The victorious new Brawn GP team cost its owner, the former technical director of Scuderia Ferrari, just one pound, just over one euro. This is the symbolic sum at which the Japanese company Honda Motor sold its team at the beginning of March 2009 to the man who last year, after a sabbatical following a long stay at Maranello, became its sporting director. The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported the news on Friday 10 April 2009, quoting an executive of the Japanese car manufacturer:
"Since our retirement in December, the priority has been to sell the team on the condition that the Formula 1 activity would continue, the price is not an issue. We could not sell to a competing group that would try to sell it piece by piece. We wanted to protect the jobs of hundreds of people, and we think we found a good solution".
Brawn officially bought Honda at the beginning of March, but the amount remained secret. For its part, the Japanese company was forced to give way due to financial difficulties caused by the global crisis. The Japanese company, as far as we know, after the first exciting performances, had left a team far from ruin, and the interest in the success of the sale is proof of this. According to rumors in the paddock, between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, Honda, knowing that it was going to be beaten in last year's championship and not imagining the crisis that suddenly hit the whole world in the last six months, concentrated on designing the 2009 single-seater.
A car that, with the change in regulations in place, had to be radically modified compared to the past: and the Japanese company was able to think about this revolution well in advance of the competition, and in particular of the top teams McLaren and Ferrari who spent the whole of 2008 investing resources in last season's single seater. To the great benefit of Ross Brawn, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, and those around them. In the meantime, however, Brawn GP will have to face a fundamental passage for its future. In fact, it will be Rory Byrne and chief manager Nicholas Tombazis who will represent Ferrari at the hearing on Tuesday 14 April 2009, in Paris, for the case linked to the use of the loudspeakers of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams, judged regular by the race commissioners in Australia and Malaysia. The verdict will be announced on Wednesday afternoon, when the Formula 1 teams, Ferrari in primis, will be in Shanghai.
In a race that is set to leave an indelible mark on the ongoing World Championship, the FIA Court of Appeal will on Tuesday consider the appeals that four teams - Red Bull, Ferrari, BMW and Renault - have lodged against the controversial loudspeakers used by the three teams that currently dominate the World Championship. The verdict will come on Wednesday. If the aerodynamic elements were to be considered illegal, the three teams would lose a substantial advantage over their competitors. In fact, the commissioners of the Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix have declared the disputed single-seaters to be compliant with the regulations, so it is difficult to imagine an about-face in Paris. If the Court rejects the protests, the teams that have lodged appeals will have to speed up the changes to be made to the designs.
Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams have moved into the grey areas of the regulations that define the parameters of the rear diffusers, as the extractor profiles that direct air flows under the single-seater and are decisive for grip on the track are defined. The extractor must not exceed 35 centimeters in overhang and 17.5 in height. The rules, however, do not unequivocally codify the identikit of the central section of the profile. The individual solutions of the three teams under discussion would guarantee an advantage of half a second per lap. Brawn GP has won both races so far in the 2009 season. Englishman Button, triumphant in Melbourne and Sepang, leads the driver standings with 15 points. His team, thanks to Rubens Barrichello's 10 points, dominates the constructors' standings with 25 points.
"If people think the diffuser is the only secret of this single-seater, they will be very sad when they find out the truth".
Repeats Nick Fry, general manager of Brawn GP, referring to the rivals.
"We adopted a very clever solution. But everything could have been done".
Adds team principal, Ross Brawn.
"It's as if, in a 100-metre race, someone started with a 10-metre advantage".
Mario Theissen, head of Bmw Motorsport, says instead.
"With the diffusers you get more grip, and you can hold a higher speed in the corners. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid with the new rules".
If the Court declares the projects of Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota legitimate, all the others will have to adapt. But as Mario Theissen says:
"This would hinder the attempt to reduce costs".
