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No more excuses, say Ferrari

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Andrew Benson | 16:01 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

At the Circuit de Catalunya

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali surveys the Formula 1 paddock through mirrored windows from a scrupulously tidy white office on the first floor of the team's pristine motorhome.

What he could see on Friday morning at the Spanish Grand Prix was a world still coming to terms with the news that Ferrari have extended their commitment to Fernando Alonso, rated by many in F1 as the finest racing driver in the world, until the end of 2016.

As Alonso munched his breakfast outside his boss's office, the satisfaction Domenicali took from this development was plain. Yet the genial 46-year-old Italian remains a man with bigger problems to solve.

After the crushing disappointment of handing the 2010 drivers' title to Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel after a strategy error left Alonso stranded down the field in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari were expecting to bounce back strongly this season.

Fernando Alonso at the cockpit of his Ferrari

Ferrari have not yet laid down a serious challenge to Red Bull this season

So the reality that their car is lagging a long way behind Red Bull on pace has been something of a shock, and it has triggered a period of introspection and self-analysis at Maranello.

While Vettel has stormed to three wins and a second place in the first four races of the season, Ferrari and Alonso had to wait until the Turkish Grand Prix two weeks ago to score their first podium finish.

The sport's most iconic team has been open about the fact that the problem has a dual cause.

As their president Luca di Montezemolo has said: "We were a little bit too conservative with the new (car) project but also unfortunately we faced something we have never seen before - that the wind tunnel results have not been confirmed by the track. This is not an easy problem (to solve)."

In a rare exclusive interview here, Domenicali projected a tough edge that some in the paddock have at times accused of him of lacking - especially in comparison with his ruthless predecessor, Jean Todt, now president of the governing body the FIA.

"No doubt I was expecting a better car because from the winter testing the feeling was not too bad," Domenicali says. "We have discussed that we have this problem with the correlation from the wind tunnel.

"But as I said to my people, I do not want to speak about this again. The situation is as it is. For the last grand prix it seems not too bad in the race but we definitely need to improve in qualifying otherwise the race is always difficult.

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"That's where we stand now. My engineers (must) just understand that the others are pushing very hard and we need to improve. Full stop."

The wind tunnel problem is one thing - it has arisen from Ferrari's switch from using a 50% scale model of their car to simulate aerodynamic performance to a 60% model, and it is the sort of thing that can happen.

More worrying is the creeping conservatism in the design office. Domenicali admits that the roots of it lay in the team's domination of the early part of the last decade with Michael Schumacher, when a process of gradual iteration of a proven concept delivered five consecutive world titles.

That all changed with the introduction of new regulations in 2009, when Ferrari had their least competitive season for years. They recovered impressively to fight for the title with Alonso last year, but that championship bid was aided by Red Bull's faltering progress - it is not as if Ferrari had the fastest car.

"First of all," Domenicali says, "with all respect you can see I was pushing my team since Turkey 2010 to be more aggressive in terms of design, in terms of approach to the car.
"It's a matter of mentality, ideas and organisation. And I really push with my people to go towards that route that is not really there at the moment.

"That doesn't mean if you are conservative you can't win, because if you remember last year, unfortunately the result was not in our favour, but if Abu Dhabi had been different, the season would have been not great but fantastic.

"So we don't need to throw away all the things that relate to a different methodology, or a more normal approach to the design of the car.

"It is a matter of balance, but for sure I am pushing my people to look ahead in a different way. The new elements of the regulation now are quite clear, and I want to see a step in that direction very soon - different ideas, different concepts."

The Ferrari designers, then, face a period of mounting pressure. Not only is the boss on their back, but the knowledge that Alonso has committed the rest of his career to Ferrari creates a heavy burden that is rooted in its obvious benefits.

Alonso is, as Domenicali says, a "reference", one of very few drivers a team knows they can count on to deliver every last bit of a car's potential, on every lap, of every race of the season.

