Analysis and reaction
Maranello, 29 August –The past weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix definitely did not live up to expectations for Scuderia Ferrari. A fourth and eighth place in Saturday’s qualifying and the same result in the race on Sunday, with the drivers switching places, cannot be seen as a good result, but as Team Principal Stefano Domenicali commented at the time, one should not react in an emotional manner, but rather analyse the problems and put in place remedial action to fix them.
With this in mind, the engineers concentrated on two areas in particular at the usual Monday debrief: an evaluation of the true effect on the handling of the 150º Italia of all the updates brought to Spa and an investigation into the reasons that led to a higher performance drop than expected, once the Medium tyres were fitted. Clearly the changeable weather on Friday made the job of evaluating new technical components harder than usual, given that the track was only dry for two brief periods and that, even when slicks could be used, the track conditions changed very quickly.
In truth, the real test was carried out yesterday afternoon in the race and now all the data gathered will be studied very carefully in order to decide on the best choices to be made for the rest of the season. As for the performance of the car in the second part of the race, engineers will look at why the switch to the tyres marked with the white stripe failed to deliver a good enough pace. It’s true that previously, in the first part of the season, similar situations arose and the temperature yesterday definitely did not do any favours to the car that celebrates the anniversary of the Unification of Italy. It is now down to the engineers to find the best way of widening the useage window of the harder tyre. Otherwise, there is a high risk of struggling, with the car not delivering its true potential, as could be seen in qualifying and the race this weekend.
However, the last part of the race should not obscure some positive aspects which emerged yesterday, particularly the fact that, on the Soft tyre, the car is very competitive and was again able to run longer stints than our rivals without any noticeable drop in performance. It is unfortunate that the race was neutralised at a crucial moment, even after analysing how the race panned out in the cold light of day: if the Safety Car had not come out on track, second place was definitely within Fernando Alonso’s grasp, as the Spaniard delivered a magisterial performance yesterday, full of grit, determination and the will to win. Also regrettable is the fact that Felipe was robbed of an important fifth place, because of a puncture on lap 32.
Now there are ten days to prepare in the minutest detail for the round that is possibly closest to the hearts of all fans of the Prancing Horse, especially the Italian ones: the Italian Grand Prix takes place on 11 September at Monza. On the fastest track on the Championship calendar, there will naturally be a specific package designed to suit the characteristics of the famous circuit. Over the coming days, Fernando Alonso, who returned to Maranello last night with the team and Felipe Massa, will be working on the simulator to fine tune the set-up for the race that will bring the curtain down on the European part of the Formula 1 season. It would be fantastic to reprise last year’s Italian weekend, but one has to be realistic: doing so is possible, but it involves beating some very strong opposition.
After that, there will be a further six Grands Prix to run and therefore still time to achieve the results that the team and the fans would want. No one at Maranello is ignoring the true situation in the championship standings and they don’t have any intention of throwing in the towel, aware that any good that comes out of this year will above all be useful for the next one.
Belgian GP – Determination not enough: only fourth for Alonso at Spa. Massa finishes eighth after a puncture
Scuderia Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s run of four consecutive podium finishes came to an end at Spa-Francorchamps, even though the Spaniard fought right to the last lap for a top three result, before having to settle for fourth place. Felipe Massa’s race was ruined by an unexpected puncture which meant he had to make an unplanned stop on his way to finishing eighth. Fernando made two pit stops: having started on the Soft tyres, he then fitted a second set of Soft and one of the Medium. Felipe also started on the Softs and initially followed a similar strategy, except that he had to fit an additional set of the Mediums, because of the aforementioned puncture.
Stefano Domenicali: “We definitely cannot claim to be happy with this result, but we must evaluate it objectively, without letting emotion get the better of us. We saw our car perform in two different ways, depending on what tyres it was running: very good on the Soft, especially with Fernando, but definitely lacking with the Medium. This explains how Fernando, who delivered an extraordinary performance, taking the lead and fighting for the win in the first stint, then gradually saw what would have been a very well deserved podium place slip from his grasp. Felipe began his race in a very aggressive fashion, but then he paid an even heavier price for our chronic difficulties on the harder tyre. The Safety Car definitely did not help, coming out just as our main rivals were struggling the most, which meant they could make up for their initial handicap. We know what is our Achilles Heel and we have to continue to work on it: we have made up ground in some areas, but on this one – I refer to the ideal window of operation for the tyres – we are still lagging behind. Now we go to Monza, our home race: our objective is unchanged, which means trying to win. I am convinced we can be on the pace, while aware of the fact we are up against very strong opponents.”
Fernando Alonso: “It would have been difficult to do better than this fourth place today, especially given how much we suffered on the Medium tyres: in these conditions, we are a second and a half slower than the best. Honestly, I didn’t think I had a real chance of winning, but a podium was within our grasp. The strategy saw me lead in the early stages, but then, we knew that in the final part, we would have struggled more. I had fun in the first stint: the start was good and then I had some nice duels. A shame about the podium: it was our target and was possible, despite qualifying eighth yesterday. Compared to the gap we saw yesterday in qualifying, the situation was very different today, but we are well aware that, with temperatures which were definitely not very hot for summer time, we paid too high a price. At the moment, we must congratulate our opponents, who are doing a fantastic job, but we will not give up, at least until the mathematics tell us otherwise: we will always try and win, giving it our best shot, starting in Monza, a very special event for Ferrari and for all its fans, and then in all the other remaining races this season.”
