The economic crisis is also making the Formula 1 driver's job rather precarious. In fact, there are many kids who race in the Circus who are not paid regularly by their teams. The list includes the names of Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi, but it seems that even Kimi Raikkonen has yet to get part of last year's salary from Lotus. This was therefore one of the most debated topics at the GPDA (Grand Prix Driver Association) meeting held on the occasion of the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the top drivers who showed great solidarity with their colleagues who must live with this problem. Indeed, during the Sakhir meeting a document was allegedly drawn up in which the pilots threaten to go on strike if the situation is not resolved. Document on which twenty of the twenty-two competitors in the Formula 1 World Championship would have signed. Those who, on the other hand, did not want to sign would be Kimi Raikkonen, who is not a member of the GPDA, and Lewis Hamilton. One of the guys called into question also intervenes on the subject, i.e. Nico Hulkenberg:
"What we discuss in our meetings must remain between us".
But then he added:
"The teams are aware of the situation, but it's also true that riders can be replaced easily, even if not with the same quality".
However, the German pilot of Force India also wants to lend a hand to the teams:
"They're definitely not shying away from paying riders for fun. They just don't have the money to do it. And that's proof that our sport is too expensive".
And these are not the only problems present in the circus. Indeed, in the meantime, stones continue to rain on Ferrari. An old friend-enemy, Niki Lauda, launched the latter with his usual frankness. Who expresses his opinion on the complaints of the president and on his requests, already rejected, to change the rules in the running.
"If Ron Howard had said: I'm making Rush and I assure you guys it's the worst movie I've ever made, I'm sure no one would have gone to the cinema to see it. This is exactly what Montezemolo and Ecclestone are doing with F1. They are destroying the sport".
Lauda reconstructs the history of an attack:
"It all started in Australia, at the first race, when the organizers complained about the noise. From the next day, Bernie started doing the same. Then Montezemolo arrived saying that there wasn't enough petrol and from that moment everyone began to throw their own problems into the fray. But how is it done? I'm speaking as a normal person and not as a Mercedes man. It's a ridiculous thing that puts our sport at risk".
The solution for Lauda is very simple:
"You have to stop talking bullshit. That way things will go better. I don't care who wins. I'm just saying it's very unsportsmanlike to moan and cry right now that Mercedes is winning. After all, last year Red Bull and Vettel bored everyone by winning nine races in the second half of the season. And nobody said anything. Instead, they complain this year that, finally, someone else wins".
Contrary to what he might have expected, the impression is that in Maranello they don't give too much weight to Lauda's accusations. Partly because the pain of the contemptuous tone of the response remedied by Jean Todt in Bahrain is still too strong in the top management of the team ("We're not the banana republic"), but above all because Luca Montezemolo, the real objective of these words, he is absolutely focused on the work necessary to resolve this situation. The climate that reigns within the Gestione Sportiva is in fact that of a cycle, of men, of ideas and projects, which is experiencing the last hours of its agony. Asking around are very few willing to bet on the future of team principal Stefano Domenicali, to whom Montezemolo, but above all the CEO of Fiat Sergio Marchionne, accuses unforgivable organizational mistakes. In Domenicali's favour, however, there are quite a few elements: the budgets are perfect, almost all of his choices have been shared (even too much) by the president, the men brought to Maranello in recent years are all of the highest order, and the structures function perfection. But, above all, there are very few better profiles than him on the market. This is how Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali suddenly resigned on Monday 14 April 2012. The resignation was confirmed with a statement from Ferrari. The new head of the racing sector will be Marco Mattiacci, currently president of the North American division of Ferrari. The president of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, welcomes him:
"I want to wish Marco Mattiacci a good job, a valuable manager who accepted this challenge with enthusiasm".
Stefano Domenicali pays for the lack of organization in the racing sector from 2009 to today but above all for the evident failure of this season: in the first three Grands Prix in Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain, Ferrari never got on the podium and proved to be the most slow among the top teams, as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have said, clearly lagging behind Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. This is Stefano Domenicali's comment:
"There are particular moments in the professional life of each of us in which it takes the courage to make difficult and even very painful decisions. It is time to implement an important change. From scratch, I take responsibility, as I always have, for the situation we are experiencing. It is a choice made with the desire to do something to shake up our environment and for the good of this group, to which I am very close. I sincerely thank all the men and women of the team, the drivers and partners for the magnificent relationship we have had over the years. I wish everyone that we can soon return to the levels that Ferrari deserves. Finally, I would like to thank our president for always supporting me and greetings to all the fans with the regret of not having reaped what was sown so hard in recent years".
In accepting his resignation, Luca Montezemolo thanks Stefano Domenicali for the work done at Ferrari:
"I thank Domenicali not only for his constant contribution and commitment, but for the great sense of responsibility he has been able to demonstrate even today by putting Ferrari's interests before his own. I have esteem and affection for him, who I have seen grow professionally over the past twenty-three years working together and for this I wish him every success. I also want to wish Marco Mattiacci a good job, a valuable manager who accepted this challenge with enthusiasm".
What didn't work was the method. The Domenicali method that now Marco Mattiacci, new head of Ferrari sports management, will have to radically change. They say that Stefano Domenicali's always polite manners weren't a guarantee of success, of a comeback. A radical change of course was needed which will have to be brought about by this new Ferrari man, who has been in Maranello for thirteen years, a career manager, already a protagonist in product and marketing on the Asian, Japanese and Japanese markets then China, since 2010 CEO of North America, the company's most important sales area.