Beyond the verdict, as written on Ferrari's website, the Chinese Grand Prix must necessarily represent a turning point for the Maranello team in this negative season start. From a technical and organisational point of view, a new impulse has been given to the F60 development programme. The aim is to anticipate, as far as possible, the introduction of technical innovations that can allow the gap in terms of performance to be reduced as quickly as possible. To do so, a working group has been set up, which will follow the programme at Maranello in close contact with track experience, under the coordination of engineer Aldo Costa.
The team manager, Stefano Domenicali, will follow the development of the single-seater step by step, while his role on track will be entrusted to Chris Dyer. At Shanghai there will be some aerodynamic changes on the single seater, tested by Marc Gene last week on the Varano straight. In particular, there will be changes to the front wing, the front wheel flanges and the flow diverters. The tires will be the same as those used in Australia, and it is clear that one of the main tasks in Friday's three-hour free practice session will be to try and work out how the two types of tires will perform on a surface that has very different characteristics to the one at Albert Park.
Hence, Ferrari is taking precautions in case of an adverse verdict and creating a task force to accelerate the car's comeback. Baldisseri, the team's strategist, who has been absent from Grands Prix for some time, will not be going to China and will remain in Maranello to coordinate the group that must work on the new diffusers to be presented in Barcelona on May 10th. His place is taken by Chris Dyer, formerly engineer to Schumacher and Raikkonen. In Australia and Malaysia, Ferrari made several mistakes, but Maranello denies that the revolution amounts to a rejection of Baldisseri, because the wrong choices were collective. The fact is that the team is changing, on track and in the factory, because Brawn GP - diffusers or not - is keeping the lead.
On Tuesday 14 April 2009, Formula 1 teams moved overnight to China, still not knowing whether the first two races could definitively go down in history - with the double success of Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team - or whether the FIA Court of Appeal would overturn the result. This is because the five judges, after an eight-hour hearing at the headquarters of the Federation in Paris, have postponed until 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday 15 April 2009 their decision on the legality or not of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams’ rear diffusers - all of these single-seaters would be outside the regulations according to the accusation presented by Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and BMW.
The debate is open and it is difficult to make a prediction, even if the main impression is that the ranking might not even change in the end, with teams having to create their own diffusers. Except for Renault, which could already bring such a diffuser to Shanghai. Ferrari is expected to take a long time, with a deadline of 10 May 2009, the date of the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, the fifth round of the World Championship. The Maranello team's lawyers, above all the Englishman Tozzi, but also the Swiss Peter, maintained a very aggressive attitude during the meeting, and tried in every way to get the other side into trouble, succeeding above all thanks to the participation of Charlie Whiting, the FIA safety delegate and race director at the various rounds of the championship.
Ferrari's accusation, which also presented four miniature diffusers to reinforce its case, highlighting the difference between those that meet the spirit of the regulations, like the one fitted by Ferrari, and those that do not, with a model similar to that of Brawn GP, focuses on three points: the impossibility with these anomalous diffusers of staying in the slipstream of the single-seaters in front is relative difficulty when overtaking - a concept opposite to that proposed by the technical regulations -, the great speed that this aerodynamic innovation brings in corners putting the safety of the drivers at risk, and the considerable rise in costs that would involve having to adapt to this solution for those who did not program it, considering it not in line with the regulations.
Overall, the estimated increase is between €5.000.000 and €10.000.000, with Scuderia Ferrari having to work on the whole car rear, including the suspension and gearbox. The Brawn GP team, however, responded to the accusations by arguing that this aerodynamic innovation was completely legal. At the end of the meeting Ferrari's lawyers expressed great confidence in the judgement of the Court of Appeal, but the same optimism was also seen by the representatives of the Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams teams. All that remains is to wait for the verdict, which will be decisive for the future of the World Championship, regardless of which decision will be taken.
While waiting for the verdict on the legality or otherwise of the rear diffusers of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams - a verdict that will arrive only later this afternoon -, Scuderia Ferrari is sure to have won the first battle. Because five judges from the Court of Appeal, after an eight-hour hearing in Paris, will issue their pronounced appeal, but in the meantime, they are letting the press know that only later the reasons for their decision will be shared publicly. This course of action, according to the prosecution, comes in response to the aggressive tactics of the teams opposed to the use of the diffuser, with storming arguments aimed at demonstrating the blatant irregularity of the double diffuser.