Felipe Massa: “It was rather a strange race for me. In the opening phase I was absolutely in the fight for the top places, but then I started to have tyre problems and the car seemed to no longer be so well balanced. With the Mediums, the situation improved, maybe also down to an adjustment to the front wing which we made at the pit stop, but we were not quick enough, as was clearly evident and by then it was too late. On top of that, I also had a puncture on the left rear tyre which meant I had to make another stop. When I found myself behind Rosberg, I could not pass him, despite the DRS, because their top speed is very good. Furthermore, I was struggling especially in the slowest corners – the final chicane and La Source – and that stopped me from getting as good a tow as possible. The next event is the home race for the team, but it is also very important for me and I really want to get a good result there.”
Pat Fry: “We are not happy and how could we be at the end of a race in which we were fighting for a podium finish right up to the final stages. Unfortunately, we are still seeing a drop in performance on the hard compound tyres, which is too much when up against our main rivals. It’s a problem we have still not managed to fix and which is even more accentuated once the temperature is rather low. It’s disappointing for our drivers, as we have not been able to put them in a position to fight at their best in every type of condition. From a strategic point of view, certainly the arrival on track of the Safety Car did not work in our favour and I don’t think that we could have made any different choices compared to the ones we went with. If Fernando had copied Vettel, he would have come back out on track in traffic and would have lost the chance to attack for the top spot. After that, there was no point splitting the second part of Fernando’s race in two, thus using a third and final set of Softs, because we would definitely have finished fourth with no hope of fighting for something better. Now we must prepare as well as possible for Monza, the Scuderia’s home race.”
Weather: air 17 °C, track 20/21 °C; partially cloudy. Chassis: Alonso 291, Massa 290
Belgian GP – A podium slips away in the closing stages
Spa-Francorchamps, 28 August – Fernando Alonso finished the Belgian Grand Prix in fourth place and Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa ended the twelfth round of the World Championship in eighth. With Lewis Hamilton crashing out of this race, the Spanish Ferrari driver moves up to third in the Drivers’ championship behind the two Red Bull drivers, while Felipe is still sixth. The team is still third in the Constructors’ classification with seven rounds remaining, starting with the home Grand Prix at Monza in a fortnight’s time.
There had been some discussion in the morning between teams, the FIA and Pirelli, as some of the top ten drivers on the grid had blistered their front tyres during qualifying and wanted to be allowed to change them, normally not permitted within the rules. In the end, the FIA stood firm and no changes, either to the tyres, or to the camber angle of the front wheels was allowed.
As the lights went out, Rosberg got an amazing start from fifth on the grid to lead from pole man Vettel. Felipe also got off the line well going up to third from fourth while Fernando also charged up to fifth from eighth. Alguersuari was the first retirement with a damaged car, having been hit by Senna and actually pushed into Alonso. Fernando was up to fourth by lap three getting ahead of Hamilton, as Button and Webber both had to pit for new noses. On lap 3 Vettel retook the lead for Red Bull. One lap later the order was therefore, Vettel, Rosberg, Felipe, Fernando, Hamilton, Buemi. On lap 5, Felipe was slowed as he tried to pass Rosberg and this allowed Fernando to get past him and then Hamilton in the McLaren also passed the Brazilian. Vettel also made an early stop on lap 5. Lap 7 and Fernando got past Rosberg to lead the race and with the Mercedes slowing the pace, Hamilton and Felipe were losing ground to the Spaniard. Lap 8 and the McLaren man got past Rosberg, who now had Felipe on his tail in fourth as Fernando made his first tyre stop, rejoining behind Webber. Felipe changed tyres on lap 9 and after Webber had passed Sutil, Fernando got by the German and the Australian to go seventh behind Petrov. Hamilton came in from the lead on lap 10, which meant Vettel led again from Rosberg, who pitted that lap, promoting Fernando to second. With much of the field yet to pit, Felipe had plunged down to 13th in a battle with Schumacher and Maldonaldo ahead of him.
On lap 13 the Safety Car was deployed as Hamilton crashed into the barriers as he made a move on Kobayashi. This prompted a rush to the pits for those who had yet to change tyres. The order as the SC went round was now Fernando leading from Webber, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg. When the SC came in Fernando led, but not for long as Vettel managed to pass him and Rosberg relegated Felipe to fifth. The arrival of the Safety Car had not really come at the best of time for the two 150º Italia drivers.
At half-distance, lap 22, Vettel still led, by 4.4 seconds from Fernando who had Webber 2.2 behind him, while Felipe was still fifth just 1.5 behind Rosberg. However, Button was on a charge and on lap 26 he managed to get the better of both these two, taking the McLaren to fourth, with Felipe slipping back to sixth. Fernando made his second stop on lap 29, while his team-mate was still crawling over the back of Rosberg’s Mercedes. Vettel, Rosberg, Massa and Petrov all changed tyres on lap 30, with Button coming in on 32 but at this point, Felipe was back in pit lane with a puncture and from then on his race was pretty much over because of the time lost. The Ferraris were not going well on the harder tyre and from there on the two 150º Italias lost some of their sparkle.
With ten of the 44 laps remaining, Vettel led Fernando by 6.5 seconds, with Webber 4.2 behind the 150º Italia. But Felipe, having stopped three times, had now dropped to eleventh behind the Force India of Di Resta. Webber’s Red Bull clearly had more pace at this stage and by lap 36, the Australian was all over the back of Alonso’s car and got past on the next lap, comfortably pulling away. Further back, Felipe was moving up, getting past Di Resta and then Maldonaldo. With five laps remaning, Fernando’s next threat came from Button who was closing in fast in the McLaren and the Spaniard’s podium challenge ended on lap 42 as the Englishman passed him to take third place behind the two Red Bulls. In fifth place and quite some achievement given he started from the back of the grid, came Michael Schumacher, who was thus able to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his F1 debut here at Spa in fine style. Behind him came his team-mate Rosberg, with Sutil seventh. Behind eighth placed Felipe, the remaining points went to Petrov in the Renault and Maldonaldo tenth in the Williams.