An executive with no experience in Formula 1, followed by a fan, as a driver for pleasure, appearances on the track without a professional past, as an influential member of the cause, but a skilled resource coach, authoritarian when needed, determined in his choices, much more similar, in approach, to that Jean Todt, today FIA president, who remains a reference model, if only for the many successes achieved with the Maranello insignia. Certainly Mattiacci is not a ferryman. He couldn't be a young executive in which Ferrari has already invested a lot and intends to invest a lot more. The organization is being discussed, with only one head fallen so far, but the shot could soon be extended to men, with all the top management under discussion, starting with Pat Fry, taken away from McLaren and for now the bearer of little or nothing, to continue with James Allison, coming from Lotus and hitherto entangled in the general chaos, or Luca Marmorini, father of a power unit that gives a lot of reliability, but little performance. Marco Mattiacci is not an expert in strategies, but he knows how to govern and is able to judge, plan, perhaps with a new revolution, a different future, from the front row and not from the center of the group. Not an easy task for a friend of the Elkanns and esteemed by Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, who is said to have given full support to the removal of Stefano Domenicali, convinced that carte blanche rhymes with closed doors (if necessary), in a management far from that full of credit lines (often misplaced) of the former team principal. Mattiacci accepted with enthusiasm, he will move his family (Canadian wife and three children, a four-year-old girl and three-year-old twins, boy and girl) to Maranello, aware that Fernando Alonso Kimi Raikkonen will not be the Ferrari clients managed in the Challenge North America or those assisted in Endurance racing, but whose motto Execution, Execution, Execution or its watchword extract 120% from the men of the team will exalt them. Without making him regret having stolen, for the new mission, every second of swimming, tennis and non-fiction books, the great hobbies. Ferrari will win again. Word of Luca Montezemolo.
"I'm the first to not be satisfied with how this season has gone. We have to roll up our sleeves, we don't want to look at the past".
Montezemolo speaks the day after the internal earthquake at Ferrari.
"Domenicali, despite him having won several World Championships, after twenty-three years he had the strength to resign because then the results lacked. I have heard, read, out of place comments, for example that Mattiacci is not a coach. But in Ferrari we are all technicians. I wanted to focus on a person who was part of the Ferrari family without going around looking for him, because we are full of many qualities and abilities".
From the president comes a promise:
"I'll stay longer in Maranello to get back to winning despite someone doing everything to implement questionable rules. For us, F1 is life, I believe in it and I put my face to it: we'll go back to winning and we won't let anyone ruin this sport marvellous".
However, Montezemolo will not go to Shanghai. Kimi Raikkonen is also taking stock of the situation at Ferrari, just a few days before the Chinese Grand Prix, the fourth round of a World Championship so far lacking in satisfactions for the Maranello team.
"We know what we have to do, our team is giving 100% but it takes some time".
Mattiacci will meet the journalists on Friday 18 April 2014, in the paddock of the Shanghai circuit, the day in which the first free practice sessions are scheduled. Landed in Maranello on Monday, Marco Mattiacci is back in the United States, and will fly directly to China to begin facing the challenge entrusted to him by the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo. In China, Ferrari will try to raise its head again after the disappointing Bahrain Grand Prix. Explains technical director, Pat Fry:
"At the moment, the priority is to become the second best team in the World Championship. Since after the race in Bahrain we have been very busy as we had to examine the performance of every area of the car, from the power unit to the suspension setup and aerodynamics. We are obviously working as hard as we can to try and close the gap to the top teams, even if Mercedes have a tangible advantage over all their rivals. At the moment our priority is to try to become the second best team in the World Championship. in every area of the car and we try to make the greatest possible recovery at each race".
Today, Stefano Domenicali has no reason to say that he left Ferrari to allow the men and women of Maranello to work with serenity. The truth is another. And he knows it. By leaving, he lightened his soul of a gigantic weight, he stopped assuming responsibilities that were not (only) his own and, above all, he removed any alibi from those who, in recent years, within the Sport Management, have not always played cleanly on a thousand tables, winking now at the president, now at the driver, now at the boss, now at the public, and never at the team. Engineers, pilots, managers, mechanics. Stefano Domenicali's gesture, complete with his assumption of responsibility, now has the advantage of putting everyone face to face with reality for the rest of the season. A season that, judging by the premises, will be very long and very painful. And it is precisely from here, from the individual responsibilities of each one, that Marco Mattiacci will have to start again. The first step will be to clarify the knot of power and bureaucracy that seems to be suffocating the Maranello team at the moment: the one that on the Maranello-Turin axis chokes every initiative. Who really rules at Ferrari? This is the first question to ask today. And maybe just taking a cue from the inglorious epilogue of the professional story of Stefano Domenicali, a man chosen, wanted, protected and helped by Luca Montezemolo. The first time Sergio Marchionne asked for his head was last year, after the fool he made at the United States Grand Prix (a decisive market for Ferrari, presided over by Mattiacci). Montezemolo resisted. What he has failed to do now:
"We could have accepted that Red Bull was the one to fight with its spoilers, but we can't bear to be two seconds behind Mercedes, a competitor, because of the engine. Ferrari on engines must be unbeatable".
Here you are. There was the impossibility of replying to this statement in the escape of Montezemolo, from the Baherein circuit. And there was also, attached, the notice for Stefano Domenicali. Establishing a solid and definitive hierarchy will therefore be the real priority. Assuming that 2014 is now lost and that the real goal is to try and be competitive for 2015, Marco Mattiacci will then have to devote himself to rebuilding the team. Which today is reduced to a sad scenario of smoking rubble, crossed by a perennial and senseless gang war, with those who support Fernando Alonso, looked down upon by everyone, who raise their voices. So much so that in February, one of the team's best managers was ad hoc promoted to stem his overwhelming power. A sort of man marking on Fernando and his men. Since then they have only one goal: to finish before Kimi Raikkonen. So much for collaboration. The truth is that with Marco Mattiacci the panorama in Maranello remains the same. The technicians are always them, Tombazis, Marmorini, Fry, Allison, a poker of tired men weighed down by the grudges and insecurities of too many defeats remedied over the years.
"Stefano is too good and doesn't instil in them the right fear".