He has a tireless pursuit of perfection and he drives his employers hard. His view is simple - give me the car and I will win the championship for you.

For their part, the designers know that with Alonso there is no hiding place. Any shortfall in performance cannot be laid at the door of the driver. It can only be that the car is not quick enough.

That, says Domenicali, is the whole point. "That's what I need," he says. "I don't want to hear from my engineers that they have a problem with the wind tunnel. If you have something to improve you have to do it. The time of excuses is finished. I don't want to look for excuses - this is not our style, and it's not mine."


  • Comment number 1.

    Ferrari under Domenicali have faltered badly. Two WC lost on the final day, a pit crew that is no longer the most efficient, tactical errors during the race and a serious mistake in keeping a broken Massa. Ferrari must re-organise especially now that Alonso has committed to the team.

  • Comment number 2.

    Totally agree but it may not all be Domenicali's fault. Ross Brawn is tough to follow. However, Ferrari need to get to get some talent in terms of engineers to design new concepts. Possibly buy Adrian Newey?

  • Comment number 3.

    Ferrari aren't really that far behind, let's be honest. They're still comfortably one of the top three teams, and yes, Red Bull appear to be running away with the season a bit, but they're just miles ahead of everyone and Vettel's driving at his peak. You can't legislate for something like that. As the season goes on, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Red Bull slip up and McLaren and Ferrari, and maybe Mercedes, claim a few wins each and knock Vettel off his perch for a while.

    I can't understand why they've taken Alonso on for so long. He is most definitely not a team player, for all that he is an excellent driver. With him around, Ferrari will never be able to forge a partnership that can win them the Constructor's Championship because Alonso won't allow them the possibility of another driver being in a position to do better than him.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree, this season could well be Domenicali's last if things don't improve drastically. So many problems with the car and the team as a whole ultimately only point toward one man. Having said that he does seem to be cracking the whip now so who knows what could happen.

    As far as Adrian Newey and Ferrari, that will almost certainly never happen. He's not really interested in working for them and earns enough now (reportedly $10m+) that it would be unlikely he'd do it just for the money.

    There are also many other top engineers out there, possibly not all in F1 right now, but I refuse to believe Adrian Newey is the only guy on the planet you need to design a championship winning car.

  • Comment number 5.

    As a die hard Ferrari fan, I really hope to see that be the case and Ferrari get their act together to make it work.
    On a different note, what I am really impressed about is the partnership of Hamilton and Button. They really do work well together and have made a really good impact on the British public, in my opinion. I still believe Hamilton will always have the edge over Button in terms of pace and ability. Would you agree?

  • Comment number 6.

    Sheffield Harry: "I can't understand why they've taken Alonso on for so long. He is most definitely not a team player". When did your interest in F1 start, Harry? Yesterday? F1 greats are not great 'team players'. They're great drivers. Read about Jimmy Clark and his win at Zandvoort in the Lotus 49, first time out, after his team mates had done all the testing. The total antithesis of a team player. Maybe Senna was the nicest bloke on God's earth but while at Lotus he vetoed Derek Warwick as a team mate, and at McLaren he had a relationship with Prost in comparison with which Hamilton and Alonso were best buddies. Schumi was a great 'team player' in sofar as he was able to develop the car to suit him and so win again and again. But help his team mate? Never. The history of F1 is written by drivers who are individualists, not team players. And if Alonso doesn't win at least two WDCs with Ferrari I'd be very surprised. And you should set your microwave to 'sombrero'.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great blog Mr. Benson, as always. And a great interview from Domenicali. I have not been exactly impressed by him so far, but things can only get better from here. I always thought that he lacked the authority inside the team he would need to, but maybe he can prove me wrong.

    Most of the comments from the british side are just funny.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have so much respect and admiration for Stefano Domenicalli. He is affable, honest and straight talking, just what Ferrari need in the 21st century. Alonso's contract extension proves how valued and valuable he is - a true reflection of the Spaniard's talent and potential. I hope Ferrari have an amazing weekend, with Fernando on the podium - that would be the icing on the cake

  • Comment number 9.

