The walls are wobbling at the big red house called Ferrari.
The most important team in Formula One had three victories last year, when they finished second in the constructors’ championship, and were expected to mount a serious challenge to the German outfit’s hegemony this year. But after 11 rounds the Prancing Horse are still looking for their first win of the season, 154 points behind Mercedes and a single point ahead of third-placed Red Bull, who appear resurgent.
A big piece of paper is required to list the problems at Ferrari. They have issues with their aerodynamics, their chassis, their strategy, their qualifying and their ability to get the most from their tyres. The engine is strong, but you would expect that from Ferrari, it’s just everything else that is proving difficult.
Crucially, there has been a development failure with their aero and chassis. There is, however, also the persevering notion that politics and management are more dominant than the engineering side of things.
It feels a little uncomfortably like 2014, when Ferrari failed to win a single race and were disrupted by the departure of their chairman, Luca di Montezemolo. There followed two changes of team principal in 12 months before the arrival of Maurizio Arrivabene.
The 59-year-old grey-haired Italian has recently pleaded with critics and the media alike to let the team “work in peace”. Fat chance of that, the team being Italy’s motor sporting obsession. Ferrari will only be granted peace when they start winning again, as they did so regularly in the first half-dozen years of the century.
But following the departure last week of their highly respected technical director James Allison, they must refocus before they can move forward once more. Allison’s second stint at Maranello lasted just three years. He probably was not there long enough to make the profound changes that were needed. It was only two years ago that he took overall charge of technical matters. At least he brought some order to a disorganised team.
However, the 48-year-old Englishman now needs the freedom to spend time with his children following the sudden death of his wife from meningitis in March, which sent the entire Ferrari team into a period of mourning. Allison has been replaced by Mattia Binotto, the team’s old engine boss.
Jock Clear, Ferrari’s head of racing activities, says: “The team is going to have to work hard to cover the gaps – Mattia will need help and we have to pull together. There is no suggestion he can step into the role James was doing and cover the background, but Ferrari is committed to pulling together in the areas where James was strong. A man of his calibre is going to be missed.”
But there is a feeling that Ferrari are turning their back on Allison’s greatest legacy and going back to their bad old ways – concentrating all their efforts on this year’s car when they should have at least one eye on the challenges of 2017.
Arrivabene said recently: “It is crazy to talk about next year – we need to focus on this year.” But Allison told me last year: “If I had to be immodest, the main contribution I’ve made has been to break out of the vicious circus Ferrari were in, which was to start the year with not the best car and then throw all efforts behind that car, having a quixotic assault on a championship that was already lost. We were robbing the future Peter to pay the present Paul. You pay enormously if you ignore the future.”
Strange though it is to say about an organisation that makes some of the most breathtaking road cars on the planet, Ferrari are an innately conservative racing team. There is little evidence of the invention and creative flair seen at Red Bull and Mercedes in recent years.
Even when they get it right they find a way to foul things up. Bad strategy calls probably cost Sebastian Vettel victory in Melbourne and Montreal. There have been others, but these were the most striking examples. In Australia, on a restart, they sent Vettel – who was leading the race – out on super-soft tyres, so ensuring that he would have to stop again. By contrast, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was shod with mediums and romped to victory. Then in Canada Ferrari again threw away Vettel’s lead when the virtual safety car came into play.
The decision to retain Kimi Raikkonen for next year showed a certain lack of adventure; the taciturn Finn is almost 37 and not quite as good as he was, despite some impressive work this year. Gary Anderson, now a pundit but who once ran Jordan, has the solution. “If they had Ross Brawn as technical manager and Adrian Newey as technical director they’d be OK. They have lost something on the engineering side, and that’s what makes a car successful. You can have the best management in the world, but the engineering side is what counts.”
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