On Thursday 3rd November 2011 the F1 Commission approves the changes to the name of three Formula 1 teams ahead of the 2012 season. Next year the Lotus Team will become Caterham, Renault will be renamed Lotus and Virgin will adopt the name of the Russian manufacturer Marussia. Despite the change of name, Richard Branson’s Virgin will continue to sponsor the team. As part of the new agreement, valid for four years, Virgin will not have more shares but will continue its role of sponsor. The changes, voted by the 26 members, including Bernie Ecclestone, Jean Todt, organizers, teams, manufacturers and sponsors, will be subject to approval by the FIA World Council in December. The 2012 calendar was also discussed in Geneva, with events in Austin, Korea and Bahrain in doubt and Turkey keen to return to the calendar with lower taxes. But a source close to the Texas race said that the F1 Commission would confirm next year’s calendar published by the FIA. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will be the Ferrari drivers for 2012. This was announced on Sunday, November 6, 2011 by the president Luca Montezemolo and the team principal, Stefano Domenicali at the world finals at the Mugello of the one-make championship.
"I am sorry for you, but there will be no change among our drivers".
Also Domenicali in his speech refutes the rumors of the last weeks about a possible change between the drivers driving Ferrari. Montezemolo also makes an analysis of the future of Formula 1:
"There are things that must be changed in the future. Patience is great, but our commitment has indispensable conditions. You can have satisfactions in other fields of motoring even if without Ferrari there would be no F1 and without F1 there would be a different Ferrari. We don’t like an F1 based only on aerodynamics, because Ferrari doesn’t build planes, or 4-cylinder engines, because we don’t make motorcycles. Competition for us is sport and opportunity for technological research to be transferred on standard cars. And I say no to an F1 without tests, tests are important, without exceeding".
Ferrari will also make the proposal to introduce a third car on track:
"I think it’s much more interesting to have a third Ferrari or other competitive car on the track, run by smaller teams, rather than having the latter traveling with more than two seconds behind on the lap and after a while they are rounded. A third car would be important for the show and to have more competitive machines".
Montezemolo also draws a balance of the year:
"It has been a difficult year, we paid perhaps the great run-up of 2010 but, above all, we did not have the car that I, the team and all our fans wanted. Moreover, Silverstone’s great joy remains: winning with Fernando Alonso sixty years later, at the same circuit and in the same month in 1951 Froilan Gonzalez conquered the first success in the top car competition is a great reason for satisfaction. As well as it is a source of pride to think that, from 1997 to today, Ferrari has always been the protagonist, winning or fighting until the last race, with very few exceptions, in a period of time when others came and went and the main opponents - there was the era of Williams, then McLaren, then Renault and now Red Bull - they always changed".
The Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end and, for Ferrari, the 2011 season will end with a negative result. It was an unlucky season and a lack of satisfaction where, to the technical gap compared to the best, there was an endless series of setbacks and problems. Nevertheless, the drivers still hope to close the season in style.
Fernando Alonso, in particular, could still grab the second place in the World Championship, although his goal is another, and he confesses it in view of the race in Abu Dhabi:
"Second place still on the table. To be honest, though, I would be much happier if we could add another success to what we achieved at Silverstone last July. The goal is the podium: I am perfectly aware that winning will be very but very difficult. Talking to the guys of the team I understood that they would really like to give me the chance to finish second in the championship and I am very pleased that it is so because I understand that they feel like a sort of recognition for all the efforts made during the season. But you know how we drivers are: we always want to finish first, placements have a relative meaning. In this last part of the season the balance of power is very clear but we have also seen that there can be conditions such that we can find ourselves fighting for victory, as happened for example in Suzuka".
"We know that, if we do everything perfectly, we can play for the podium, but our natural placement in qualifying is represented by the third row. In the race then things can go differently but the reality is this. The goal is therefore the podium, a result that, among other things, would allow me to fill a gap in my trophy room, since that of Abu Dhabi is the only one that I miss of all the races still part of the world championship calendar".
Felipe Massa, galvanized by the confirmation from President Luca Montezemolo, also hopes to do well:
"I am very clear about the message that our President Montezemolo and Domenicali gave on that occasion, about how my role will be a driving force for the Scuderia Ferrari next season. For us these last two races represent a last chance to achieve good results, as well as being an integral part of our preparation for 2012. I think that in our preparation is important not only the technical point of view but also the approach to the race weekend".
