The first long-haul stint on the F1 calendar concludes this coming Sunday with the eighth running of the Chinese Grand Prix at the vast and modern Shanghai International Circuit. After this, the teams will return to their European bases and have the first real opportunity to assess what has happened so far over three races.
However, development work continues virtually 24-7 and after two less than satisfactory performances in Australia and Malaysia for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, its team principal, Stefano Domenicali, technical director Aldo Costa and his deputy Pat Fry, chose to return to Maranello as soon as the sound of the engines had died in Sepang in order to be involved first hand in speeding up the development process of the 150º Italia.
The difficulties the team face with this year’s car might sound familiar to anyone who followed the Prancing Horse in 2010: a good race pace on Sunday, but difficulties one day before in qualifying. However, to keep a sense of perspective, there have only been two races run so far and, if one removes the clearly faultless Vettel from the equation - the reigning world champion absolutely on top form at the moment - then the Scuderia’s performance looks more respectable. While the word “if” should maybe not be used in sport, it is also true that if Felipe Massa had not had a problem at his first pit stop in Malaysia and if Fernando’s failed rear wing had not forced him into an error that led to him having to pit for a new nose, then both Maranello men could legitimately claim to be heading for the podium.
“The main problem we need to deal with is our performance the day before the race in qualifying which is not at the same level as the teams that are currently best,” said Domenicali. “It is vital for us to react immediately, because we have seen how rapidly things can change in Formula 1. In terms of strategy we can say our race in Sepang was a good one, because our choices proved to be the right ones and the fact we were unable to bring home more points was down to other causes. So strategy and race performance are two positive factors.” Domenicali was also happy with his two drivers: “Felipe drove to a very high standard, showing a return to form and Fernando was very aggressive, which is always good for a driver” he said.
“Back at the factory we have to have a big push to understand our lack of performance,” said the team principal. “We need to push a lot to upgrade our aero package because aerodynamics is the key to it all. We will try and bring as quickly as possible the upgrades, maybe already in China, that we require. We need to understand as soon as possible why the performance on track has not matched the figures coming out of the wind tunnel. If we have not a clear picture, then we need to change the direction of the work we are doing in terms of development. The other important factor is to keep on increasing our understanding of how to use the tyres, because we saw in Malaysia that this is another area that makes a difference. As for KERS, I cannot talk about it in general, but certainly for us it is a useful aid in terms of boosting car performance. Then, when it comes to the race, it can be used either to attack another driver or to defend your own position. Therefore it is an interesting addition to the sport.”
In Melbourne, mainly due to colder conditions than expected, the predicted high number of pit stops did not materialise, but they did in Malaysia, with a total of 59 visits recorded down pit lane, although this includes some drivers pitting with mechanical problems or to take a penalty. Therefore, Domenicali feels that apart from the technical package, team work is another area that needs analysing and improving. “The trend for more tyre changes means our pit stop crew guys are always under pressure, so the chance of making mistakes is higher. If Formula 1 has always been a case of having a package made up of the driver and the team, then that is even more the case now requiring a different approach to the races.”