    Fernando Alonso is without doubt a huge talent and one of fastest drivers currently in F1. The problem with a team building themselves around him and making him the focal point is that he's not all that he's made out to be in terms of feedback and car development, and certainly nowhere near a Prost, a Schumacher (or even a Damon Hill) in my view in that respect.

    If he had an Adrian Newey developing a monster car and he just has to drive it then sure he will be champion. But to drag an underperforming team up as one no chance.

    I actually think Massa has more to offer on the development side as he is Ferrari thru and thru and, by all accounts, candid with all the engineers and works for the team's benefit rather than pursuing his own agenda.

  • Comment number 10.

    Alonso is, as Domenicali says, a "reference", one of very few drivers a team knows they can count on to deliver every last bit of a car's potential, on every lap, of every race of the season.

    Sorry Andrew , that is definitely one thing that cannot be said of Alonso. If you'd said it about Hamilton, then maybe I'd be inclined to agree with you.

  • Comment number 11.

    Again, the anti-Alonso brigade blow their trumpets. They'll be claiming that Andrew is pro-Alonso next.............yawn

  • Comment number 12.

    @Mark Blow

    Regardless of how you feel about Alonso, the one thing that cannot be argued is that he has the technical nouse to drive a team forward. In that sense he is very Schumacher-like. A driver who can win 2 championships in a car that is not the fastest on the grid knows how to motivate his team.

  • Comment number 13.

    Ferrari have signed Alonso to stop anybody else having his talents.Massa is clearly not up to the job he has never been consistant.Farrari will need Vettle and alonso plus a team leader and not the manager they now have,by his recent comments he knows he is not good enough.The time for change should be soon if results do not improve in two races.

  • Comment number 14.

    I am always amazed at the facility with which some label Alonso to be a bad "team player", based on the fact that he didn't have a good relationship with McLaren, Hamilton and Ron Denis. However, in all his other teams everyone in the team (and by the team I mean the team, not only the other driver) seems to adore him, and that accounts for 9 out of 10 years of his career. In fact, just after the last race last season, after loosing the championship for a bad strategy decision, I remember him to be very supportive with the team, not blaming them at any point, Isn't that what a team player is supposed to be?
    I watch every F1 race, and Alonso is one of the very few drivers who very rarely publicly blames his team for his bad races (I am sure in private he will have many things to say about the team's mistakes). Could you say the same about Hamilton or Button? It seems that they win the races on their own, but only the car or the strategy is to blame when things go wrong.
    Furthermore, I am pretty sure Alonso is not afraid to drive alongside any of the current top drivers (why would he?). He has proved that he is as fast as anyone out there, no team mate has ever scored more points than him, not even in 2007, when the F1 British establishment deprived him of his 3rd consecutive championship (He was robbed in Hungary, otherwise the title would have been his a few races before the end of the season). He was then brave enough to quit McLaren knowing he wouldn't have a competitive car for a while, and showing an enormous confidence in his talent to eventually get the best possible contract (Ferrari). That is not being a bad "team player", it is to be proud and not allow anybody to abuse from you.
    I would personally like to see somebody like Kubica, Vettel or Hamilton (would he dare to drive with him in a non English team?) with him at Ferrari. Having a strong team mate can only make you better,
    And finally, I would like to disagree with everyone that puts the Hamilton-Button relationship as an example of 2 strong team mates getting on well for the goodness of the team. In the first place, I don't think Button is anywhere as good as Hamilton, and they both know it. In most races Button is in a different strategy to all the other top drivers; to me that is an indication that he knows in the same terms he has no chance to beat them (and it worked twice last season). Once established the pecking order, the rest is a given (see this year's problems between Vettel and Webber = none). Second, it may be good for the team to have 2 drivers who don't argue, but for me as spectator, I quite enjoyed the fights between Alonso-Hamilton and Vettel-Webber in the past.

