What do Ferrari have to do to win the title?

Fernando Alonso makes hsi pits stop on Ferrari's fateful night at the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP

Fernando Alonso makes his pits stop on Ferrari's fateful night at the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP

Jan.29 (Daniel Chalmers) A wrong strategy call cost Ferrari the driver’s championship last season, and with 2011 set to be a close season this is a weakness Ferrari must cure.

Luca di Montezemolo has high expectations of his drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa

Luca di Montezemolo has high expectations of his drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa

Ferrari are very keen to put the events of the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP behind them. The pressure is on to win both titles otherwise heads will roll. They have been dethroned as the team to beat by Red Bull and Ferrari want that tag back.

At the F150’s launch from Maranello the message from Luca Di Montezemolo was very clear.

He said: “This year we have to win and we will do our best to win.”

Since the dream team of Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Bryne left the team Ferrari have still remained championship contenders.

Many anticipated that Ferrari would fall off the edge of a cliff after losing these key team members. However, the fact that they have still been winners shows the strength in depth that Ferrari possesses, and that they were always well prepared for these departures.

L-R: Ross Brawn (GBR), Ferrari Technical Director, and Jean Todt (FRA), Ferrari Sporting Director. Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd15, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 17 October 1999.

The big shoes of Ross Brawn and Jean Todt have not been filled at Maranello

However, tactics is the one area where Ferrari hasn’t yet been able to fill the void. Ross Brawn was the tactical brain of the team, and his strategies led Ferrari to many race victories.

Instances like putting Schumacher on a three stop strategy in Hungary in 1998, and even four stops in France 2004 immediately spring to mind. It’s hard to recall many strategy cock-ups from Brawn, which cost Ferrari race wins.

Since Brawn left Ferrari, too many silly tactical errors have been made. What used to be a huge strength has become one of the team’s main weaknesses

In Abu Dhabi it cost them the world championship. Ferrari should never have pitted Alonso when Red Bull decided to bring Mark Webber in. Alonso would have very likely have been able to maintain fourth position, which would have handed him his third world championship.

Had Brawn still been in the team this mistake would never have been made. There is evidence of that at Mercedes where a great call was made to bring Nico Rosberg in on lap one, when the safety car was deployed.

He went straight onto the hard tyres and kept the same set for the entire race. This allowed Rosberg to leapfrog to fourth position by the chequered flag. The exact same position that would have been enough for Fernando.

Kimi Raikkonen during the 2009 Malaysian GP

Kimi Raikkonen during the 2009 Malaysian GP

This isn’t the only silly mistake Ferrari have made over the last couple of years. In Malaysia 2009 Kimi Raikkonen was running in a solid points paying position. However Ferrari put him onto the extreme wets whilst the track was still bone dry.

By the time it eventually did start to rain the tyres were completely finished. In the same season there were two occassions when a Ferrari driver dropped out of Q1 because the team thought they were safely through, and in fact they weren’t.

Back to 2010 and we saw both Ferraris drop out in Q1 in Malaysia because they didn’t send the cars out for a banker lap. By the time they went out the heavy rain had started so it was too late.

Again over at Brawn’s Mercedes team and both cars were out early setting banker laps. Rosberg later earnt a front row slot alongside Sebastian Vettel. This is where the Ferrari drivers could have ended up rather than at the back.

Ferrari pit gantry. Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Budapest, Hungary, Friday 30 July 2010.

Sre too many mistakes being made on the Ferrari pit gantry?

In China both Ferrari drivers switched to intermediate tyres too hastily and this dropped them both down the field. Big points were lost in these two races.

These are just a few examples from over the last few years.

It’s important Ferrari significantly improve their tactics, as is going to become more important in 2011.

In 2010 strategy wasn’t a huge part of F1 as the tyres were so durable, and most teams did exactly the same thing.

All the top 10 would always start on the soft tyre, and change onto the hard about a third of the way into the race.

In 2011 Pirelli will be much more aggressive with their tyres, and we are likely to see multiple pit stops. Therefore it’s likely that strategy is going to become much more critical again. There will also be more scope for variable strategies

Stefano Domenicali German GP

Stefano Domenicali expects stronger rivals in 2011

Furthermore, with five teams all aiming for race victories this year it could be one of the tightest battles at the front of the grid. The team who wins this championship will have to be perfect in every department.

Stefano Domenicali says: “If you’re not perfect within such a competitive environment, with opponents that are so strong with teams, which also varied numerically, then it becomes difficult to win.”

Two deciding factors that determine the outcome when it’s so close are the drivers, and clever strategy.

Ferrari have no problem on the driver front as in Fernando Alonso they have the most complete driver on the grid. If he carries over the form from the second half of last season, Ferrari will always have a chance of race victories.

On the other hand when it’s so close at the front, the Ferrari pit wall have to ensure they make good decisions. In tight battles strategy choice can make or break races

Pat Fry is in the Ferrari hot seat

Pat Fry is in the Ferrari hot seat

During the close season Ferrari made changes to its engineering staff as a response to the mistake at Abu Dhabi. Chris Dyer was replaced as head of engineering by former McLaren employee Pat Fry. It is likely that Fry will be making many of the big decisions at the race track.

Neil Martin, a former member of McLaren and Red Bull has been brought in to head up the new Operations Research department. Martin was in charge of Red Bull’s race strategies last season so his experiences should help Ferrari.

Stefano Domenicali added: “We will put whoever has to take delicate decisions in a position to have all the tools not to make mistakes again.”

Whether Ferrari have done enough to cure the problem remains to be seen. If it’s not enough you can be sure there will be immense pressure mounting on Domenicali.

Are there other people Ferrari should have tried to hire?

Someone they could have hired was Pat Symonds. Symonds is notorious for being strong when it comes to pit strategy, and is right up there with Brawn in that regard. He would also make a big impact back at the factory.

He worked alongside Brawn during Benetton’s successful spell in the 90s. Then he managed to beat his old colleague in 2005 and 2006 regularly guiding Fernando Alonso to the chequered flag first.

Pat Symonds

Pat Symonds during his days at Renault

Plus he has also recently expressed his desire to come back to F1.

At the recent Autosport International when asked about returning to F1 he said: “There are still lots of things I want to do. I am working as a consultant now and I am doing a lot of work in racing as well as in other areas. I still have a love of F1 because of the engineering. I absolutely have a passion for racing.”

Whether Ferrari would ever have considered hiring him due to the crashgate scandal is another matter. Especially as Ferrari lost out badly because of it

In 2009 Mike Gascoyne went to the Chinese GP to be a pundit with the BBC. However he was also looking for a job.

He would have been ideal to advise Ferrari on strategy, and generally improve their trackside operations.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) puts the new Ferrari F150 through its paces for the first time. Ferrari F150 First Run, Fiorano, Italy, 28 January 2011.

The Ferrari F150 gets its furst outing in the highly capable hands of Fernando Alonso

In the soaking wet Monaco GP in 1997, Mika Salo did the whole race without coming into the pits, and came fifth for Tyrell.

More recently Gascoyne made the call to bring Markus Winkelhock into the pits on the formation lap at the 2007 European GP. It started raining on the first lap and the brave call paid off for six laps as he led the race only to retire on lap 15.

However Ferrari didn’t sign him, and he joined the new Lotus project.

In conclusion it’s highly likely that the F150 will be competitive and compete for race victories. However strategy could again decide whether they win the title or just miss out like last year.

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