It has always been said, implicitly assuming, however, that they were four big children each closed in their own portion of the factory, and not four highly paid engineers. Now the too good man has stepped aside, the bad one seems to have arrived from America. We'll see. Certainly, however, today the memory cannot fail to go back to that windy day in May 2011. When, in Monte-Carlo, Stefano Domenicali was forced by Luca Montezemolo to fire engineer Aldo Costa.
"It caps off Tombazis' creativity".
they said. Today at Mercedes, remembering that day, they laugh. Flavio Briatore, Fernando Alonso is said to have tried to push for his name for the post-Domenicali season.
"I have another job".
It is also said that Mattiacci will find many difficulties because he has only seen F1 on TV. Just like her when he arrived at Benetton.
"I sold t-shirts for Benetton in America, he sold cars for Ferrari, also in America. But the commonalities end there".
Don't see you again?
"I went to work for the Benetton team. He went to Scuderia Ferrari. I'd say they're two very different things".
Wasn't being without F1 a problem?
"An F1 team is a company. It creates a product that has to compete with other products. And your role is to assemble a group of people, trying to put everyone in a position to give their all".
And wouldn't it be better to understand each other about these things?
"It's no use. Arrigo Sacchi said that you don't have to be a horse to be a jockey. I say that you can also spend 1.000.000 dollars with a credit card, but that doesn't mean you're capable of being the managing director of the American Express. But then, even if you want to, there is no manager who has all those specific skills. Often not even the engineers understand anything. Look what is happening with engines. What is needed is only the ability to get people to work together and to make it work to the fullest".
Technicians are really ugly beasts…
"They think they're the best, but instead they go up and down, they have periods. And from this point of view, Ferrari is at a disadvantage. Formula 1 is an English sport, and the main factories are all there, within a kilometer If you want a new engineer, you have to convince him, his wife and son to move house".
There are legends about his first day in F1.
He saw all the English managers queuing up to go through a door. Instead, she entered through the wide open gate next door, and understood that she would have cheated them all.
"It's true that I telephoned Benetton and told him that he had to invest a lot of money".
Where did Domenicali go wrong?
"He is a great manager, who works twenty hours a day. He has made an extraordinary journey, he has put his soul into it. But everything has an end. And he has assumed his responsibilities for him".
He does not think that everyone's mistakes, both superiors and subordinates, are hidden behind him.
"I think he had responsibility for that group".
Advice to Mattiacci?
"If he's as good as they say he'll know what to do. He has the budget, the men too. Luca (Montezemolo, ed.) has always made great resources available to the team".
The shock was strong. Away with a man in a red tracksuit that has been stuck on him for twenty-three years, head of sports management for more than seven and often the lightning rod of everything, team people and bad choices. Convinced that it was the right year, the Maranello team found itself amazed after the winter tests, frowning after Australia, worried after Malaysia, desperate after Bahrain, in a crescendo of negativity inversely proportional to dreams of final triumph. In order for the resignation not to take everything home (apart from the scarce chances of a comeback against Mercedes) we needed an electroshock and this, for Luca Montezemolo, must be Marco Mattiacci, the new boss in place of Domenicali, a manager who comes from inside, because the president doesn't like F1 mercenaries.
"I wanted one of us, someone I count on a lot. It doesn't matter that he doesn't have Formula 1 experience, nor do I care that he isn't a technician. At Ferrari everyone is capable. Mattiacci has great qualities, he is the right man".
The man needed for the change of course. Which in the long game could rhyme with revolution, because from now on, Stefano Domenicali having fallen, all the people at the top must feel challenged, but which could also be limited to a different distribution of resources and greater motivation of the figures at the internal to the team. Montezemolo returns to summarize the philosophy that led to the earthquake. After dismissing Stefano Domenicali with full honors, saying that he had the courage to resign, which is rare in Italy, he affirms:
"I think Ferrari will be victorious again and I'm putting my face to it. I'm the first angry one, now everyone has to give more. My decision has found the full consent of Marchionne, we are always in full harmony".
Marco Mattiacci is shared by Fiat and Ferrari. He will immediately observe, he cannot do otherwise. Nonetheless, everyone is called to change gear, starting with the technical director, Pat Fry, who has worked well in the strategies, but needs to coordinate the team better. Luca Marmorini, father of the power unit, is under scrutiny: there is reliability in the engine, but no power, it's up to him to get the speed off the ground. James Allison has the alibi of having arrived recently, but he will soon have to free himself from the general chaos. As for designer Nicholas Tombazis, he will have to redeem himself after realizing that Red Bull Racing is still superior in aerodynamics. Then Fernando Alonso, who is starting to feel a little nervous due to his lack of success. In Ferrari nobody dares to discuss it (unless he prodded him with Raikkonen at his side), however it could be dangerous if he increased intolerance. However, counterbalanced by a rich contract (20.000.000 euros per season until the end of 2016) which makes him a prisoner, also given the scarce market outlets. Mercedes already has two drivers (Hamilton and Rosberg) in which it believes, Red Bull Racing has Sebastian Vettel (the Spaniard would not be keen to support him, a relay with Maranello would be easier) and McLaren (an attractive team, powered by Honda since 2015) Ron Dennis is back, sworn enemy of Fernando Alonso from the 2007 spy story. There isn't even time to sit down at his new desk in Maranello, which for the new Ferrari team principal, Marco Mattiacci, is already time for the first verdicts of the track. From Friday in Shanghai the engines will start revving up again and Ferrari, after a hellish week, will have to come to terms with reality which, paradoxically, is even worse than it may seem. The long straight of the Chinese circuit symbolically hangs over the morale of the Maranello team, reduced to making chilling statements like that of Pat Fry, responsible for the chassis among the key men of the failure, who indicates as a seasonal objective that of being able to become the second force. In short, it is now clear that Ferrari is about to abandon the 2014 World Championship competitively due to manifest technical inferiority, in the hope of being able to do something good in the future. A move that in Formula 1 the teams that have gotten everything wrong usually make, however, in the middle of the season. They interrupt the development of the car so as not to waste energy unnecessarily and to reappear, charged and competitive, at the next world championship. A manoeuvrer usually risky, yet inevitable even if very expensive in terms of image. The tragedy of Ferrari is that it had already done it last year.