  • Comment number 15.

    Perhaps Ferrari needs to take a step backwards in order to move forward, their problem is wind tunnel corrolation with track results, thus, why not return to their 50% model or at least, try and compare what their results are with both models, CFD could perhaps be of help.

    Ferrari's management keeps shouting that their results are unacceptable does nothing to help hard pressed engineers, they are already working themselves to exhaustion.

    The commitment to Alonso to 2016 looks impressive, however, I doubt their faith in one driver whilst excluding the input of the other would work, if they are going down the wrong path with input from only one source, they are unlikely to see their errors until track results as they are at the moment says, you are wrong!

  • Comment number 16.

    @2. I don't really think Adrian Newey would want to leave the double world championship winning team he's slowly built up around himself to move to Italy and work for the 3rd fastest team

  • Comment number 17.

    Vivid?Just trying to clarify few things.

    are you talking about the same Alonso who on his last race with Renault and before joining Mclaren accused his own team of sabotage because they did not want him to take number 1 with him to Mclaren?

    Or the guy who spent the whole year moaning and complaining about his team (Mclaren) and about Ron dennis accusing them of siding with Hamilton when till race number 6 if you remember that year in Monaco ,Hamilton was asked to slow down for Alonso to move into P1?

    Is he not the same Alonso who was screaming his head over the Radio because his team mate would not open the way for him to overtake?"this is ridiculous".

    Himself saying last week ,give me a car and i will bring you a championship.Is he not moaning about his car?

    Its obvious that your English is better than mine and you might be watching more race than me but you are lacking memory.

  • Comment number 18.

    As long as Alonso drives for Ferrari they will not win any world championship. I truly believe that he was in on the Briatore plan to crash Piquet jnr. and will bring bad karma to any team he drives for. I used to be a massive Ferrari fan but since Alonso joined, unfortunately not any more. Ferrari can try what they want, Alonso will never again be world champion in any team.

  • Comment number 19.

    I believe Ferrari signing Alonso long term is a no brainer! He's the best in F1 and he is commited to the best team.

    I don't believe all Ferrai's problems can be laid at the feet of SD. Yes the call to Alonso to pit in the last race last year was a shocker and lost the title however every team makes these mistakes, in Ferrari it's magnified 1000%.

    Ferrari's next move is to sign another quality driver, without whom the constructors title will only be a dream.

    If they are waiting for a certian injured Rennault driver then they should cover their bets and sign Webber on a 1 year deal. This would be beneficail in allowing RK to recover fully, perhaps driving a year for rennault and Webbers info on Red Bull could only be a positve.

    They will be competitive this year it's only time. However time will run out very quickly if Red Bull continue to dominate!

  • Comment number 20.

    @19: Why the hell would Webber want to drive for Ferrari? At the moment the Red Bulls are faster, and this year they look to be more consistent as well, which was their big failing last season. The only thing that would draw him away from a better team would be the lure of driving for a legendary team, but really that only works for Italians. (Remember Fisichella? Left Force India after picking up pole at Spa and spent the rest of the season as a back marker?) Also, the best team? The points table from this and last season would beg to differ. It's all very well saying they have history and pedigree and whatever, but ultimately what counts is points, and Ferrari aren't getting enough of them.

    @#6: You'll notice I'm not the only one to hold this view. See post #17 for my arguments.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ Vidi2005

    I second that, great analysis.

    Some people are just so biased it's RIDICULOUS !!!!. Regardless of what one can feel about Alonso, he is arguably one of the best driver of his generation (the best to me). Nevertheless that does'nt mean that I will blindly talk crap on Hamilton, he also is one of the best out there.

    @ Mark Blow

    Mate ! Put your act together, what kind of argument is that :

    "Sorry Andrew , that is definitely one thing that cannot be said of Alonso. If you'd said it about Hamilton, then maybe I'd be inclined to agree with you."

    You obviously have the right to disagree but at least say why. Don't just say: "I don't agree" that's so childish.

