Will Gray

Tech Talk: How can Ferrari halt the slide?

Will Gray

View photo


Fernando Alonso's title hopes are fading with Sebastian Vettel now on a roll this season — so is there anything that Ferrari can do this weekend to stop a Red Bull rout in India?

The Herman Tilke-designed circuits in Korea and India provide a similar offering, with a couple of long straights and a mix of high speed and low speed corners. This year saw Red Bull take a one-two in Korea and last year in India Vettel had one of his strongest races. So, really, it looks pretty good for the current form team.

The unpredictability of the season has, as expected, now settled down with just two of the 12 available podium places in the last four races going to drivers outside Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren. The last time another team won a race was Williams with Pastor Maldonado, and that was way back in Barcelona.

Rarely has one team been on top for long this season — but there is no denying it must be concerning Ferrari that the last time they won was in Germany back in mid-July.

Alonso has regularly noted the lack of successful development parts coming from Maranello, dealing another thinly veiled jab in Japan when he said: "we have had the same car for six races, without adding any new bits."

That lack of development (not for want of trying - the parts have been coming they just haven't been working) has dented Ferrari's pace compared to their rivals. That has been most noticeable in qualifying, and only the opposition's problems with reliability, tyre performance and racing incidents have kept Alonso in the mix and allowed him to recover from lower grid spots to score podiums.

But the stats are clear - all but three of this year's races have been won from the front row and Alonso has not been on the front row since he took pole in Germany more than three months ago.

Where once consistency was enough to maintain a championship lead, there is no denying Alonso now needs to win again.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali suggested two tenths of a second improvement are needed to put Ferrari back into the mix — and unless a dramatic development arrives that is a lot to find by a change in set-up direction and focus from race to qualifying pace.

Even so, they will still be fighting a losing battle without double-DRS.

Last year's Indian race saw just six passing moves at the front so the FIA has doubled up with a second independent DRS zone — and while that will help overtaking it will also help the qualifying performance of teams with double-DRS.

Red Bull have their new system working well and McLaren have also reportedly been working on a system which, if they bring to India and can get working immediately, will further improve their qualifying pace. With Mercedes' mediocre performance also boosted whenever double-DRS plays a key role, Alonso's podium chances could be severely hampered simply by the qualifying fight.

That said, the track will have had a year of 'settling' and overtaking could be easier, because the organisers have invested in track blowers similar to those used in Bahrain and expect the surface to provide more grip off line from the start of the weekend. The circuit is designed to have several areas with mutliple different line options — particularly the approaches to turns three and four - and while last year these were virtually negated by the lack of grip offline, this year if drivers are encouraged to take different lines, then that will rubber up more of the track and create options for the race.

Lotus could spring a surprise with the benefit of hot temperatures and a second race with a new exhaust system, which should see them make a step gain now it is bedded in. But it is unlikely to be enough to get them right to the front and, in truth, if there is any threat to Red Bull it is likely to come from McLaren.

Despite a few blips, they have been the closest team to Red Bull on pace. Before Vettel took his hat-trick of wins McLaren had their own triple victory celebration and the promise of significant developments for this race could help their cause.

Alonso's two retirements in the last five races have now re-adressed the championship balance to his rivals and shown that overall Ferrari do not quite deserve to be out in front. Indeed, McLaren are now just six points behind them in the constructors' championship and really, without so many errors or unfortunate issues from the British team, they would already be in a deserved second place.

After Korea, Alonso said: "We have one advantage, that is the team..." but it is hard to see that team turning his car around enough to be one that works better in qualifying.

And so, it will probably be down to McLaren to mount a comeback and halt the Red Bull charge — and for Alonso to bide his time and see how he can benefit from it...

View comments (15)