Monday, April 6, 2009

Sea Change At Ferrari

It is becoming clear that the Ferrari of today is different from the Ferrari of a couple of years ago.

When Micheal Schumacher left the team, many expected that the team's production would drop off; instead, Kimi Raikonnen would sneak through to grab the Driver's Championship at the last moment.

I have been expecting a bad season to come along; primarilly because Formula One is cyclical, and Ferrari has been near the front for over ten years now; but also just because the people in positions at Ferrari have changed.

The problem is that much of the success of a Formula One team depends on the groundwork laid in the previous year, and in that Raikonnen clearly benefited from the same brain-trust that had provided winning cars to Schumacher through the years. However since that time, more and more of the personnel from those winning years have left, leaving us with the team as it stands today.

This 'halo effect' which carries over from the previous year has been seen before. For example, Red Bull purchased the Jaguar team from Ford and was immediately more successful than Jaguar had been. This, of course, was due to the groundwork that Jaguar had done the year before. However Red Bull still believed in their own press and went out to buy the Minardi team to use as a junior team; the following year, both the Red Bull cars and Torro Rosso cars were circulating in approximately the same place near the back of the grid.

I firmly believe that Brawn GP is successful only because Honda agreed to write off 2008 and permit the engineers a full year of development. This advantage has been pressed home for all it is worth. Next year, however, I suspect that Brawn GP will not enjoy as much success, as the better funded teams will out-resource them.

Ferrari currently has the dual-problem of trying to make up for time spent last year chasing those titles, while trying to find people to put in the right places for success both this year and in the future.

The engineering department is not as strong as it has been; the performance on the track is proof enough of that. Similarly, the race team strategy is somewhat lacking compared to previous years.

Stefano Domenicali can be as unhappy as he wants to and say what he likes; however, the current crop of people appear no match for the group which rebuilt Ferrari in the late 90s.