The Second ‘Are Ferrari In Serious Trouble?’ Post

The Second ‘Are Ferrari In Serious Trouble?’ Post

Just as I did following the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago, I once again feel compelled to discuss the hopeless start to Ferrari’s 2009 championship campaign. As reigning constructors champions, with one of the largest budgets in the sport and with the skill and experience within the squad, one has to seriously wonder what on earth is going on at Maranello. Tactical errors were avoided during Kimi Raikkonen’s and Felipe Massa’s races today, but the severe under-performance from the F60 is very worrying.

The last time the Ferrari team failed to score any points in the opening three races of the season was way back before I was even born. The third race of the 1981 season took place in Argentina on April 12th, and it was the third double DNF for the squad. Ferrari would go on to finally score in San Marino, and Gilles Villeneuve even won in Monaco and Spain.

To find out when Ferrari failed to score in the opening four rounds is an impossible task; Gestione Sportiva have never endured a season-start as bad as that. They have come close on occasion though. In 1964, John Surtees grabbed second place at Zandvoort, the only points from the first four races. In 1969, Chris Amon managed third, also at Zandvoort and also the only points from the first four. Ignazio Giunti did just the same in 1970, although his points came from Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.

If Ferrari fail to score any points in Bahrain next weekend, 2009 will officially become the worse start to a campaign by the sport’s oldest running and most successful team. Is it likely though that the Scuderia would have such a drought?

It is perfectly possible. Although Bahrain will be hotter and therefore more in tune with the characteristics of Ferraris in general, the car won’t be changed that much. The new parts that will hopefully see an improvement in pace are not due to be implemented until the first European leg of the championship in Spain. And while leaving the Shanghai circuit in China earlier today, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali refused to rule out writing off 2009.

I think for sure we will see after Spain where we are. In that period we will see really what can be the situation – so when we come back to Europe basically. Stefano Domenicali.

When asked about the controversial diffuser that has seen Brawn, Williams and Toyota all significantly improve, Domenicali was adamant that this device isn’t the only thing that is making the difference.

That device will give you a benefit. But it would be wrong to believe that it is the only key. We have seen, for example, the Red Bull car has done a really great job.

They had more time, they switched their project much earlier than us and that is the reality and we need to consider it. The other thing that we have to understand well is that today in certain conditions, look at the first part of the race, our car was not too bad at all. So we need to understand a lot of things.

We need to stay cool. It is not easy, I know, but we need to stay cool because there are too many things that can change very quickly. The priority number one is to move from zero points. Stefano Domenicali.

Felipe Massa was upbeat heading into the Chinese Grand Prix, insisting that the title race is far from over. Indeed, even speaking after his retirement, the Brazilian was still hopeful of a turnaround from the team.

The car was going well, except when running behind the Safety Car: at those times, there were a few moments when the power seemed to drop. Then, without warning, the accelerator would not work and the car went quiet. I would say to our fans that they should not give up on us, as this is a difficult moment, but the championship is still long. Felipe Massa.

However, Kimi Raikkonen has pretty much admitted that he has given up all hope of securing a second title this year, and now the team is on the verge of doing the same.

If Ferrari did refocus their efforts on the 2010 challenger, then they would likely do a Brawn and start next year with a great advantage, but such is the way Formula One is, you cannot go about winning every other year. There has be a middle ground from which the teams can work and develop. And undoubtedly, the ban on in-season testing is really hurting the teams and preventing them from sorting these issues out.

What would you do if you were in charge of Ferrari? Give up now (or after Spain if there is little improvement) and focus on 2010? Or would you persevere with the F60 in the hope that it comes good at some point this year and will provide a better foundation for next year’s model? And what of the rumoured Alonso-to-Ferrari deal? If it’s true, do you think Fernando will try and back out of it now, and if it hasn’t already been signed, do you think Gestione Sportiva still hold a special place in the Spaniard’s heart?


  • What would I do? Easy – throw away the KERS system for the season and concentrate the engineers’ efforts on improving the car. It is not nearly as bad a design as the results make it look and is a solid base from which to work. Obviously fitting a double diffuser would be a priority but I wouldn’t expect a miracle from it – the whole car needs steady improvement.