At the end of a long day in Paris, Ross Brawn, like the other team representatives, moves to China during the night, where the third Grand Prix of the season will be run on Sunday; he runs away without making comments, but continuing to define himself as optimistic, even though he appeared embarrassed during the debate, in the face of the pressing of Ferrari's lawyers, in particular Tozzi - especially when the English lawyer pointed out that one cannot deny the existence of a hole in the rear diffuser of the single-seater that dominated the first two races, something not only contrary to the spirit, but forbidden by regulations.
Even more than Brawn, Whiting seemed to be in trouble, accused by Renault of having authorized this anomaly after last year, on a project conceptually similar to the bottom of the single-seater; according to the French team, initially he had said no to the French company, and then reiterated his prohibition a few months later on a diffuser not very different from the one that is currently allowing Brawn GP to triumph.
An attitude, according to Renault's lawyers, which is incomprehensible, so much so that if the triumph were to be Ross Brawn's line, the French would already be ready to homologate and present their own solution for the rear of their single-seater as early as next Sunday, in China. Ferrari, in order to strengthen its case, appeared in court with four miniature diffusers, with the aim of demonstrating which could be considered compliant and which irregular. But Ross Brawn countered this by presenting the judges with a model of his own, which shows that the diffuser complies with the regulations, as the holes are not visible when looking up from the bottom of the car.
Wednesday 15 April 2009, the decision taken is even more important than a victory in any Grand Prix of the current season. Scuderia Ferrari did not win its appeal, despite having tried to get the FIA into trouble over the alleged irregularity of the rear diffusers of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams. The five judges at the Federation's Court of Appeal, after an eight-hour hearing in Paris, rejected the appeal that Ferrari had lodged together with Red Bull, Renault and BMW, agreeing with the stewards of the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix, who had already rejected the four teams' complaint in the first instance, declaring the full regularity of the devices fitted by Brawn GP, winner with Button in the first two races, Toyota and Williams (actually, McLaren is also involved, because although it did not lodge an appeal, it asked to be present as a party to the case).
The Court of Appeal decided to reject the appeals on the basis of the arguments and evidence presented, but the reasons for the ruling, which Ferrari is currently waiting for in order to understand how the regulations have been misinterpreted, will only arrive between Monday 20 April 2009, or Tuesday 21 April 2009. This decision does not lead to any change in the Drivers' and Constructors' standings, which sees Button and Brawn GP in the lead, and both Ferrari and McLaren lagging far behind, now forced to go ahead and create this innovation and apply for homologation.
Now, the Maranello team and most of the other teams participating in the Formula 1 World Championship, including Red Bull, will have to redesign almost the entire car to mount the new diffuser, and not just the rear like Ferrari; meanwhile BMW, who thought the advantage of the kers was enough, will have to adapt to the decision taken by the Court of Appeal. The race against time begins, so that all teams can mount a rear diffuser similar to the one used by Brawn GP, given that engineers assign the advantage of almost a second per lap to this aerodynamic intuition. Obviously, there is great satisfaction in the comments of Brawn GP and Toyota’s team managers. In fact, Yamashina, Toyota manager, says:
"We had no doubts about the regularity of our devices and the outcome of the verdict issued by the Court of Appeal. We studied the technical regulations in detail, consulting the FIA in advance, and no one ever raised any doubts about the regularity of our ideas. Now we can concentrate on the races".
With the concrete possibility of winning the first Grand Prix in its history. And Ross Brawn, team principal of the eponymous team, is obviously beaming:
"The judges have confirmed that we have complied with regulations. We are happy with the verdict. We respect the right of our rivals to challenge, through the available channels, any design or idea used on our single seaters that complies with the regulations, and now the chapter is closed. From now on we only think about the World Championship. And winning more races".
On the other side of the fence, everyone at Ferrari thinks, although no one says so openly, that:
"Today's decision is a political one".
