sites this morning when I came across the following attributed to Stefano Domenicali at http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/70103
“The team boss said it was up to the team to give Raikkonen a car he feels comfortable with.
“He isn’t happy with the way the car enters corners. He would like it more aggressive, and this influences him. It’s up to us to carry on giving him a hand.””
I have to wonder why everyone thinks Alonso & Kubica would clash?
Off the track the two are good friends, and I really don’t think that Kubica would be interested in politics (which we know is what upsets Fernando the most). Of course things might be a bit frosty from Alonso’s side of the garage if Kubica beats him, but I think that would be a temporary thing.
I think they’d work well together.
“Saint Luca” just confirms Kimi and Felipe to next year:
Thanks Becken. From what I can make out with my dodgy Italian, Montezemolo is only saying that he has a contract for Kimi and Felipe for 2009, but I will wait to see what others (who can easily translate more accurately than myself) have to say. Looks interesting though, and if Kimi has chosen to see out his contract, I wouldn’t be that surprised.
[…] Raikkonen hasn’t performed well in recent races, and following the last post about the Scuderia and their tactics for the remainder of the year, it seems there are many possible reasons for the […]
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