Lewis Hamilton is ready to make peace with Felipe Massa. Between the two drivers, in the Indian Grand Prix, there was the fifth contact of the season, but the British driver insists he has no problems with the Brazilian:
"I have not spoken to him. I would like to clarify, but we must meet halfway, the will cannot come only from one side. He too must be willing".
The McLaren driver explains:
"We had our clashes on the track, but I really have no problem with him, and it has been so all year".
For the race in Abu Dhabi Lewis aims to fight for victory and not even remotely with Felipe Massa.
"I have absolutely no intention of being near him".
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso returns to talk about the unfortunate Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, which led to the defeat of Ferrari in the World Championship, but specifies:
"I am still convinced that we have not lost the title here. We were not competitive and we ended with seventh place, when maybe we could have finished fifth, but if you look at the entire 2010 season, there are episodes like Silverstone and Valencia where the podium was within our reach, and instead we did not collect points. That’s where we lost the championship".
Twelve months later, the motivation is still there.
"Once again I aim for the podium. I’ve done it 72 times so far, which means I have 72 trophies at home, and it’s not bad. Trophies collected in all the circuits on the calendar, except for Abu Dhabi. So I miss only one, and I hope to add it this year".
On Thursday, November 10, 2011, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Mercedes announced that they had reached an agreement with Nico Rosberg to renew the contract. The announcement comes through a statement on the website of the Anglo-German team. The duration of the contract is not specified, but the agreement will be valid until 2013 and beyond. The announcement of this renewal in fact cancels speculations about a possible future of the German driver at Ferrari, at least for the next two seasons. It says Nico Rosberg:
"I am happy to have renewed the contract with the Mercedes team. Winning on a silver arrow will be one of the most important challenges of my life, and I will be happy to work with the team to get to the best level in Formula 1. I am confident that the team can provide me with a winning car and that I myself will be able to best contribute to the legacy of the legendary silver arrows of the past. I can’t wait to start next season".
Ross Brawn, Mercedes team principal, adds:
"We are pleased to have reached the agreement for the extension of the contract with Nico, because we know that he is a driver able to win races and fight for the title. In the past two seasons Nico has done an excellent job, obtaining results really at the limit of the possibilities of the car. He and Michael Schumacher form a pair that constantly pushes the team to give the best. We are continuing to strengthen the team and we are looking forward to providing Nico with a car that will get him his first, well-deserved F1 win".
And Norbert Haug, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, concludes by saying
"Nico and the Mercedes team have the same goal. He likes working with us and we are fully committed to achieving a successful future together. I really appreciate Nico’s total dedication and precision. He is certainly one of the fastest, most consistent and talented drivers currently on the road, and his professionalism is second to none. We will work hard to improve our technical package to provide drivers with a car that can return them the results they deserve. Together with Nico we will still have Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in history, and together they represent a perfect combination for the team. We have a lot of respect for Nico and we hope a long collaboration that can bring success and satisfaction to everyone".
On Friday 11th November 2011, Jenson Button set the fastest time in the first free practice session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, followed by Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton. At the end of the second practice session, Lewis Hamilton preceded Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. At this stage the teams use the experimental tires proposed by Pirelli. Sebastian Vettel made a mistake in turn 1, hitting the barriers, but without damaging the car too much. Fernando Alonso also made a mistake at the first corner, crashing into the barriers. When everything goes wrong, it goes bad for everyone, and certainties, even the most granite ones, end up crumbling.
In Abu Dhabi, Ferrari is faced with a reality difficult to accept: the problems that have confined the cars of Maranello to the margins of this 2011 were not only the bad success of the 150 Italian race and the slowness of Felipe Massa, but also the unexpected crisis of the pit-stop mechanics, once the pride of the team and today the problem to be solved.
"Apart from a difficult start to the season, our graphics tell us that we have settled on good performance and that we are in fact the third force of the championship, on pit-stops, behind only Mercedes and Red Bull. Of course our ambition is to be the best, but here we talk about crisis".
The fact is that in a Formula 1 now dominated by the behavior of the Pirelli (there were 885 tyre changes, this year, in some races even more than 80) the pit-stop will play an increasingly important role. In Monte-Carlo, trying to illuminate the causes of one of the most difficult moments of the season, it was Stefano Domenicali himself who raised the problem: at one time, it was the reasoning of the Ferrari team principal, the tyre change was an important moment of the races, difficult, stressful but not as fundamental as now. Today there are two or three changes per race and every time on the mechanics an incredible pressure falls, comparable only to that which must endure the driver. Only a driver is differently structured (as well as paid) also from a nervous point of view, compared to a mechanic.
"We must try to think about this too, and try to balance the thing by putting these guys in a position to make the least mistake possible".