The directive from the top is clear, and there is no comment. Suffice to look around a little to understand the general conviction and state of mind. And yet, this is not over. It is possible to notice it by simply taking a look at Ferrari's official website, for example.
In the late afternoon of Wednesday, 15 April 2009, alongside the phrases of circumstance and the routine communiqué of team principal Stefano Domenicali, the voice of an insider promises battle. And he does so directly:
"In the coming days, voices will be raised from Maranello".
A clear message to its addressee: the FIA, hence Max Mosley, and above him Bernie Ecclestone. They would be the instigators, and they would have been the ones to cover the backs of Brawn GP and the teams using the double diffuser, with the intention of splitting the union of the teams - for the first time united under the hegemony of Fota - and to demand the verdict of Wednesday's ruling. This is the only way for those in charge of the sports programme in Maranello to explain a decision taken in a matter of hours, despite its importance. Only with the aim of demonstrating and defending their power.
That Mosley and Ecclestone are the recipients of the pre-announced counter-offensive can be seen from this indiscreet character, who, as reported several times in the outburst, points out that the FIA first talks a lot about cost reduction and then leads everyone to mount kers and diffusers, forcing teams to spend more than in 2008. As a matter of fact, by approving such innovation, the single seater has to be rebuilt, as Stefano Domenicali explained immediately after reading the ruling:
"Unfortunately, this decision leads to intervention in fundamental elements of the car's design so that we can fight with other teams on an equal regulatory footing, a commitment that will take time and money".
But not all the aspects intoxicating the Formula 1 world in these hours appear to be of sporting nature; Scuderia Ferrari, as well as Renault, Red Bull Racing and BMW, had counted on losing the appeal, although many are curious to see how the judges will motivate the ruling. What is just not acceptable is the way FIA and Ross Brawn have behaved on this occasion. It has not escaped anyone's notice the fact that the judges have handed down a ruling in record time (as it was announced that the matter would have required little time), and that a superfluous and gratuitous communication has been issued. Also not unnoticed was the ambiguous behavior of Ross Brawn, who after warning the other teams of the loudspeaker problem only at the last minute, and in a somewhat hasty manner, tried to overdo it after the ruling, declaring that he had a clear conscience and never had any doubts about the regularity of the single seater.
"There will be no slag, no injuries".
In recent days, Montezemolo, president of Fota (the association of teams united for a common purpose, which is to rewrite rules and cut costs, as well as questioning the leadership and economic power of Ecclestone), and all the other team leaders had repeated their position; but now it is difficult for this sentence not to create a significant tear. Ferrari is outraged, McLaren is talking about the season being over, BMW is emphasizing how much it will cost to homologate the three teams that use the double bottom; meanwhile Red Bull is thinking about how its performance would be unusable. Brawn was smart, the judges ruled that the idea complied with the regulations, Renault declared it a real scandal, saying that they too had had the same idea and the FIA thought well to reject it.
"Here in Shanghai, we will not be racing with the kers, we have reliability and safety problems, and at this moment we cannot risk it".
Scuderia Ferrari's situation has yet to improve: the day after the Court's ruling in Paris, the team from Maranello made a surprise announcement, suddenly realizing its fragility. What until now seemed to be the only certainty in a complex season, the only novelty capable of guaranteeing some advantage over the adversaries is not used, leaving behind a long trail of questions and doubts about the real quality of the work carried out in the factory by the Ferrari men.
"Because, let's be clear, we're not giving up. Experience teaches us that you have to believe in it until the very end, until the mathematics close all the accounts, and that's what we're going to do. So, there is no question of surrender".
Says Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali in a firm voice. But if Thursday 16 April 2009's announcement at the press conference is not a surrender, it is certainly a move that looks a lot like castling.
"We expect a defensive race here in China. Right now, we must try to bring home as much as we can, and at the same time, we must work as hard as we can on developing the car with the new diffuser. Then we will see where we stand. If we do a good job, we could be ready for when we return to Europe, for the Spanish Grand Prix. At least that's our current objective. As far as costs are concerned, it will cost us a lot because we will have to work in the wind tunnel, redesign and rebuild the rear of the single-seater".