    Next, I would appoint someone much meaner than Domenicali to run the team, someone whose word is law and that the entire crew are frightened of. It would help if he knew what he was doing but the prime credential would be an ability to tell Luca to mind his own business. Then get him to simplify pit lane procedures – every man given a specific job, trained to perform it like a machine, and told to stick to it.

    I would pick a strategist of magnificent lack of imagination, whose mind would never entertain a thought of maybe getting an extra point by a dodgy gamble. Just copying Ross Brawn’s strategy with his team should be more than adequate to cope in this role. Then I’d sack Raikkonen, promote Massa to clear number one status, and put Bruno Senna in the other car, making sure that his contract stated that he had to support Massa at all times.

    There is an easier alternative, however. Buy the entire Toro Rosso team (minus Tost), sack the Ferrari guys and rebadge the car.

  • There is an easier alternative, however. Buy the entire Toro Rosso team (minus Tost), sack the Ferrari guys and rebadge the car.

    I hadn’t thought of that until you said it, and although it was perhaps meant in jest, it isn’t a bad idea! And probably cheaper than trying to fix the Ferrari operation right now!

  • Hi guys!

    Ferrari is not german, not english either it’s italian is a myth and has a whole nation and millions of fans around the world behind them. Ferrari raced each and every race that was opened to 4 wheels vehicles so I will let them sort out their business and stand by their side.

    In though times you need support, support and support.

    La Rossa will be boucing back I have no worry about that πŸ˜‰

    Many racing teams would be more than happy to buy Ferrari for the badge ONLY!… and, by the way, is Clive a pseudo for Jean Todt?

  • Me, Jean Todt? I don’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted! πŸ˜€

    Being a loyal fan is an admirable thing, Ago, but refusing to admit problems when they exist is less than intelligent. I have given my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) prescription for setting Ferrari on the path to recovery – what is yours?

    Incidentally, I have disliked Ferrari from the time Enzo fell out with John Surtees so I doubt I’d make a good Jean Todt. I support BMW just as fervently as you support Ferrari but that doesn’t stop me from admitting that the German team has problems this year that need urgent solutions.

  • Did I said there were no issues? No I did not. I was very clear that we should let them fix the issues I have faith in the team.

    Sorry to be blunt but what seems “not very intelligent” (why do you have to use these words?) to me is to suggest solutions to a group of very professional people.

    I have no suggestion because I don’t know what are the reasons and causes for the problem(s) but maybe you do? Tell me…

    To me the major concern is the reliability of the car and without an in-depth analysis I cannot suggest anything.

    The team was working almost exactly as you think it should when Jean Todt was running the business hence my remark about your pseudo… Now if you feel you are a better man or a greater achiever than he is… this is entirely up to you πŸ˜‰

  • Ago, if we were all to quietly accept that we cannot know more than the guys doing the job, there would be no comments on blogs at all. We are only giving our opinions, after all, and no one is claiming superior knowledge – just pondering on the issues and saying how we would tackle them. I was asked the question and answered it, that’s all.

    I used the words “not very intelligent” deliberately to avoid anything more insulting. The expression is delightfully imprecise, allowing the reader to choose anything from “stupid” to “intelligent” as a substitute. πŸ˜€

    In giving my suggestions for solving the team’s problems, I am also implying what I think is wrong. So, obviously, I think KERS is a waste of time and effort that would be better spent on designing a double diffuser and improving the car wherever else possible. I am also suggesting that the team needs a stronger personality in charge than Stefano (a nice man but you know what they say about nice guys).

    The suggestion of keeping it simple for the pit crew is clearly an attempt to solve the occasional pit stop mix ups that Ferrari has suffered of late and the idea of an unimaginative strategist is to avoid the terrible tactical ideas that have been far too common over the last year or so. And I guess my opinion of the drivers comes through pretty clearly too.

    And that’s the thing, Ago – it is all only opinion and that is all we are asked for. If I seem to be pointing back to the Todt era, that can hardly be a bad thing, considering that it was also the most successful period in Ferrari’s long history. It seems pretty obvious to me – if things are going wrong, take a look at the time when everything went well and see what is done differently now.

  • Clive πŸ˜‰

    If I may…

    I do not believe the past holds the key to a brighter future when something goes wrong. Todt is gone (he was so much criticised then…) and Stefano is not Jean. It seems to me that Stefano is still trusted by Luca di Montezemolo and an organisation like Ferrari -or McLaren- knows how to go motor racing. We do not.