"The goal is to make the championship as dignified as possible from here to the end, recover some power from the engine and try to get behind the Mercedes as soon as possible".
Which is an elegant way of saying that at the moment half of F1 is ahead of the Germans: Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Williams and Force India. In short, an incredible situation.
"We know what to do, we will do it".
In the meantime, Kimi Raikkonen repeats, like an auspicious mantra, that he truly expected everything last year except to find himself in a situation like this less than a month before the start of the World Championship. Speaking of Raikkonen, the relaxing speech given by Fernando Alonso should be recorded:
"Things are going well between us, it's clear that finishing before your teammate is important for a rider. But there are zero problems between us".
It is a slightly downbeat Fernando Alonso who speaks on Thursday 17 April 2014, for the first time about Ferrari's moment, after the shock resignation of team principal Stefano Domenicali.
"Stefano made a responsible gesture by resigning. When someone is in such a position, it's not obvious that they will take a step back as he did. He was probably no longer in the right mood, he no longer had the spirit to continue".
Alonso postpones any discussion of the future:
"It's still very early to talk about what it will be".
Certainly, in Shanghai Ferrari is awaiting a very tough test, even if the circuit seems less hostile than that of Bahrain:
"We hope to improve our performance a little. It's certainly not that the team principal's resignation gives the engine a second advantage. However, we know that in this first part of the season we will have to suffer".
Alonso doesn't expect big changes, especially in the immediate future.
"Now it's not like we're going to improve by a second, because it didn't depend on Stefano. We have to wait some time and see where we can improve by working together with the people who arrive".
That is Marco Mattiacci, a manager who did very well in his role at Ferrari, but who is now awaiting a completely new experience.
"We have to give him time and see how he adapts. It's a bit too early to tell how it will go. The important thing is that the whole team is on his side and helps him work in the best conditions possible, making him feel at ease. We hope that his management is successful. I haven't talked to him yet, there will be time to welcome him. He will be good enough to understand what the weaknesses are, I as a driver will try to drive in the best possible way as well as Raikkonen, we will do everything to help him as we can".
Meanwhile, from Friday 18 April 2014 we'll be back on track in Shanghai.
"We're here to try to improve our situation, to become more competitive compared to the first three races. We have to be honest, our situation isn't what we wanted, but I think there's a lot of room for improvement, the growth path is very long "But so is the championship. In the first part we won't be as competitive as Mercedes and the other top teams, but we have to try to get the best out of it and collect as many points as possible, hoping for a better second part of the season".
Fernando Alonso also returns to talk about the Bahrain Grand Prix, where he finished ninth.
"I thanked the mechanics, because they worked really hard, on the Saturday before the race we had an engine problem that slowed us down in qualifying, we didn't even have a solution on Sunday at noon, we weren't sure if the car was OK , but everything was ok on the track because of the fantastic job they did".
There is also talk of technology and the weight of the drivers in this F1.
"We have seen in recent years that the drivers continue to have a weight in the development of the car, but F1 is dominated by the power of the cars, in Bahrain there was a fight between team mates, but it was difficult to enter these duels. There are no great differences compared to the past, but now there is much more technology and it is difficult to see the cars in the middle of the grid fighting for the podium".
The twentieth anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death is approaching, Alonso remembers the Brazilian like this:
"I had Ayrton's poster, my kart had his colors because my father also had Senna as an idol, it was a very sad day for me. In the next few days he will be remembered in Italy and I want to be there".
It's too early to make a case of it. But if it's true that three clues make a test, then Marco Mattiacci, the new Ferrari team principal, will have to start from here, from this small unexpected icefall that Fernando Alonso dedicates to him. Clue number one: during the entire official press conference, during the Spaniard's first public outing after the Maranello earthquake, Fernando Alonso never mentioned his new team principal, not even once. Neither by name nor by surname. Omission jarring with the words that, instead, he poured abundantly into the name Stefano, punctuated over and over again. Clue number two: in the same circumstance, the pilot explained that he had not yet had the opportunity to speak with him, not even by telephone. Interesting statement, above all because throughout the week, the team's official communication wanted Marco Mattiacci to have spent a lot of time with the whole team. Clue number three: always referring to his new team principal, Fernando Alonso confessed that he doesn't even know if he will come to Shanghai or not. Another curious statement since everyone knows that Marco Mattiacci will arrive on Thursday afternoon, at the end of a monstrous journey from Maranello-New York-Shanghai. So why pretend not to know? Maybe to send a signal? The impression is that the driver did not take the maneuver that led to Stefano Domenicali's resignation at all well. Gesture that he experienced as if dropped from above. It must be said that the Spaniard was going through a very particular moment in his bond with the Reds even before the departure of the man who had brought him back to Italy. Thirty-three years old in July, Fernando Alonso had just realized that Ferrari had made yet another lung available to his talent, and therefore having to give another year to his opponents and, above all, to time, which is mercilessly crushing him against the end of career. A circumstance made even more unpleasant by the operation to downsize his role within the team, an operation decided by Stefano Domenicali last year, after the well-known series of unpleasant tantrums on the part of the driver which culminated with the hiring of Kimi Raikkonen . But Stefano was a friend, if friends exist in F1, or at least he knew how to take it. For example, he knew that he should never exclude him from decision-making processes, or in any case give him the impression of not doing so. Monday's decision, on the other hand, saw him as a complete stranger. Besides helpless. But above all it gave him the impression of a team at the mercy of events. It is unlikely that a decent car can come out of so much confusion, even for 2015, even if we are already working on it now, Alonso must have said to himself, on whom, according to the Spanish press, the rumors that want him in McLaren are starting to gain a certain grip -Honda for next season. Also because in the meantime, the advantage of Mercedes, which supplies engines to four teams, is such that even in Stuttgart they will have already comfortably started work for next year. A few hours already late, Marco Mattiacci, the new Ferrari team principal, shows up at the Formula 1 Circus.