For 2012, in short, we will not only work in the wind tunnel.
"I’ve moved on".
Meanwhile, the suggestion of the return to the scene of the crime, in that circuit that last year put an end in the worst way to his world dream, Fernando Alonso liquidates it so.
"I woke up and went to the pool. And I thought it’s nice, here, the track is colored blue, the weather is great, the facility comfortable, near the hotel, the race is suggestive, starts with the sun and ends at night, with artificial lights, extraordinary. And that’s it".
Who knows if he really believes that. Accustomed as he is to never saying what he thinks, especially if what he thinks is something negative or a loser, it is likely that as soon as he stepped off the plane, still on the stepladder, he felt a deadly twinge in his stomach. But so be it. We will never know. What we will know is that Alonso hopes to make a podium ("The one in Abu Dhabi is the only trophy I'm missing") and that he holds Lewis Hamilton in high esteem:
"Next year in the tests will be the only one I will follow, because it is the only one able to win even without the best car".
Unless you keep bumping into Felipe Massa again next year:
"With Felipe I would like to talk to him. I have nothing against him. If he has something against me it is his problem. Why is he always? He is a difficult driver to overcome, he leaves no room, so whoever is behind must do everything".
Saturday 12 November 2011 Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in the last free practice session. The English driver preceded Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who had long been in first position in the time standings. A few hours later, in Q1 Rubens Barrichello could not score any time for a problem to the engine of his car. The two Lotus-Renault drivers, the two Virgin-Cosworth drivers and the two HRT-Cosworth drivers were eliminated. During Q2, the red flags are displayed, which interrupt the session, nine minutes after its end, when one of the pylons that delimits the inside of a curve jumps. Also in this phase the pairs of drivers of the same teams are eliminated: the two of Renault, the two of STR-Ferrari and the two of Sauber-Ferrari. Pastor Maldonado and the other Williams were also eliminated. In the decisive phase Jenson Button scored the best time on the first attempt, but in the final seconds Sebastian Vettel managed to score the best time, without the Briton, author of a small imperfection in his last lap, being able to improve. In front of Jenson Button also the team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, who had set the fastest time in Q1 and Q2. For Vettel it is the fourteenth pole position of the season: in this way the German equals the pole position record in a single season, previously reached by Nigel Mansell in 1992. It is not Button nor Alonso the real seasonal rival of Sebastian Vettel, but Nigel Mansell. In fact, in the crosshairs of the 2011 World Champion there are the sloping moustaches of the Lion of England, whose records are now the only thing left to overcome this year. A hard job, started as soon as he crossed the finish line in the Japanese Grand Prix, the one that guaranteed him the world title, and continued in India, when completing the seasonal lap number 711 in first position, Sebastian Vettel topped Nigel Mansell’s 710 in 1992. It must be said that the one of the laps in the head is not a particularly suggestive record, and yet the drivers, who are particular people, competitive until self-destruction, keep us to death. So much so that the following Monday, Mansell took a pen and paper and sent Vettel a letter of congratulations. The full content of the text, Vettel did not want to tell, you only know that there was the well done typical of Formula 1 (in the paddock they say it with all the emphasis of the case even when you open a can of quinotto, or when you make a photocopy) and that ended with a very acute observation:
"But you put in seventeen races while I only needed sixteen".
You were good, but I did better. Vettel recounts it in the press room, Thursday, a bit to thank the English and a bit to promise him, even at a distance, a prompt revenge: that in fact comes when at the end of an extraordinary lap, driven with fury and precision, He ended the legitimate claims of Lewis Hamilton - who had found a beautiful McLaren while waiting to find his personal happiness - and took home the fourteenth pole position of the season. Fourteen, just as many as Mansell had managed to make in that glittering 1992.
The Red Bull Racing engineers then shouted loudly on the radio as they crossed the finish line. And more than a dedication was another promise, a relaunch: it’s not over here, in two Sundays, in Brazil that record will be ours. And then Mansell will not be able to console himself thinking about the number of races, and he will not be able to do anything but pronounce the other great classic of F1 (and not only), the records are made to be beaten. That was exactly the comment of the day made by Michael Schumacher. A sentence pronounced not by chance: because even Michael Schumacher risks ending up in the crosshairs of Sebastian Vettel, in Brazil. And not for a secondary record, this time, but for one of those who, together with the seven world titles, helped build the myth of the strongest driver ever: the number of seasonal victories. In 2004 Schumacher won thirteen times. At the moment Sebastian Vettel is at eleven. It would be enough to arrive first both here and in São Paulo, to support his idol of the past, forcing everyone to admit that phenomenal this year on track not Sebastian Vettel with Red Bull Racing in official practice there was only his car but also him, and write a wonderful sports story. A story that, however, also has a less glorious side: Mansell in 1992 ran with Williams, who today knows perhaps his darkest moment: between errors and disqualifications Maldonado and Barrichello will start from the last row. Schumacher ran a science fiction Ferrari in 2004.