    As an humble observer of the sport I can often tell what had gone wrong but after it happened indeed so my answer to Ollie’s question was straightforward : Let these guys sort the matter. It is their job.

    – The KERS? Mandatory in 2010 it wouldn’t be very smart to drop it now. The drivers are asking for it and as a matter of fact it will be back for the next race.

    – Domenicali? He had taken home 2 constructors’s and 1 driver’s championships in 2 years that is not exactly what I call a failure. It might not be wise to sack him now.

    – The pit crew? they are not pizzaiolo they have a clear job like in any other team. The issue was with the synchronisation: the electronic lollypop. It is fixed now.

    – The strategist? Baldisserri is back to the factory. Job done.

    – Hire Senna? On what criteria? I think Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alondo or Lewis Hamilton would be a much intelligent choice. This is not about PR this is about winning races.

    For me, as thick as I might be, the real issues are:

    – Design issue: No DD and all the aerodymics that goes with it (front wing etc…)but after all the STR has shown today that it could win (and finish 2nd) without it and the Ferrari is quite quick (Massa impressed me a lot today)

    – Reliability : the cars are not finishing the races. This work must take place in the factory, not at the trackside. when the 2 cars will cross the finish line a great step will be achieved.

  • Let us not be too humble here, Ago – Ferrari may know how to go motor racing racing but they did so without a championship from Jody Scheckter’s day until Schumacher arrived. Either of us could have suggested to the team what was going wrong in that period and we might have been right in spite of never having run a racing team. The mere fact of having done so does not make one infallible – something was wrong in those decades and nothing the team tried fixed it until Todt came along.

    But it seems you do have an opinion after all. You think it is necessary to persevere with KERS, that Domenicali’s championships demonstrate that he is not part of the problem, that the pit crew have it right now, that the strategic mistakes are a thing of the past. Fine, that’s your opinion, mine happens to be different, that’s all.

    As for the drivers, I suggested Senna because he is currently available (in fact, any competent driver from GP2 would do) – those you suggest are not on the market at the moment.

    We are agreed on the design issue. I have already said that the car is better than its results indicate and all it needs is steady development. And as for reliability, that is something we can put Luca on – he should be back at the factory, after all. πŸ˜‰

  • While I really think the Ferrari people are a bunch of really nice guys, I must also admit that as a McLaren fan, I shed no tears at the current state of affairs for the red team πŸ˜‰

    Looking at the matter at hand, Ferrari have an exceptionally high standard to live up to, as the Tifosi simply don’t accept poor performances. But instead of dropping the hammer on anyone invovled there, I urge everyone to look at the facts. First, we are in a drastically different period of rules and regulations and some teams, no matter what the budget or history, may just be having an off-year. Second, I believe the drivers have been doing farily well- the decision to put Kimi on full wets in Sepang ruined his race and was way too big a gamble for me. Felipe has been very solid but reliability has been an isuse.

    I believe this weekend’s action in Bahrain will be a good test for the rest of the season- Ferrari has thrived here in the past and if the team struggles again, more eyebrows will surely be raised. But again, we’re only a few races into a season of dramatic change, so give the guys a chance to do some work, and things will surely improve.

  • Now that the race in Bahrain has been completed, I wonder if this is still Ferrari’s worst start to a season ever with a 6th place in the 4th race and nothing before that.

    In 1981 they got a 5th place in the 4th race and in ’82 actually won that race in the absence of the FOCA teams.

    In fact they cannot have done worse than this in the days when only the first 6 placed drivers scored points because anything less would have been out of the points.

    Any idea if there was ever another year they did as badly – otherwise this is surely the worst.

  • Any idea if there was ever another year they did as badly – otherwise this is surely the worst.

