In China Scuderia Ferrari failed to score a point for the third race in succession since the start of the season. This is only the fifth time this has happened since it entered Grand Prix racing as a constructor, the previous years being 1969, 1970, 1980 and ’81.
Older Tifosi will remember that 1969 was a particularly bad year for Ferrari as they struggled with the obsolete, cigar-shaped, 312 V12 car so beloved of historic racing enthusiasts. They finished second to last in the Constructors’ championship that year and Chris Amon left in disgust. This was a typicaly well-judged Amon career move as Ferrari were developing the fabulous flat-12 3.0 litre engine which subsequently powered them to three Drivers’ and four Constructors’ titles in the 1970s.
It may not have seemed such a bad idea to Amon at the start of 1970 as it wasn’t until the fourth GP again that Ferrari scored any points, Ignazio Giunti coming home fourth at Spa. Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni were third and fourth in the next race, the Dutch GP at Zandvoort with Ickx finally taking a win in the Austrian GP at the Osterreichring. Regga won the Italian GP at Monza in which Jochen Rindt was killed. Ferrari were 1-2 in Canada and closed to within 7 points of Lotus for the Constructors’ title. Regga was third in the Drivers', with Ickx second to Rindt who was posthumous World Champion. Chris Amon finished the year in eighth place driving a March 701, which started off well but lacked development potential. In another brilliant career move he left at the end of the year and in 1971 in the March 711 Ronnie Peterson was second to Jackie Stewart in only his second season of F1.
Ferrari’s next really bad start to the year was a decade later in 1980 when ground effect finally rendered the flat-12 totally uncompetitive, reigning World Champion Jody Scheckter ending up 19th in the Championship with two points! 1981 was the year of the V6 1.5 litre turbo in the back of the crude 126C, Gilles Villeneuve taking his famous win in the Spanish GP at Jamara by blasting down the straights and blocking the others off in the corners. Happy days! Whilst this era saw no Drivers’ titles, Ferrari was competitive for much of it, with Constructors’ titles in ’82 and ’83 and second places in ’84 and ’85 before losing their way again in ’86. There was a bit of a renaissance at the end of ’87 and Ferrari looked good for ’88, until they were hammered into the ground by the McLaren Honda MP4/4, but still finishing “best of the rest”, a distant second in the Constructors’ championship.
So what, if anything can history teach us? In ’69 Ferrari was in one of its out-of-date and uncompetitive phases, but a revitalized organisation was underway and on the way up in ’70. Ferrari was outclassed in ’80, but was rebuilding and strong from ’82 onwards after hiring Harvey Postlethwaite to design them an up-to-date chassis. I fear that they may in a down phase now. Ferrari has not responded well to the change in the regulations, keeps making strategic errors and there are questions about the drivers. All were apparent in China.
The F60 is clearly not as good a car as the Red Bull, let alone the “double diffuser” cars of Brawn, Williams and Toyota. In the non fuel compromised Q2 in China, Raikkonen was ninth quickest and Massa failed to get through. Despite their single diffuser, the Red Bull was 1-2 in Q2 and 1-3 in Q3. Alonso ran light to qualify second, but again it was the Brawns which looked set fair for the race with Barrichello fourth and Button fifth with a good bit more fuel than those in front on the grid. With “double diffusers” being declared legal by the FIA last week, Ferrari has much to do. At the hearing they labeled Ross Brawn “arrogant”. I wonder if he was similarly arrogant when winning those 11 titles for them? I don’t remember any evidence of it and his assertion that he didn’t change much at Honda, just sorting out a weak area (aerodynamics) and providing clear direction and inspiring confidence sound like the words of a quietly confident man and not an arrogant one to me.
Mind you, Ferrari’s ire is nothing compare to that of his other former employer, Flavio Briatore, for whom Brawn won 3 titles. He wants to renege on the teams' agreement to pay Brawn GP the telly money owed to Honda, which must be vital to keep them going. So much for FOTA unity and the greater good!
