Will Gray

Gray Matter: Ferrari’s guiding light

Will Gray

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Amid all the drama of Force India's rapid rise to form at Spa last weekend, the completion of a victorious face change for Ferrari has been rather overlooked.

It seems a long time since their tough times in the early races, when heads were ready to roll after Ferrari posted their worst ever start to a season in terms of finishing position. There was a real danger the team was about to hit the self-destruct button - but Stefano Domenicali has proved a solid leader and turned things around.

After manically celebrating Ferrari's return to victory on the pit wall in Belgium, the Italian admitted: "We try to be calm... but everyone has something inside that they want to get out."

He must have wanted to get out himself after the first part of the season, but instead he hunkered down to build a new Ferrari regime on what has been a tough proving ground for the current incumbents of Formula One's most famous team.

Former team leader Jean Todt, who masterminded the Schumacher era, stepped down from his team principal role at the start of 2008 and handed over to Domenicali - but during a hard-fought title battle that year Todt remained a guiding figure as Ferrari CEO. Only this year did the little Frenchman cut all ties to the Scuderia - and Domenicali was left with a real mess to tidy up.

Heads did roll, with strategist Luca Baldisseri moved to a factory position after several disastrous calls from the pit wall in the early races and chief aerodynamicist John Iley stepping down in July, apparently blamed for the lack of downforce on the F2009. There was a danger that Ferrari would return to the old pre-Todt days when headstrong passion-filled Italians ruled the roost - but they went the other way.

The team has flourished beyond the levels seen under Todt in some areas - particularly in terms of its openness - and it has taken on a different sheen.

Domenicali is far more happy to discuss and even admit defeat than Todt, he is comfortable with admitting when the team has made a mistake and rather than taking the cloak-and-dagger defensive approach seen under his predecessor, he seems to remain open, positive and forward-looking whatever happens on the racetrack.

Even Ferrari's press officer Luca Colajanni has had his leash slackened under the new regime, his old serious face and tightly composed comments replaced with smiles and jokes. "It could be useful to learn some Spanish," he joked recently about the rumours of Alonso joining Ferrari - a comment that would have earned a firm slap on the wrist from the former management.

Domenicali's statement that Ferrari never gives up, however, is not quite right - because they are giving up on this year already, just after a recent turnaround.

After the German Grand Prix, where they claimed the first of a recent run of four consecutive podiums, they froze development on the 2009 car to focus on 2010. Since then, they have picked up 24 points compared to Brawn's 16 and Red Bull's 12. Only the equally resurgent McLaren team have out-scored them.

They now need to reverse that freeze decision and make one final push to cement third in the title race - and if they achieve it, there will be a round of applause.

Because Domenicali has made Ferrari liked again.

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