Mar.9 (Reuters) Like cold pizza or overcooked pasta, Ferrari’s pre-season testing has proved hard for many Italian Formula 1 fans to digest and the team has done little to diffuse the pessimism by admitting they are below par – is this a well orchestrated bluff or the hard truth?
“Ferrari, Fry pessimistic? Let’s hope it’s just pre-tactics,” declared the Gazzetta dello Sport after technical director Pat Fry had doused the hopes of the tifosi with a metaphorical bucket of icy water after the final test in Barcelona.
It has always been the case that F1 needs Ferrari as much as Ferrari needs F1. Above all, both need a strong Ferrari.
There was not much champagne sprayed around last season, with the sport’s most successful and glamorous team winning just once and finishing third overall. Ferrari have not been dominant since Michael Schumacher’s seventh and last title in 2004.
Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 crown for the men from Maranello came against the odds and the Finn, quickest on the first and last day of this year’s winter tests, may not feel too unhappy about being in a Lotus for his comeback season.
The fans and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo could just about handle the team pulling the wraps off one of the ugliest cars ever to come from the most stylish of stables but it will have to be quick to be loved.
There has been little evidence of that so far and Fry told reporters at the Circuit de Catalunya on the final Sunday of testing that there was a lot of work still to be done before the March 18 season-opener in Australia.
“In the hunt for the podium in Melbourne? At the moment I’d say no,” Ferrari’s own website quoted him as saying.
“It will only be in Melbourne that we will get a clear answer as to whether we have to be very disappointed or just a little.”
The sport’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, whose main desire at the start of every season is for the title battle to go down to the last corner of the last lap of the last race, will be hoping that Ferrari fix their problems fast.
McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus may take the fight to champions Red Bull but there is nothing to get the pulse of a red-blooded Italian racing like the sight of a Ferrari leading the way to the chequered flag.
Ferrari supporters around the world will be only too painfully aware of the dangers in allowing any rival to get too much of a head start – as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel did last year and Jenson Button did with Brawn in 2009.
Button, who won three races last year and finished overall runner-up as McLaren clawed their way back from a pre-season nightmare, had little doubt that Ferrari and double champion Fernando Alonso would shift up a gear.
“I think we all like a challenge from Ferrari, it’s a fantastic team and they’ve achieved so much,” the Briton said in the Barcelona paddock.
“They’ve got two great drivers there, so … Winter testing is a strange one, because we had such a bad Winter last year but then again we got to the first race and Lewis [Hamilton] finished second so we had a good result.
“I’m sure Ferrari can find their way out of the sticky situation, if they are in a sticky situation. I don’t really know where they are in terms of pace, it’s difficult to know,” he added.
“I am sure they will catch up because they have the resources, they have the expertise and they really, really need and want a good season in 2012.”
Ferrari are the only team to have competed in every championship since the first in 1950, racking up 16 constructors’ titles and 15 drivers’ crowns as well as 216 race victories.
They won every constructors’ championship between 1999 and 2004, with their most recent in 2008.
To put it in perspective, one only has to think of the drought they suffered between 1980 and 1999, when they failed to win any drivers’ titles, and the period between 1980 and 1997 when they won a total of 29 races.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali and Alonso were certainly not panicking as they prepared for Melbourne.
“This is just the starting point and we have a very long season ahead of us,” said Domenicali. “We know that there are some areas where we have to work a lot, regarding reliability and performance, but I’m expecting some great responses.”
Alonso agreed, telling the team website: “The new single-seater has some characteristics which are difficult to understand, and maybe we’re not where we want to be yet.
“I just want to remind you of an episode two years ago: at the last test in Barcelona we were fifth behind Red Bull, McLaren, Sauber and Force India and two weeks later we gained a one-two win in Bahrain,” said the Spaniard, who will again be partnered with Brazilian Felipe Massa.
“What counts is not to be first in the first race, but in November, at the end of the Championship.”
Orchestrated bluff or the hard truth? Watch this space…