And today the team is better than Williams (Alonso will start fifth and Massa sixth), but not enough. For his part, Fernando Alonso says at the end of the tests, that he qualified in fifth position:
"It’s the position we were kind of expecting, Red Bull and McLaren are stronger in qualifying, but in the race it’s different, we’re closer. Tomorrow we hope in the podium aware of the difficulties we have. The aileron? My aileron worked well, while I know that Felipe (Massa, ed) had problems. Let’s have more data with two cars with different ailerons".
Massa assures that he has lost some performance due to problems with the new wing:
"As usual we saw the others very fast, we are where we had to be, I also had to change the front wing and I lost a bit of performance".
Sunday, November 13, 2011, at the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel sprints in first position, but at the second corner he comes out slightly from the curb and causes a puncture to the right rear tire. The car loses driveability and ends in the escape route, so much so that it is paraded by all the cars. Lewis Hamilton took the lead, followed by Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. The Spaniard is also able to pass English during the first lap. Meanwhile, Vettel slowly returned to the pits, where he was forced to retire from the season, the first since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. For Vettel ends a streak of nineteen points races, the second best series ever after the 24 points Grand Prix of Michael Schumacher between the Hungarian Grand Prix 2001 and the Malaysian Grand Prix 2003. On the fourth lap Mark Webber passes Jenson Button, but the Englishman is able to recover the position. The leading positions remained unchanged until lap 13, when Webber again attacked Button on the straight after turn 7. The Englishman, however, answered again, brushing the Red Bull Racing driver on the next straight. During the 16 lap Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso returned to the pits to change the tyres, in a phase in which the Spaniard was less than two seconds away. Jenson Button and Mark Webber also returned to the pits to change tyres, but suffered a small loss of time. In the dubbing phase Fernando Alonso is slowed down by Pastor Maldonado, who is therefore penalized with a drive through. Felipe Massa, who is now in front of Mark Webber, also finds it difficult to voice Jaime Alguersuari and Pastor Maldonado. Between lap 35 and lap 43 the second set of tyre changes takes place. All leading drivers have Medium tyres, except Mark Webber who still opts for the use of Soft tyres.
The situation in the standings now sees Lewis Hamilton, still ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Mark Webber who managed to pass Jenson Button on the first straight and then also Nico Rosberg, until that moment third. Also the German, like the Australian, still has to mount the Medium tires. During the 48 lap Felipe Massa is the author of a spin, without consequences, so much so that the Brazilian maintains the fifth position, while losing the hope of remaining ahead of Mark Webber. On the penultimate lap the latter is forced to change tires to fit a set of Medium, still not used. With this stop, the Australian is forced to give up the third position to Jenson Button. Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and for the first time in the season no Red Bull Racing driver stood on the podium. This interrupted a streak of nineteen consecutive races to the podium, the third best series ever in the World Championship. Fernando Alonso is second, followed by Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was thus resolved, with a victory for Lewis Hamilton who took advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s mistake to drown his existential crisis in champagne and with Fernando Alonso lengthening his unedifying series of better results. Pardon, rose water and champagne, that in Yes Marina there is Koranic law. It is a sort of message as involuntary as it is clear what the McLaren and Ferrari drivers sent to Sebastian Vettel in a 2012 key: behind you there are the two of us, be careful; almost the way to clear the field from misunderstandings. Allowing the next year will be a three-way battle, in which neither the still excellent Jenson Button nor Mark Webber, nor Felipe Massa, will be able to put their mouth. In fact, the lead was very clear.
Then, however, he demanded too much from his cold Pirelli, he punctured and stopped. From that moment on, he was replaced by Lewis Hamilton, who made the most of his McLaren and began to dictate the pace of the race. A high pace, not as hellish as the one Sebastian Vettel loves, but enough to eliminate all the other competitors from the race. Except for Fernando Alonso. The two began a duel at a distance not very exciting: McLaren was much faster and therefore gaining ground, Fernando Alonso was in great shape and therefore he could stay close. Ferrari’s engineers put all their effort into it and so at a certain point there was a feeling that the Spaniard could even reach the Englishman, but a tyre change that was too slow (4.8 seconds), the umpteenth of the season, made it all go away. On the subject of tyre changes - the data show that it was a black year for Ferrari also from this point of view, the mechanics of Maranello were surpassed even by Force India - Stefano Domenicali performed at the end of the race in a splendid slalom:
"Are they a problem? We had a little hitch in the left front gear. But we lost most of the time in the two corners we made behind Ricciardo (Hrt) before returning to the pits".