    And I was just nodding off as well! πŸ˜€ I’ll have a scan through the record books…

    …and just to ensure I have it right in my head: Ferrari, 3 points in 4 races. And because the points/positions ratio has changed over the years, I should probably also check 1x6th in 4 races. I’ll report back in a while…

    • 1964: John Surtees had one 2nd place in the first 4 races.
    • 1968: Chris Amon scored a 4th place, but Jacky Ickx scored a 3rd place in the opening 4 races.
    • 1969: Chris Amon managed a third, the only points in the first four races.
    • 1970: Ignazio Giunti scored a 4th place in race 4 – so this so far is the closet, but as of yet, nothing as bad as 2009.
    • Oh yes, the dreaded 1980 season. Jody Scheckter only managed 1x5th in the opening 4 races. Still though, it doesn’t beat 2009. Arguably though, Scheckter retired in the first 3 races, and team mate Gilles Villeneuve also retired from 3 and finished one in 16th. So this perhaps is worse than Ferrari’s 2009 campaign.
    • 1981 was better, but only marginally. Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi each retired in the first 3 races, but they managed a 5th and 7th in the fourth race.
    • 1986: Stefan Johansson only scored a 4th place and 10th place in the opening 4 rounds, team mate Michele Alboreto also scored a solitary 10th. For his 4th place, Johansson was awarded 3 points, the same as Kimi in Bahrain 2009.
    • 1993: Jean Alesi scored one 6th place (0 points) and retired in the other 3 events. Gerhard Berger managed a 4th (1 point) and three other retirements. Given the multitude of other retirements from Alesi and Berger that year, I would argue 1993 as being one of the teams worse starts to a season.

    Therefore, I would conclude that in 1993, Ferrari endured a worse start to the season as they only managed 1 single point from the opening 4 races, although that point was scored in the first race. But overall, it is worse than 2009. In terms of having to wait before scoring though, 1981 was pretty bad with 3 double retirements and only 2 points from a 5th in San Marino at the 4th race. In terms of position it was better than 2009, but in terms of points won it was worse.

  • Nick, the answer is kind of ambiguous, but I think we can safely say that after seeing the red cars dominate from the late-’90s to the mid-’00s, it is a shock to see them struggle so much. Even Schumacher and Irvine manage to score some podiums with the messy F310 in the opening stages of 1996. What does that say about the state of the F60?

    Still, now they’ve started, I’m sure Ferrari will go on to score some more points, maybe even grab a podium later in the year. But I can already see myself writing a post entitled “Will this be the first non-winning season for Ferrari since 1993?” later on in the year…

  • Oliver

    Thanks for taking the time to follow this one up. I’m sure you’re right – more points will follow although I must say that I find it refreshing to see Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota taking the fight to the front rather than the usual suspects of recent years.

    I will even confess a sense of Schadenfreude in Ferrari’s case because of a perception (right or wrong) that they have not achieved all of their recent success on a level playing field – I certainly don’t buy into Bernie’s view that they are somehow special although that might be because when I started following F1 in the mid-nineties, they most certainly weren’t.

    Still, I think there will be some more surprises before this season is out

  • I must say that I find it refreshing to see Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota taking the fight to the front rather than the usual suspects of recent years.

    And I must say, I’m loving it. Truly, I really am. How refreshing is it it to see Button joke with Vettel in the post-race press conference!? Honestly, I’m really loving it.

    Still, I think there will be some more surprises before this season is out

    Undoubtedly. But for now, I must nap. It is long overdue. Thanks for asking a great question though, and feel free to ask away in the coming races. πŸ™‚

  • Double-checking:

    1993: Jean Alesi scored one 6th place (0 points)

    It was Berger who scored the 6th place, and he netted 1 point for it.

    Gerhard Berger managed a 4th (1 point) and three other retirements.

    I think my eyes were getting crossed looking at the results tables…

    The results for the first 4 races for Ferrari in 1993 were:

    – Alesi: RET, 8th, RET, RET.

    – Berger: 6th, RET, RET, RET.

    My apologies for any confusion.

    I really am going to bed now!

  • Hey.. I was just wondering. Everyone’s making a huge deal as to how the Bahrain Grand Prix was the last chance for the “Diffuser Three” and how their period of brief dominance would be over and all that.. But what if McLaren, Ferrari and the other teams did introduce the double decker diffuser and it didn’t work? What then? Especially since there’s a ban on in-season testing. What would the teams do then? And secondly, what if Red Bull introduce their double decker diffuser, after making changes to their extremely complicated car and that didn’t work? Wouldn’t they then look like fools? Any thoughts/comments please? And yeah, I’ve also been thinking, why is it called Free Practice and not just Practice sessions on Friday and Saturday? Dumb Q, but just a sudden question that struck me last night.. πŸ˜›

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