Reflecting On The Season So Far: Ferrari’s struggles

It all looked so good for Ferrari at the start of the year. After narrowly missing out on the title with an uncompetitive car in the last race of 2012, Ferrari started 2013 in much better shape. Star driver Fernando Alonso took a dominant win at only the third race of the year in China, and followed it up with an equally impressive performance at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Despite this, the overriding feeling within the team over this summer break must be one of disappointment and a case of “where did it all go wrong?”

Following that triumphant success in Barcelona, Ferrari has struggled, and it has been shades of 2012 all over again as they have trailed rivals Red Bull, Mercedes, and Lotus. Furthermore, Alonso is now 39 points behind the ever consistent Vettel/Red Bull combination.

It appeared at the Hungarian Grand Prix that the 2005 and 2006 champion was getting frustrated. After several years of failing to land the title (notwithstanding a couple of near misses in 2010 and 2012), some questioned whether Alonso’s patience was wearing thin, particularly after his manager was photographed speaking with Christian Horner.

That move sparked all sorts of speculation. Was Alonso really prepared to walk away from Ferrari and make a surprise move to Red Bull? Or was it just a case of Alonso’s manager (who also looks after Red Bull backed Carlos Sainz Jr) trying to put a deal together at Toro Rosso for his other client, who showed strongly in the young driver test at Silverstone?

You’d be forgiven for believing the former, particularly when it emerged that Luca di Montezemolo had castigated Fernando for some negative comments he’d made. Reportedly, when asked what Alonso wanted for his birthday, he’d responded “my rival’s cars.”

Ferrari does not take such comments lightly. The last driver to be so publically critical about Ferrari was Alain Prost, and it resulted in the Frenchman being fired.

It is clear then, that the Fernando-Ferrari relationship is not a rosy as it once was. But what is really going on in Ferrari?

It has now been five long years since the most successful team in the sport’s history tasted success. That came in 2008, when Ferrari won the constructor’s championship. The year before, Kimi Raikkonen was crowned champion.

Since then though, Ferrari has been incredibly inconsistent. In 2010, they lost out on the championship in the last round of the year. The following season, they could only manage a solitary win. 2012 started badly too, with the car a long way off the pace, but Alonso somehow managed to remain in contention to the final race, again coming up short against Red Bull and Vettel.

It is unusual to see such inconsistency from a team that dominated the sport from 2000 to 2004. Perhaps then, the team’s current problems can be put down to one area. The impact of losing the dream team of Schumacher, Todt, Brawn and Byrne is finally being felt. In 2007 and 2008, it was too immediate for those departures to have a lasting effect.

But now, with very different regulations, and another big change for 2014, Ferrari has rather lost its way without its talismanic super team. The fact that Rory Byrne has been brought out of retirement to act as a design consultant for the 2014 car tells you all you need to know.

Ferrari has also had well documented problems with its wind tunnel correlation, resulting in them having to use Toyota’s in Cologne. It has meant that they have struggled to bring updates to races which improve the performance of the car. According to Autosport, Ferrari has, on average, been 0.543 off the pace in the 68 race weekends that Alonso has been at the team.

Sadly for them, it doesn’t seem as if the wind tunnel problems will be a quick fix. Could that mean that they struggle in 2014? Keep in mind that the last major rules change that F1 saw was in 2009. Like 2011, it was a barren season for them, and they only just managed to take a single victory.

The other issue Ferrari has is with Felipe Massa. Along with Romain Grosjean, Massa is probably one of the most inconsistent drivers on the grid. Occasionally, there are signs that we might finally be seeing the return of the old Felipe again, like in Barcelona where he was able to finish third after starting ninth on the grid.

Sadly, those days are rare, and that result has really been the only strong performance of the season so far for Felipe. More recently, a spate of crashes and embarrassing mistakes in both qualifying and race conditions have called his future at the team into question once more.

Felipe has been a loyal member of the team for eight long years, but has failed to win a race since 2008, when he came close to winning the championship. But the fact of the matter is this: Ferrari will struggle to win a constructor’s championship again unless they have two strong drivers regularly scoring big points.

Perhaps now is the time to change, particularly with talk of Alonso’s defection.

Ferrari has been through many tough times in the past, but whatever this current problem is, it needs fixing fast. Some people blame the changes that Pirelli have made to their tyres as an explanation for the team’s drop off in form in the last few races, but that might not tell the full tale.

I’ll leave you to reflect on that, and talk about the story of the tyres this year, another time.