“Being able to build the engine and chassis together is definitely a nice advantage for Ferrari. Other teams cannot do the same and this year, like never before, installing the new power unit in the car’s chassis will be a complex operation” – James Allison, Ferrari technical director, December 2013.
The fact that after four races Ferrari has claimed one podium, has lost its team principal and is chasing Force India in the constructors’ championship is a damning indictment of one of only two teams which has the ability to produce its engine and chassis in-house, let alone considering the financial resources available. While Mercedes has romped to four dominant wins, Ferrari has been scrapping among rivals and is already an extremely long shot for the 2014 title.
The F14T is not a fundamentally atrocious car – certainly not the worst Ferrari has produced - but the problem is that anything but the championship is a failure for a team of Ferrari’s calibre. The team has not won a world title since 2008, with the last few years marred by their aerodynamic inefficiency compared to Red Bull (and to a lesser extent McLaren and Mercedes on occasion) as well as strategic errors – which in part led to their failure to secure crowns in 2010 and 2012.
The F14T is thereabouts in terms of aero, but as in the past few years, it’s not there. If Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari were fitted with the same engine, you’d have little doubt as to which car would get round a corner the fastest.
A quiet pre-season led to doubts over Ferrari’s exact positioning within the pecking order, although the consensus was somewhere between the strong Mercedes and troublesome Renaults. That was realised in Australia as Fernando Alonso came home in fourth place, with Kimi Räikkönen in seventh. Alonso spent much of the race stuck behind Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg, while Räikkönen’s struggles were not aided by a crash in Q2. Ferrari’s pace deficit led to suggestions in the German media that the 059/3 power unit was overweight and not delivering the power as it should be, the secondary impact being a difficult rear end and braking instability – a trait which was affecting Räikkönen more than Alonso.
Räikkönen was quoted by Ferrari’s press release as being especially bothered by the new brake-by-wire system, although the Finn rubbished such claims at his next press gathering. Go figure…
Räikkönen’s season has not been disastrous despite his lowly championship placing, for there are mitigating circumstances. The first of his problems is the man driving the other car. This is Alonso’s fifth year with Ferrari and he regularly extracts the maximum out of the machinery at his disposal. From the outside, Räikkönen appears tentative on the brakes and uneasy with the front end of the car – an attribute to which he is notoriously sensitive – especially in cooler conditions. In Malaysia Räikkönen was on par with Alonso until he was clipped by Kevin Magnussen, while in Bahrain he trailed Alonso home having eclipsed him in qualifying. The Finn clearly needs to close the gap to Alonso – which makes his refusal to use the simulator slightly questionable – but the points table accentuates the gap between the duo.
Ferrari made some progress in China with Alonso claiming a podium finish – with rumoured improved Shell fuel and a couple of new parts aiding this step – although with one car third and another a minute back in eighth, no-one will be hailing Shanghai as an overwhelmingly positive result.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo criticised 2014-spec Formula 1 post-Bahrain – although it was a case of throwing toys out of the pram – having witnessed his beloved cars trailing home in ninth and tenth after being powerless to prevent faster rivals from steaming through. Enzo Ferrari famously said that aerodynamics were for those who couldn’t build engines, but Bahrain laid out that Ferrari could do neither in 2014 – such was the embarrassment that Stefano Domenicali fell on his sword and was replaced by the little-known Marco Mattiacci.
Mattiacci still has to learn the ropes in Formula 1 but he can provide a view of Ferrari from the outside, albeit with the caveat that any changes may take time to implement. Montezemolo has emphasised that Ferrari will cut the bureaucracy which has plagued their progress, although the phrase ‘plus ca change’ comes to mind…
There have been a couple of positives for Ferrari in 2014 – the reliability of the F14T has been strong, an aspect of the car which engine Chief Luca Marmorini stressed would be important pre-season. Strategy has also been vastly improved, with pit stop timing gaining Alonso positions in Australia and China. It's easy to forget that while the 2010-13 years will be remembered as the Red Bull era, better strategies would have left Alonso with titles in two of those seasons.
But despite the positives, the team faces a long road ahead if they are to challenge for wins in 2014, let alone the title. Alonso remains admirably optimistic, but there’s little chance of the Spaniard claiming his long-awaited third crown in 2014. The upcoming Spanish Grand Prix marks an entire year since Ferrari last claimed a win. The bigger question should be whether they have the ability to rein in Mercedes by the time 2015 begins. Or will history simply repeat itself once again - once behind at the start of a regulation cycle it's difficult to close the gap. Formula 1 is a much better spectacle when Ferrari is properly in contention - let's hope they can arrest their current malaise.