Back in China, the weather again threw a spanner in the works when, come
race start time it was well and truly hissing down with rain. The race
was started behind the Safety Car and the cars slithered and slid around
behind the Merc for 8 laps. This was dull and the following period not
much better, it being simply too wet for the drivers to do much other
than concentrate on staying on the track. The conditions were apparent
even on TV where a car would be coming head-on towards a camera, then
suddenly another would appear from the ball of spray following the first.
At the sharp end, Sebastian Vettel drove a sublime race throughout, not putting a wheel wrong that I could see, his one anxious moment coming when Buemi tripped over him in a second Safety Car period, brought about by Kubica’s BMW mounting Trulli’s Toyota. The clatter of Red Bull cans had a strong resonance of when Vettel did the same thing to Webber in Japan in 2007. Unlike then, Buemi did no damage to the head bull and only needed a new nose for his own car. Vettel went on to win as he pleased to score the first victory under the present ownership for the team which started in 1997 as Stewart GP, before becoming Jaguar from 2000-2004, which lest we forget whenever he’s pontificating, Niki Lauda ran so well at one time.
To complete Red Bull’s joy, former Jaguar driver Mark Webber’s luck finally came semi-good and he was second. He had a good dice with Jenson Button, getting past at one point when the Englishman emulated his countryman and went off after touching a white line. Unlike Mansell, Button got away with it, thanks to the much bigger run-off areas in China vs. those in Monte Carlo, this being of course because China is a bigger country.
Button did get past Webber at one point when he had a moment, but the Aussie immediately got him back.. In this race, the Red Bull was clearly a better car than the Brawn. As in Malaysia, the Red Bulls looked very strong when it was very wet, but unlike Malaysia, it was wet throughout and the Brawns could do nothing about them. Ross Brawn later said that his cars just could not generate the required tyre temperature. It looks like the Red Bull is better mechanically and the Brawn aerodynamically. It’ll be very interesting when the Red Bull gets its double diffuser, though this is not an easy job as uniquely, the RB5 has pullrod rear suspension and the ironmongery gets in the way.
The Brawns came home with Button third and Barrichello fourth, Rubens not doing as good a job as Jenson in the difficult conditions. Kovalainen and Hamilton were fifth and sixth for McLaren, each driving a gritty race. Hamilton pushed hard throughout and slipped off a number of times, his final spin letting his team-mate through. Glock was seventh for Toyota ahead of the aforementioned Buemi. Once again there was some very good racing when the track was wet but not flooded.
So what about Ferrari, I hear you cry (again)? Well, they were rubbish (again) you hear me moan. Massa made the best of it and worked his way up from 13th to third, passing his more highly-paid team mate on the way, before his car conked out with electrical problems, just like the good old V12 days! Raikkonen had another poor race, compounded by another strategic error. He was in fourth place and struggling when he pitted and was re-fueled to the end. Thereafter he trundled round and finished tenth. To be fair, his car did look very uncomfortable, especially under braking, but unlike Hamilton and Alonso he didn’t look like he was prepared to have a go. Ferrari are hoping that things improve when they get their double diffuser car in Spain. Team boss Stefano Domenicali has said that if this does not work, then they may give up on 2009 and switch efforts to the 2010 car.
It seems to me that this poor form, with the car not working in wet/cold conditions, together with the propensity to make poor strategic decisions has been a characteristic of the post Brawn/Byrne/Todt. era. This may seem a funny thing to say given that Ferrari has won one Drivers’ and two Constructors’ titles in this period, but it I believe these were much to do with the failings of the McLaren opposition as the strength of Ferrari. It’s also interesting that these two teams, who dominated much of the “evolutionary” era of F1, but lost their leading lights (Brawn and Adrian Newey) have lost out thus far in the “revolutionary” era brought about by new regulations.
It’s also interesting that Renault and BMW-Sauber, both of whom did well last year are also struggling, but as for it being a new order at the top of F1? The names on the cars may be different, but with Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey in charge, at Brawn GP and Red Bull respectively, it’s hardly the next generation is it?
Often in the past Ferrari has hired its way out of trouble. It’s
hard to see who this might be this time – except for the driver
of course. Meanwhile, let’s hope it’s hot in Bahrain and the
F60 repeats some of the form it showed there in pre-season testing.