Fernando Alonso came within a few laps of the title in
his first season at Ferrari and firmly established himself as the team number
one - but can the Italian stable give him what he needs to win this year?
One of the biggest developments at Maranello over the
winter has not been the new F150th Italia machine but actually the structure of
the team itself, and the arrival of former McLaren man Pat Fry on pit wall.
Fry is an experienced player and, coupled with the
strategy expertise of former Red Bull man Neil Martin in a newly-created 'Operations Research Department', should make a difference to Ferrari's
approach to racing. In a season that is likely to be ruled by strategy, if that
means a return to the tactical prowess of the Brawn era that could be crucial.
The change to the team orders rules also now makes it
simpler for Ferrari to position Massa as team number two, and with Alonso's
form it seems the Brazilian will be able to be nothing more - especially given
Alonso's hints that the new Ferrari has been designed with a focus on suiting
his driving style, saying he expects the car will be "more comfortable and
predictable to me."
What is important, however, is that Massa becomes a
better number two than he was last year, to take more points for the team and
take them off Alonso's championship rivals - and the new Pirelli tyres could be
a big help with this. Massa struggled to get heat into the front tyres in 2010,
but the more aggressive front tyre should overcome that issue this year, and he
has already proclaimed himself happy with the handling.
The new Ferrari has been on the pace and reliable so far
in testing, and the team cannot expect for more than that. There are
suggestions that some areas of the car are not as radical as some of its
rivals, but given the issues some of those more radical rival cars are having
that may have been the right approach.
One of the most surprising elements to this year's Ferrari,
however, is that it retains the traditional pushrod suspension rather than
following the trend towards the pullrod system initiated by title rivals Red
Bull. The pullrod system is much more compact but it makes it hard to change
the car set-up during a race weekend and forces the team to balance changes
around it. The pushrod, in contrast, is typically more bulky but allows easy
Ferrari has tried to retain that set-up flexibility but
still have a compact unit by moving the entire inboard suspension components
for the pushrod system forwards by a significant distance - and if adaptability
is key to getting the best performance out of the new tyres, sticking with the
traditional system could be a key factor in the title battle.
Ferrari launched with a very basic diffuser, in which
exhausts fed air in at mid-height, but as expected they have already introduced
more refined exhaust outlets through their pre-season development.
Another key area for Ferrari is KERS, as they are one of
only three teams to have used the system before - but it appears to have had a
compromise on the efficiency of their aerodynamics. To keep a low centre of
gravity Ferrari has positioned the system's heavy components low and wide in
the sidepods, resulting in a very bulky looking front centre section that does
not take full advantage to be had by continuing the sharp undercut beneath the
square intake at the front of the sidepod around to the rear. The question is
whether it is better to compromise the undercut - which improves rear
aerodynamics by feeding clean air to the diffuser - or to keep these heavy
Meanwhile, at the front, the car now has a higher nose
section to improve aerodynamics (although this will raise the centre of
gravity) and there has been some interesting detail work on the turning vanes
underneath the front chassis.
Last year, Ferrari looked good in pre-season but it all
fell apart and despite a good opening performance they lost points in many of
the early races. Alonso was only able to mount a mid-season comeback because
Red Bull had made similar mistakes early on.
It seems obvious, but the team that makes the strongest
start is usually in the box seat come the end of the season. Again, Ferrari
have escaped pre-season reliability issues with their new car so far this year,
but this time that must translate to the track once the season starts...
Every day leading up to the start of the F1 season, Will Gray will be breaking down a different team's prospects for 2011.
The schedule is as follows: Mar 14 Virgin; Mar 15 HRT; Mar 16 Lotus; Mar 17 Toro Rosso; Mar 18 Sauber; Mar 19 Force India; Mar 20 Williams; Mar 21 Renault, Mar 22 Mercedes; Mar 23 Ferrari; Mar 24 McLaren; Mar 25 Red Bull