"They called me at 5:58 in the American morning, initially I thought of an April joke out of time. Then I accepted. Right away. It was a mission, not a job offer".
On what he will do materially the ideas are not yet very clear.
"First I have to see what's good in the team. Then I'll do the other evaluations. I spoke to Montezemolo in a very clear way. We'll put everything at the team's disposal to guarantee a solid future. However, let's be clear, they will interventions not for an exercise in style, but only if they will guarantee us certain added value".
The first hours in Maranello were emotionally demanding:
"I told myself that I have to live up to the people I met in Maranello, with their incredible passion".
Then the pilots chapter, indeed, the Alonso chapter:
"I think he's a great driver, the best in Formula 1 (with all due respect to Kimi, ed). He wants to win a world championship with Ferrari. And I have the same need as him".
Mattiacci then spoke about himself, and here his firm conviction in his own abilities was very impressive:
"Being someone outside Formula 1 is a situation that gives me a great stimulus. How do I describe myself? I'm a very curious person, I look at others. I listen and I learn. My role is to assemble teams and enhance the talent of the people who work with me. I left Italy at the age of 21 and had the opportunity to work in Asia, the United States and South America. In everything I've done, I've always achieved extremely important results".
Moving on to other topics, before the Chinese Grand Prix, on Tuesday 15 April 2014 the FIA International Court of Appeal rejected the appeal filed by Red Bull Racing against the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo, which deprived him of the second place obtained in the Australian Grand Prix. The reason for his exclusion had been linked to the excessive consumption of his RB10, exceeding the 100 kg/h allowed by the regulation. According to the technicians led by Adrian Newey, however, it was the FIA flowmeter that had read the incorrect values and that in reality the consumption of his V6 turbo Renault was in line with the requests. For this reason, the engineers had also ignored the communications of the FIA delegate, who had ordered Daniel Ricciardo's car to slow down in order not to run into penalties. However, the court decided to agree with the Federation, which instead argued that the only detection that makes sense for the regulations is precisely that of its Gill Sensors flowmeter, which therefore sees him consolidate his position.
"The Court, having heard the parties to the case and examined their evidence, has decided to uphold decision number 56 of the college of stewards, which excluded the number 3 Red Bull Racing from the results of the 2014 Australian Grand Prix" .
The complete reasons for the sentence will be disseminated by the Federation subsequently. However, for now there is no mention of the possibility of additional penalties for Red Bull Racing, as was instead asked during the hearing by the Mercedes lawyers, according to whom the FIA should have placed the Milton Keynes team in a sort of probation, which would have triggered further sanctions in the event of new infringements. While awaiting further developments, the first free practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday 18 April 2014 was characterized by cool temperatures and some splashes of rain.
Fernando Alonso sets fastest lap. The Spaniard precedes Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo. Lewis Hamilton completes only nine laps, due to a suspension problem, while Kimi Räikkönen does not set any valid time due to an electronic problem. Sergio Pérez and Pastor Maldonado are also slowed down by technical problems. Sauber employs third driver Giedo van der Garde in free practice, as already happened in Bahrain, in place of Adrian Sutil, while Williams fielded Felipe Nasr in place of Valtteri Bottas. In the second practice session Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest time. The Briton precedes Fernando Alonso and the other Mercedes driver, Nico Rosberg, while Pastor Maldonado crashes into the barriers at the entrance to the pits. Lewis Hamilton says, at the end of the first day of testing:
"I'm not satisfied, we have some balance problems, we need to improve".
And adds Nico Rosberg:
"Here the problem is the front tires and everything is different. Tomorrow it seems there will be rain and everything will be different once again and also on Sunday. Ferrari seems to be closer, we expected it but we have to push".
However, Sebastian Vettel does not believe the difficulties faced by the Mercedes team:
"It wasn't a weekend in which everything went well in terms of power. Mercedes? Today they didn't give everything, they're still the favourites. During the long run I was behind them and it seemed they could do whatever they wanted. they wanted".
Second place goes just fine to Fernando Alonso:
"We've brought some new features, I'm happy with the work we've done. All Fridays are similar, it's a day in which you need above all to test the tires to adapt to the track, and in this sense perhaps today was less useful than normal because the forecast for tomorrow calls for rain. Here we have brought some small innovations, pieces that have already been tested during the tests in Bahrain, everything worked and this is good news. Regardless of the performance of the others, I'm happy with the work we've done. All the teams bring something new to each race and we have to try to go one step further if we want to be competitive. This is a particularly demanding circuit for the tyres, especially the Softs suffer from graining in the long run and for this reason it will be important to understand which ones to use on Sunday".
On Saturday 19 April 2014, a light rain also accompanied the third set of free practice, prompting the riders to take to the track using Intermediate tyres. Daniel Ricciardo sets the fastest time, ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean. Sebastian Vettel remains delayed due to a fault in the brake calipers, which closes the practices with the eleventh time. The two Mercedes drivers, Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen set no valid times during the session. Like FP3, qualifying also takes place in the rain. However, the rainfall is more consistent, and the riders are forced to mount tires for extreme wet weather: only the Caterham riders, Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi take to the track with Intermediate tyres. Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest time in Q1, ahead of Nico Hülkenberg and Sebastian Vettel. Pastor Maldonado was unable to lap during the session and was therefore among the non-qualified drivers: together with the Venezuelan driver, the two Marussia drivers, Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi, the two from Caterham and Esteban Gutiérrez did not make it to Q2. The passage of the single-seaters on the track makes it less wet, so the drivers opt for the use of intermediate tires during Q2.
