Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pack Away 2011

Even before Monza, the word was out: Ferrari had effectively given up on 2011. While a Monza-specific package would undoubtedly be used for the Itallian Grand Prix, the word on the strip was that there would not be any further updates to the car, which would probably race on the rest of the season in a mostly Spa-spec package. Any further development parts will be field trials of the 2012 car.

We've been here before, although the situation isn't perhaps as pointless as it was back in 2009: Alonso, at least, will be back next year. And hopefully there will be a similar 2010-style payoff in 2012, as Alonso was very much alive in the championship chase right to the last event in 2010.

(I've said before that 2010 was a strange year where Red Bull and McLaren both seemed determined to not win the titles, and Ferrari's competitiveness was more due to steady reliability in high points paying positions rather than outright pace. But still, you have to be in it to win it, and the 2010 edition of Ferrari almost got there.)

We've also had the requisite round of scapegoating and otherwise musical chairs happening, none of which I expect to lead to a runaway Ferrari championship any time soon.

Ferrari as an organization is still going backwards from the Micheal Schumacher era. Look how long it took Schumacher to win his first title with Ferrari: '96 through '99 each showed promise, but the rebuilding didn't really come together until 2000.

That Raikkonen was able to sweep in in '07 and scoop the title out from under Hamilton and Alonso's nose says more about the team's competitive inertia and the quality of the team assembled before and during Schumacher's reign; the same with Massa's just-shy effort to grasp the title for himself the following year.

Since then, we've been sliding backwards. The people who built and composed that super team of the early '00s have been replaced by people who have joined a successful team, not built one. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

These people are very capable and very competant -- keeping Ferrari in the top tier is no easy feat. But there is clearly something missing, some magic that is needed for that extra little push.

I don't like Alonso as a person, but as a driver he's won me over. I think that he is excelling at making a good car go very well. Massa only looks ordinary because the F150 is, frankly, ordinary. It belongs behind the McLaren and Red Bull cars, fighting with the Mercedes. And unless someone exceptional like Vettel* can be persuaded to take Massa's place, whomever ends up in the second Ferrari will continue to look ordinary next year.

The problem is that the other major teams will be turning their attentions to 2012 at the same time. Red Bull is your winner for 2011, so there's no point in either them or McLaren to keep developing. So Ferrari is not going to have a real head start on the rest of the field by abandoning 2011 now.

I'm sure the boys at the track will continue to give it all they've got for the rest of the year.

I just don't see any results changing substantially, either now or in 2012.


* = which will never happen, but what a championship season it would be!