Ferrari team principal, speaking about the Paris ruling, adds:
"Events like this one with the diffuser cast doubt on the regularity of the entire championship, and this is a shame: there were all the premises for this to be an exciting season. A matter of such importance should not have ended up in the Court of Appeal, but neither should it have gone to the racing judges; it should have been resolved before the start of the season".
Nevertheless, Felipe Massa is confident and ready to start again in Shanghai:
"Our single-seater is quite similar to the one we saw in Malaysia a fortnight ago, although we have made some important aerodynamic updates. It will not be an easy race for us, but at least the car has made some progress. This means that we can be more competitive than in the previous two races".
In the meantime, it is impossible not to mention the ruling handed on Wednesday by the FIA Court of Appeal on Wednesday, which recognized as regular the diffusers used by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, the teams that have dominated since the start of the season.
"My motivation remains the same, to work hard with the team in order to improve the car as soon as possible and get points as quickly as possible. I am motivated and want to start a better season from this weekend on. We must work hard to bring developments to the car as quickly as possible. It will not be easy because it is a very complex job. Obviously, the decision in Paris does not make life any easier for us in terms of the championship, where there are actually lots of teams with a different car from ours. It will not be easy to catch up with them, but I hope it is not too late to do so. I hope that the new version of our car will be ready in time to fight for the championship and win some races. You can be sure that we will never give up and we will do our best. I believe in our ability to improve the car. In order to do this, we have adopted substantial changes internally speaking, both on track and at the factory".
Going back to talk about the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver thinks the decision to stop the race was absolutely correct.
"It was really difficult. I started the race with a medium visor, which is what I normally use in rainy conditions, but in Malaysia everything went dark in an instant and I couldn't see anything. This effect, combined with the considerable aquaplaning, made everything particularly problematic, so suspending the race was the right decision".
In closing, a joke about his track engineer, Rob Smedley, who radioed him Felipe Baby at Sepang.
"We have a very nice relationship, even though I don't feel like a baby. But in difficult situations you can use words that are a bit funny. Rob has a very young son, so maybe he got confused".
And yet, despite Felipe Massa's good-humored words, the Italian team gives the impression of being in confusion: the replacement of Luca Baldisseri at the race wall also serves to clarify matters. Of course, now Baldisseri will be needed at Maranello to rebuild the single seater, but there is a general impression that, after Massa's failure to win over Hamilton at the end of the 2008 season, something might have broken in Ferrari’s mechanism. Not everything is clear in the matter of the speakers. And the unbreathable air in Formula 1 today is clouded not only by lawyers, but also by the political and economic conflict between Ecclestone and Mosley on the one hand, and Montezemolo and the other manufacturers on the other. Political backstories that bring us back to the initial questions about what Formula 1 has become. A sport? Diffusers can make a difference in terms of performance, and now it is up to the rivals Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams, with the ban on testing during the World Championship, to find a way to remedy this.
Ferrari had already thought about this, demonstrating a certain pessimism towards the Paris ruling: for weeks, the Maranello team has been testing a double diffuser in the factory, but getting it onto the track is by no means easy. This is because the innovation has a major impact on the single seater, forcing intervention on the rear with a new suspension design, a change to the gearbox, a different weight distribution and aerodynamic adjustments of various kinds. The problem is serious, so much so that at Ferrari, taking advantage of its development task force - a working group chaired by technical director Aldo Costa and coordinated by Baldisserri himself. But this was known. What was not known was the fact that, on Thursday 16 April 2009, it was announced that the adjustment could arrive as early as 10 May, in Barcelona, where Ferrari will present significant aerodynamic advances, and perhaps even a preview of the new diffuser.