Even in these conditions, the fastest is still Lewis Hamilton, ahead of Sebastian Vettel by 0.4 seconds. Nico Rosberg, third, closed the second session 1.2 seconds behind. Kimi Räikkönen, the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvjat, Adrian Sutil and Sergio Pérez are eliminated. In the decisive phase, the rain was not such as to oblige the riders to fit extreme wet tyres. At the start of Q3 Sebastian Vettel set the best time, but later Lewis Hamilton managed to improve the limit set by the German driver. Subsequently, during the session, no one was able to beat the Mercedes driver who, on the contrary, was even capable of improving his limit. Lewis Hamilton takes pole position number 34 in his career. The front row is completed by Daniel Ricciardo, who is very fast in the first part of the track, while the second is conquered by Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg. But the Englishman's result is also a strong and clear message to the other (few, to tell the truth) pretenders to the title: to beat him they will have to go crazy. His Mercedes is the best car on the grid and he is in top form. Nico Rosberg knows something about it who, perhaps precisely because of the pressure put on his shoulders by his teammate, made many mistakes in his fastest lap and was unable to finish beyond fourth position, surprisingly overtaken by both Red Bull Racing . For the umpteenth time, the young Daniel Ricciardo places himself in front of Sebastian Vettel. Discreet qualifying result for Fernando Alonso, who manages to finish in fifth position under the rain and now has hopes of a podium, especially should the weather be favorable: in the dry, the conditions give his Ferrari a slight advantage over the two Red Bull Racing that precede. Bad Kimi Raikkonen, who was unable to find the right feeling with this F14T, much more impetuous and brusque than he expected. Fernando Alonso's fifth place would bode well but, looking at the gap from Hamilton, there's something to worry about: 1.6 seconds, especially on a wet track which should favor those with less power and speed, are really a lot. And this - given that we're talking about a phenomenon like Fernando Alonso, not just any guy - means that Mercedes is not only overwhelming but also has a particular refinement in discharging the engine's power to the ground. A record-breaking traction that leads to the best use of tires and power units. And yet, says Fernando Alonso, at the end of the tests:
"Ferrari has taken a step forward. We always go well in the dry in free practice, then on Saturday everyone brings out the performance. We are a bit behind but, both in dry and wet conditions, it has been a good weekend so far. There were some small improvements confirmed yesterday in practice, I'm 100% sure we've made a step forward. Tomorrow we mustn't miss the train of leaders as in other races. We have to be close to them and get good points around the podium. The Mercedes (Hamilton is in pole position, ed) has a good advantage in the dry and that's normal, it doesn't disappear for more than a second from one race to the next. On the other hand, I'm satisfied with the road I saw yesterday. The improvements are confirmed and for Spain we will have more things, we are not stopped even if the others are not either. For tomorrow, however, I'm curious, there will be big graining on the tires and we'll have to keep an eye on it. The tussle with Kimi for ninth place in Bahrain? Let's hope we won't fight for these positions tomorrow, but I'm sure we'll be further ahead".
The Spanish rider continues:
"When it rains you never know how it will end, the track conditions can get worse lap after lap. Also for this reason I can say that I am satisfied with my qualification, because fifth place allows me to start with the leading group. If we manage to stay close to the leaders we can finish close to the podium and for this reason the first laps will count for a lot, we will absolutely have to try to get a good start and avoid those battles that made us lose ground in the last few races. The car proved to be more competitive yesterday and this gives us hope for a better race than the top three. I think that a first step towards improvement has been taken here in China, the car performed well in all areas and is more aerodynamically performing, thanks to the small innovations we have brought. It has more power, because some settings related to the power unit have been revised. We are certainly still far from the pace of the leaders, because the others are also making progress, but we can hope to fight for better positions and good points".
Sebastian Vettel also sees his Red Bull Racing close to Mercedes. The German, from the second row, will immediately try to undermine Lewis Hamilton:
"The Ferraris are missing compared to yesterday, while we are closer to the Mercedes than in free practice and the last race in Bahrain. Tomorrow the weather should be good but we can't trust the forecasts, we'll see what conditions there will be. We expect it to be dry, we hope to finish in a position similar to where we will start. I'm not where I want to be and we're not where we want to be as a team. Many things have changed, several things are different for the drivers, it's a different F1 and we have to get used to it. Maybe I'm not 100% yet but I'm working hard to get there".
Kimi Raikkonen, however, is not happy, as he will start from eleventh place on the starting grid:
"It was a difficult day, I had some small gearbox problems, there was traffic and I was unable to get through the session. This obviously wasn't the best day, let's hope it will be better in the race. It's been a difficult two days, because after yesterday's technical problem I took to the track again this morning for just one run, but in general I felt more at ease with the car. Unfortunately, in the last exit in Q2, when I was on my fastest lap, I lost a lot of time in the last sector and this prevented me from entering Q3. The behavior of the car was not constant, in some sections of the track it was stable and in others less so, I had some balance problems and this affected my performance. It's too early to tell what happened, now we'll analyze the data to try to understand, but the time lost yesterday certainly didn't help. Now I want to stay focused on tomorrow's race and try to do my best to finish this weekend with a good result".
Who is obviously satisfied is Daniel Ricciardo, able to score the second best time and install himself in the front row alongside Hamilton, even ahead of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel:
"I couldn't get more out of the car on that last lap, I really got the most out of it and I'm happy to be rewarded with a front row seat for tomorrow. It took a while to find the rhythm in today's qualifying, I didn't immediately have the speed I was aiming for, but in the end I did it. I think I'm ready to get a good result tomorrow, I know it won't be easy, but I'm ready to fight".
