Thursday, 16 February 2012

2012: Make Or Break For Ferrari

Ferrari have won just seven races in the last three seasons. No mean feat, you might say; but Formula One's most successful team haven't won a driver's championship since 2007. With mixed noises coming out of Maranello this week about the team's new car, the F2012, the upcoming season looks like it will be an important year for the Scuderia.

Critics have been quick to build up against the F2012
In honesty, the figures quoted above may seem unfair. The team came painfully close to the driver's championship in both 2008 and 2010. Fernando Alonso alone took five wins in 2010. So what has gone so wrong?

The first person to take the wrap is the team principal - in this case Stefano Domenicali. Viewed by many in the paddock as likeable yet hard-working, it is fair to say that he lacks the 'edge', the out-and-out need to win that drove his predecessor Jean Todt. Indeed, if the team endure another barren year in 2012, then Domenicali could be booted out. The team have already replaced all sorts of technical staff below him, and this season looks to be Domenicali's hero or zero year.

Another question to be asked is that of the drivers - nabbing Fernando Alonso for 2010 was a coup, despite it being rumoured for many years. In Alonso, Ferrari have a solid and quick driver; many believe him to be the most-rounded on the grid, and it's not difficult to see why. His contract renewal to stay with the team until the end of 2016 has given the team some much needed stability - although despite this, I cannot see Alonso staying around for five winless seasons, and it is likely he would jump ship if the team do not give him a championship-contending car soon. The team's second driver, Felipe Massa, remains as more of a question mark. 2012 is very much his last chance - he's been at the team as a full-time driver since 2006, yet he became the first Ferrari driver for thirty years not to take a podium after completing a full season last year, and it is safe to say that if he does not step up his game in 2012, he will be replaced for the following season by someone like Sergio Perez or even a Sutil or Bianchi.

The last piece in the jigsaw is arguably the most important; the car. It is difficult to draw any real conclusions from testing times, but it is perhaps more revealing to listen to what the team says about the car. Massa is clearly not overwhelmed by the new chassis, saying it needs 'a bit of work' and that it is not a 'complete package' yet. It must be questioned why Ferrari felt the need to create a completely new car when their previous car won the sole 2011 race where the regulations were closest to what they will be for this season. That they were fastest at a race where exhaust regulations were temporarily tightened - as they will be this year - and that they did best on softer Pirellis - all tyres are becoming softer this year - to a casual, and even trained, observer, it is troubling to try and work out why Ferrari have chosen to create a completely new car, rather than create an evolution of their last, which could soon prove to be a rod for their own back.

2012, then, is going to be a very important year for Formula One's oldest and arguably best-loved team. There will be no doubt that the Tifosi will stick around, but how long will Alonso? And how long can Massa and Domenicali cling on for? Only time will tell.

Testing starts again next week at Bareclona.

Image (c) Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo/F1 Fanatic

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