  • Comment number 22.

    REF 18


  • Comment number 23.

    @16 I was joking about my Newey comment! I definitely cannot see him go to Ferrari as well.
    @19 Signing Webber is crazy talk as mentioned by @20! On a different note, could Ferrari sign "the Hulk"? He has some talent and if Ferrari are waiting for Kubica to recover, would he not be an ideal candidate for possibly a one year contract? I know this may sound ridiculous but fresh talent, would obviously play 2nd fiddle to Alonso and who knows may bring some pace to the car as well, instead of Alonso finishing say top 3 whilst Massa lugging around in 10th!

  • Comment number 24.

    I know Alonso has said before that he would very much like his best friend Kubica to race alongside with him as well. Would that not be beneficial for the team or would that ultimately be detrimental to their relationship?

  • Comment number 25.

    Hm, looking at final practice this morning, maybe the Ferraris are a little further off the pace than I thought.

    And I like the idea of Hulkenberg in the sister Ferrari, if only because I think, of all the up-and-coming drivers of last year, he most deserved a drive this year and got let down and pushed out by lesser drivers with more money. Sad to say it, but Massa's just not been the same since his big accident.

  • Comment number 26.

    Same with Chandok, performed better than Senna but name and money outweighs a slight performance difference. Fortunately for Ferraris sake its not just them that's off the pace this morning, Red Bull are storming out in front with better aero. No modified rear wing won't help Ferraris case. Are the Italians pushing for too much with all the pressure of the media and the fans on their shoulders?

  • Comment number 27.

    So far it is 2-2 in race head to heads this season between Alonso and Massa and in China in particular Massa was a lot quicker. This does not suggest Massa is the better driver of course, but why the talk of replacing him? Yes last season he was poor by his standards but everyone in the know sys it takes time to recover from an accident like Hungary and this season he looks back on it.

    Short of luring Hamilton or Vettel I don't think they will get anyone better for the 2nd Ferrari

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    @2 Newey has said he wouldn't leave Red Bull. He's getting paid more than most of the drivers and has specifically said he wouldn't relocate to Italy because of his family.

  • Comment number 30.

    Great blog again Andrew!

    1 second difference between Fernando and Massa in qualifying..

    I think that says it all..

  • Comment number 31.

    Its unfair to say Massa has lost it. When things hook up for him he is one of the best and consistent drivers on the grid, look at Hokenheim last year! As a life long Ferrari fan (at 22 years old) its clear we havent got the fastest car on the gird yet. Its unfair to criticise Domenicalli, even with a car that is not capable of winning races just yet, Alonso is one driver that you can rely on to gauge every bit of performance that the car is currently capable of. Would Raikkonen have the same effect, definately not.

    Its only the fifth race of the season and still alot of points to win and lose. If Ferrari can consistently finish in the points (providing Red Bull and Mclaren have a few relability problems), Ferrari have always been stronger midway through the season so they will always be in contention towards to end of the season, with Alonso and Massa, they will improve.

  • Comment number 32.

    if only red bull were half a second slower !

    then this could be the most competitive season in F1 for decades !

    people tend to forget how many titles have been decided by tyres ...all the schu years with bridgestone , alonso with michelin etc ; yes , there were other factors but that 's what made the difference so often

    but this year pirelli aren't doing anyone any favours so if the bulls were that bit slower you would have them/ferrari/ McL very close , with mercedes and renault snapping at their heels instead of feeling that if they improve by 3/4 tenths they will still be lucky to get a podium even

    having a fresh tyre company without a close association to any team is great , they are all in the same boat , how about kidnapping mr newey , maybe that would do the
    trick !

    if only

  • Comment number 33.

    @Vidi 2005,
    I couldn't agree with you more. Alonso was very much loved at Renault. He gave them two championships they couldn't have dreamt of had they had a different driver. You hear Briatore comments and he never has anything but praise to offer when he speaks about Alonso.
    Just one year in Ferrari and they've seen what a great team builder he is. No surprise to me they want him all 'till 2016.
    And you are right. He doesn't moan and blame the team when things go wrong. He was hugely supportive of Ferrari after the mistake that cost him the title last year.