Which is certainly also true, but it doesn’t take away that the key pit stop was done wrong. And that the mechanics of Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, McLaren and Force India are faster than Ferrari. Taken home at that point an easy victory, Hamilton took the opportunity to take the first step of what appears to be a kind of sympathy operation. Responding to the compliments made by Alonso on Thursday ("Lewis is the only driver who wins even when he doesn’t have the best car"), the Englishman lets himself go to a couple of pleasantries:
"How much I liked the duel with Fernando! As soon as I was wrong I recovered. He is really the strongest driver".
But for many, the days of McLaren poisoning tea were much more fun. Meanwhile, someone had also begun to count them, the apologies of Felipe Massa. Then the count became too complicated, the excuses intertwined, contradicted each other, created a kind of curtain refractory to any accounting, and in the end it was interrupted leaving the place to the catchphrase:
I have a problem. A paddock joke born from the typical expression with which Felipe began almost all his lectures in the last two years.
Bridgestones, brakes, downforce, front end, balance, steering, Pirelli. At Yes Marina, after yet another race ended in the queue of the group of drivers equipped with a decent car (Red Bull Racing, McLaren and Ferrari) is the front wing: the fault - or one of the faults - was the front wing. In fact, Ferrari is experimenting with a new piece that seems to give many advantages. Only that the one mounted on Massa’s car does not work and so poor Felipe is forced to mount the old one. In terms of performance - they explain, however, by the same Ferrari - the difference between the two wings is below the 15 seconds behind that Massa had from the fourth classified. And so it becomes clear that the front wing has little to do with it. The problem is another and this is perfectly explained by Livio Oricchio, a prestigious Brazilian commentator of the O Estado de Sao Paulo:
"Some believe that Massa is paying the consequences of the accident of 2009. In my opinion it has nothing to do with it. The reflexes are the same and the pilot is perfectly intact. Felipe’s problem is all psychological, self-confident".
In fact, the impression is that the boy has not yet managed to find his role within Ferrari, after the arrival of Fernando Alonso. Having rejected the role of second driver, not having the speed to be the first (as he was sometimes with Raikkonen), being too old to be a young man (as with Schumacher), Massa today struggles to understand who he is, disorienting himself and those who continue to bet on him. At mid-season, Stefano Domenicali relaunched:
"I am sure that in the next two or three races, Felipe will be able to get on the podium".
Vaticinio shipwrecked: actually, Felipe has never been on the podium this year. And he never even finished fourth (four-fifths places, they are his seasonal top). A sort of negative record for Ferrari. A record that Massa could avert in Brazil, performing the miracle in front of his people:
"It would be a good way to close a difficult year".
He says Domenicali. In San Paolo he will also have the new wing. Two days from second place in Abu Dhabi, many are wondering if the problem at a pit stop has not affected the final victory of Fernando Alonso. But the Ferrari driver himself calms the sceptics.
"After analyzing the data in the debriefing last night I can rightly say that even that small problem had in the second pit-stop did not affect the final result. I would not have had the chance to get back on track in front of Hamilton, who was able to be very fast with the medium".
Which Ferrari is still struggling to do. Maranello’s cars, in fact, take too long to warm up the Medium tyres, losing tenths of a second against McLaren and Red Bull Racing. The same problem also happened to Felipe Massa.
"Just the ability to use the tires immediately, from the very first lap is one of the areas on which we have to work ahead of next year. Speaking of numbers, Yes Marina was the 20th podium in my Ferrari career, which means that in more than half of the races I raced driving a Ferrari I managed to finish in the top three. This means that, even in years that are not as extraordinary as this in terms of car performance, the average level is always very high. It is no coincidence that, for eighteen years now, the team has always managed to win at least one Grand Prix per season. There are no other teams that can say the same thing and it is also considerations like this that have convinced me to prolong my relationship with Ferrari for so long".
The second place was still a great result. Alonso archives it as a good result. The placement:
"It was definitely higher than our expectations of the eve but what satisfied me most was the speed shown practically throughout the race. With Hamilton it was a great challenge: he was once faster than me".