On some people, competition has a magical power. Niki Lauda, for example. Under his eternal hat, for a couple of months now he seems like a little boy again. For heaven's sake, his has always been a rather notable presence in the Circus. But his face, the eyes that he now shows from the command deck of the super Mercedes, is a completely different show. Lauda, not later than a week before the Chinese Grand Prix, had some rather harsh words against Ferrari and his old friend Luca Montezemolo.
"I just said that I found it unsportsmanlike to expect to change the rules during the race".
"And I confirm it. But it seems to me that in the end even Luca agreed on my position: changes must be made in the long term".
Defendant is not quite the right word. However the news is that you are not against the changes.
"I say: do you want to think about the future? I agree. Let's preserve F1. Let's think about the economic part, the show, even the noise. But let's not touch the rules of this year. That would be ridiculous. We all accepted them".
What would you change about the current rules?
"In my opinion, it cannot be answered now. There are working groups that need to work on this. What I can say is that we must not make hasty decisions. Look what happened in Bahrain. After two races we said it was boring Formula 1, and the third race was the most spectacular ever. Let's wait, we'll talk about it in the middle of the season".
Even the sound of the engines? Do you think it can be saved?
"Yes, but let's wait for that too. Maybe we find out that the public gets used to it and that it was a false problem. Maybe, however, not. And in that case we change".
Maybe people are bored because only Mercedes wins. By the way, is it true that you are so advanced that you are already working on the 2015 engine?
"We are ahead of no one. We started the season with the most developed engine of the others, of Ferrari but above all of Renault, and with the most driveable car. That's all. But you will see that they will soon recover us. For this we must continue to push. Also because for next season it will be possible to change the engines".
Can you see that you are already thinking about 2015?
"The others will soon approach…".
Mattiacci's Ferrari too?
"I don't know him. And then I don't like talking about other teams".
Come on, for her Ferrari is not another team. What do you think of the change of digestion in Maranello?
"I honestly don't know the process through which Luca came to make this choice. But I think he ultimately made the decision that needed to be made. From Montezemolo's point of view, there weren't enough results, for too long. I'm sorry for Stefano, I know him very well, he's a great sportsman, reliable, correct, a manager who was easy to work with. But this is a sport. And in sport you need results. And if they don't arrive, you have to do something. He knew it perfectly too".
Maybe times and ways could have been better.
"The right moment for certain decisions is the one in which they are made. Now let's see what the man who replaced Stefano will be able to do".
Enzo Ferrari what would he have done?
"I'm sure he would have done the same. Here I am. In fact, he would have done it sooner. But I said it, the right moment for certain decisions is always the one in which they are made".
Sunday 20 April 2014, at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton maintains the first position, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso (who also has contact with Felipe Massa), Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa. In the middle of the group, the cars of Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas touch each other, but both can continue the race. Nico Rosberg's comeback begins from the fourth lap, first passing Felipe Massa, then, on lap 8, also Daniel Ricciardo. During lap 11 Felipe Massa made his first pit stop, but a problem with the rear wheels prevented him from restarting quickly. Fernando Alonso also pits during lap 12, while Sebastian Vettel waits for lap 13 to change tyres. Back on track, the German is behind the Spaniard. Nico Rosberg made the tire change during lap 14, and during lap 16 Daniel Ricciardo also made a pit stop. During lap 22 Nico Rosberg made up one more position by passing Sebastian Vettel, thus moving into third position. The World Champion is slowed down by problems with his Red Bull Racing, so much so that Daniel Ricciardo also leaves the position on lap 25. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton continues calmly in first position, followed by Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas. Now closely followed by Nico Rosberg, during lap 34, Fernando Alonso made his second tire change: this allowed him to widen his lead over the German Mercedes driver. Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo change tires again on lap 38. And then Lewis Hamilton also makes his second stop. During lap 43 Nico Rosberg overtook Fernando Alonso and moved up to second place. In the final laps, Daniel Ricciardo got close to Fernando Alonso, but without being able to worry him. One lap from the end, the checkered flag is erroneously displayed: all the drivers continue regularly until the end of lap 56, even if, at the end of the race, the classification is the one drawn up on lap 54. Lewis Hamilton wins the Chinese Grand Prix.
For the first time in his F1 career, the British driver won three races in a row, ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. For Mercedes it is the consecutive neuro 100 Grand Prix in which he scores points as an engineer. Daniel Ricciardo is fourth, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat. Mercedes does not fight. It's impossible. Lewis Hamilton then takes the third consecutive victory, followed by his teammate. Trivial and obvious race? Far from it, despite the result: Fernando Alonso incredibly drove a reborn Ferrari, for a long time placed in second place and always ahead of the former dominatrixes Red Bull Racing. A great sign of hope for the Ferrari fans, even if we certainly cannot forget Fernando Alonso's masterpiece: a very fast start, the Spaniard managed to place himself immediately in the leading positions, and then continued without making any mistakes. True phenomenon. The strategy in the pits was also exceptional, allowing him to overtake Sebastian Vettel and then the management of an all-attack race. In short, there is a human side that should not be underestimated in Ferrari's result. But the car seems reborn. Sure, Mercedes is uncatchable. And this time the Maranello team was annoyed by Nico Rosberg's overtaking of Fernando Alonso at the end of the race, when he stole second place from him: Mercedes passed Ferrari as if the latter were stationary. Impressive. Very impressive. In any case, for those with a slightly trained eye - for the others it doesn't matter because there was one in the lead from start to finish - Hamilton's race was another extraordinary race: the English he rode on perfect trajectories, setting deadly times, all while keeping the tires well.