    As you say, some people here only focus in his year with McLaren, where he was hired when being current world champion to be put behind a newcomer. Can anyone name any reigning world champion that would have been happy with that kind of treatment?

  • Comment number 34.

    If the peoples think only Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel can drive fast and then these peoples are wrong. Some of the young new drivers can drive as fast as Hamilton and Vettel when you put them on same car. If I were in Stefano’s shoe and then I'll sign young talent driver instead of spending $ 40-50 millions on driver like Vettel or Hamilton.
    I respect so much for Peter Sauber because his passion for Motor sport money do not come first for him. Sauber team is most improving mid-field player in this year. Sauber score points every race so far and Kobayashi is improving and make no mistake so far. Unfortunately, both drivers were disqualified for design fault in Australian GP but no advantage in car performance. I though both drivers deserved to keep points.
    I want to see one of Sauber drivers on podium at least one and score point regularly.
    I’m becoming full time Sauber fan since last year but I used to be Ferrari fan.
    Thank you very much Mr. Sauber.

  • Comment number 35.

    Nice post Andrew,

    Cant believe there was only 1 second difference in qualifying between Fernando and Massa! That speaks for itself really.
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  • Comment number 36.

    Hi. 1st time commenter , so sorry if Im changing sobject. In Q3 yesterday, after his lap Vettel came into pits and changed tyres. Thought that they had to start on qually tyres. Did they change back or is VettelRed Bull pulling a fast one

  • Comment number 37.

    I'd like to know why Lee McKenzie asks such silly questions? ie...What do you predict will happen tomorrow (race-day)? She might as well ask 'where do you have to be to win the race?'....I'm female so I welcome seeing a woman presenter (as lovely as DC is) but - honestly - can't she think of anything intelligent to ask a driver?

  • Comment number 38.

    @36, they would have changed back to that set of tyres he set his fastest lap on, he wanted to go out again but decided against it due to the new tyre deg situation. SOOO disappointed in again the strategy team of Ferrari, they should have realised that Alonso had no chance of keeping Vettel behind at the first stops and should have kept him out for as long as possible so he would have better tyres towards the end. No doubt that would have made any difference though due to a ridiculously poor Ferrari car/pretty amazing Red Bull car. Hamilton was only close due to his strategy of pitting in a lot later than what Vettel did.
    All of the problems were amplified due to the nature of the track and dependance on a good aero package.

  • Comment number 39.

    This season has revived F1 motor racing interest!
    First, the new tire regulations have bought pit lane excitement back into the spotlight and revived the historical nail biting excitement of drivers living on the very edge.
    Secondly, the huge performance advantage of the magnificent Red Bulls has almost been eroded by the other major teams and now delivers races which go right to the line and highlight driver skills in a way we haven't seen for a long time.
    Thirdly, Vettel has aged a year and now drives like the world champion he is. He is a great driver and the sometimes questionable moves he made in the early days have found no place in his latest driving style. He believes in himself now and it shows.
    Hamilton (my man) never surrenders, drives full out and is wonderful to watch with his graceful style. These two are providing huge entertainment for the crowds and will continue to do so throughout the season.
    Finally, the driving skills of Button Webber and Alonso are beginning to shine through again and only the difference in car performance and sometimes questionable team strategy are keeping them a little further back.
    Altogether I think this season is one of the best I have seen and my only disappointment is the lack of the name Kubica on the starting grid.

  • Comment number 40.

    @37, Lee does a sterling job and that isn't such a bad question to ask, it gauges their reaction and then it could relate to their strategy and a number of other factors. Yes it could be more specific but you build on an interview from a starting point. She does a great job for the BBC and I'm thankful for such a great whole round team from the presenters to the bloggers.


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