A true champion who - not surprisingly - is literally humiliating his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who is still leading the World Championship, but climbed the podium with a gloomy and black look: he, like Lewis Hamilton and all Mercedes men, he knows well that in this way the grave of the second guide is being dug. This means that in the drivers' standings Hamilton rises to 75 points, moving to four points behind Nico Roberg. And that Fernando Alonso is third, with 41 points. All in all, the World Championship is open. If it weren't for that all-silver rocket in the hands of the phenomenal Lewis Hamilton. Now he makes the face of someone who still doesn't believe it but already on Saturday, Fernando Alonso knew very well that he could aim for the podium. He understood it from those tiny signals that a car can send to its pilot:
"I felt at ease, everything went perfectly from Friday. Me, the team, the car worked at the highest levels, as happened in 2012. I'm happy, this third place was a nice surprise. Let's continue like this".
Not even two weeks earlier, Fernando Alonso had taken a minute from the Mercedes, in China he came within seven seconds of Nico Rosberg. The Spaniard has clear ideas about what happened:
"It was a combination of elements. We have improved the machine in every aspect. In the Bahrain tests, after the race, we tried some parts that worked. And so today we were more competitive. The circuit was less hostile to the car, and everything went well".
Now we will race in Barcelona, where the teams traditionally plan a very important evolutionary step. It's usually one of the key moments of the season. What does he promise his fans?
"It's not the time to make promises, it's time to stay calm and work. Fifteen days ago we were ninth or tenth. Now is not the time to overreact. I expect a big push from the whole team, in terms of commitment and motivations. Then we'll see".
Is there a priority in Ferrari's plans?
"Honestly, there isn't a real priority. We just have to try not to lose points towards the top. We're only in the fourth race and we're not giving up. We try to stay as close as possible to the top in this difficult moment. Then more We'll start figuring it out".
Ferrari is now returning to Maranello convinced that it has moved on. Fernando Alonso's third place, with the arrival of Marco Mattiacci at the helm of the team, mark a new phase of this season which started in the worst possible way.
"After a difficult start to the season, this podium is a confidence booster for the whole team, an extra motivation for all those who are trying to do their best to bridge the gap that separates us from the leaders".
With these words, Fernando Alonso comments on the third place conquered in Shanghai in the Chinese Grand Prix, the first of the season for the Maranello team. It was the first Grand Prix without the resigning Stefano Domenicali, and the thoughts of him turn to the former team principal Fernando Alonso.
"I think this third place should be dedicated to Stefano, because everything that will be done up to July is also the result of his work. We have certainly taken a step forward, because compared to two weeks ago, the distance from the leaders has decreased, but we know well that we still have a long way to go and we need to keep our feet on the ground. In general this has been a good weekend for me, everything went well from Friday even if qualifying turned out to be more complex than expected due to the rain. "It was a race on the limit and I think we really couldn't have done more. This is a quite unique circuit of its kind and now we have to take advantage of the long break that separates us from the next race to prepare ourselves as best as possible for each situation".
Satisfied Fernando Alonso, disappointed Kimi Raikkonen who finished a weekend not exactly worthy of framing in eighth place.
"It was a really difficult weekend, since Friday morning I suffered from problems that we weren't able to fully resolve and I didn't get the result I wanted in the race. The start was good, I gained two positions, but then I wasn't able to gain ground, I didn't have the pace and I had little grip both on the front and on the rear. In the last stint with new tires the car behaved better, but then with the deterioration of the tires the situation became more complicated again. I think the difficulties encountered here depended on a combination of several factors, my riding style combined with the low temperatures and the characteristics of the track. We brought home precious points thanks to the hard work of the whole team, and now we will continue to work tirelessly to improve. Fernando's result is very encouraging, it's proof that we're going in the right direction".
For Ferrari's technical director, Pat Fry:
"It is a result that rewards the team for all the efforts we are making at every level. Both drivers got off to a good start, managing to gain two positions at the start and fortunately Fernando's car emerged unscathed from contact with the Williams of Massa. In the first stint with Kimi we lost some time behind Grosjean and this prevented him from making up the ground lost on his rivals, in a race extremely conditioned by the management of degradation and tire graining. The choice made at the first pit stop with Fernando allowed him to gain second position: from that moment on we concentrated on managing the gap from Red Bull and tried to keep Rosberg's car behind as much as possible. Some progress has been made this weekend and overall the car's speed has increased, both in the corners and on the straights, but we need to be realistic about the potential we currently have and continue down this path, because the gap to Mercedes is still large. and no one, us first, intends to give up".
Third consecutive brace, a domination that seems destined to last for quite a while yet. The Chinese Grand Prix also confirmed that Mercedes is the team to beat in Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton prevailed in front of his teammate, Nico Rosberg, demonstrating a clear superiority over the competition.
"I couldn't have done all of this without the hard work of the team, it was incredible. The car is stunning and the results we're getting are true proof of the hard work done by the team. I'm really happy with the fact that Nico finished on the podium with me: these are fantastic and absolutely deserved points for the team".
Lewis Hamilton's perfect weekend started with pole position on Saturday.
"I couldn't have asked for more".
Admits the British driver, who in China was surprised only by the checkered flag displayed by mistake a lap early:
"It was really, really weird. I thought I was hallucinating. The team is doing great, that's for sure. They have all done a fantastic job but now we will continue to push, develop and improve the car and the engine. This is the goal of Mercedes. The other teams are pushing to catch up with us so I hope we continue to improve".
For a Hamilton who dominates there is a Sebastian Vettel in difficulty. In Shanghai the four-times World Champion finished in fifth place, confirming Red Bull Racing's problems. In the four races held so far, Sebastian Vettel has only been on the podium once thanks to third place in Malaysia, and in the championship standings his gap compared to Nico Rosberg has already risen to 46 points. Sebastian Vettel also has to deal with the fighting spirit of his new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who preceded him by one position in both qualifying and the race in Shanghai. Of course, the German does not give up.
"Complaining won't do us any good. The car has incredible potential, we just need to work even harder to get the most out of the RB10. I'm sure over time we'll find out why things aren't working right now, but until then we won't give up. for losers".