The definitive solution will only be adopted on 7 June, though, in Istanbul, at the Turkish Grand Prix, after seven of the seventeen races scheduled for the season, in the hope that it will not be too late. Renault is in a better position, since an idea conceptually similar to that of Brawn GP was proposed to the FIA last September, and then frozen by a dry refusal and stopped. Now, having absorbed the anger for the loss of time, the French team is ready to come back to the original plan. The single seater with the double diffuser could be there as early as Sunday in China, or at most seven days later in Bahrain. Red Bull is in more trouble, having built an excellent single-seater under Newey’s consult, to the point that Sebastian Vettel thrilled his fans in the first two Grands Prix, and now it has to start from scratch.
Newey set to work, not going to China, but staying at the factory: the race against time foresees the debut of the new single-seater on 24 May 2009, in Monte-Carlo, on the occasion of the Monaco Grand Prix. Red Bull traces the furrow, but Toro Rosso could imitate it on 7th June 2009, in Istanbul. McLaren and BMW also appear to be in great difficulty. The former had already decided to remake the single seater; the new one, of course, will feature the double diffuser. On a design level, it seems that fitting in the rear is not difficult, even if Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes, is rather caustic about it:
"Nine months of development the time Brawn GP had can't be recovered in nine weeks".
While the BMW team is thinking about the money that will have to be spent.
"We will need a lot of them".
Admits project manager Mario Theissen. His comeback could end in Istanbul. And finally, Force India will perhaps present the new project on the Nurburgring circuit, otherwise the team will already be thinking about the 2010 season. Flavio Briatore is another great communication expert: the Renault manager finds the right spirit to attract the media on a subject that is so close to his heart at the moment, the story of the Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams loudspeakers declared regular.
"Nakajima, Barrichello and Glock are now competing for the championship. It's as if, in Italy, we saw Reggina, Lecce and Bari in Serie A and Milan and Inter at the back".
It is, in short, a direct attack to FIA.
"When we talk about regulations, we also talk about principles. We always thought, with Ferrari and the others, that ground effect was forbidden. That was the direction the FIA had taken. Last year Renault wanted to do the same thing a bit earlier at the diffuser level, and we were stopped by the FIA. An issue like this has to be resolved before a Grand Prix. You have to choose between black and white. If it's grey, you have to make a decision for everyone".
Now there are appeals, but Flavio is skeptical.
"Winning the appeals is almost impossible, even if we think and are convinced that the loudspeakers used by these three teams are not regular. Also because after Senna's death, the principle of not giving certain effects to the single-seaters applied. But suddenly everything is legal now".
And finally, he declares:
"It is impossible to recover the distance we have from these teams. In three or four Grands Prix the World Championship will be decided, and I don't see the interest of television and spectators in seeing a Grand Prix when Button has 60 points, Nakajima 50 and another 80: better to listen to it on the radio and see anything else".
Three free practice sessions are held before the race: two sessions on Friday 17 April 2009, each lasting 90 minutes, and one 60-minute session on Saturday 18 April 2009. World Champion Lewis Hamilton's McLaren is fastest at the end of the first free practice session on Friday morning, ahead of the Brawn Vetture GP of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen is fourth fastest. Sixty minutes into the session, Hamilton - whose McLaren MP4-24 is fitted with a new temporary diffuser and front wing - sets his fastest lap of 1'37"334, around 0.1 seconds behind Button. Lewis Hamilton declares at the end of practice:
"The car instantly felt a bit better. I can feel more stability and downforce from the front. We've definitely made a step forward for this race. The car feels much stronger through corners and I think we've got a very positive baseline for the rest of the weekend. My first run on the options felt quite consistent".
Red Bull's Mark Webber was fifth in the session, with Toyota's Trulli and Timo Glock sixth and eighth. Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Sébastien Bourdais complete the top ten positions in the first session. Button was the fastest in Friday afternoon's second free practice session, followed by Rosberg and Barrichello. Red Bull drivers Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who topped the timesheets during the opening stages of the session, finish fourth and fifth respectively. The Toyota cars were once again competitive as Trulli and Glock finished sixth and eighth, with Williams' Kazuki Nakajima in the middle. The two McLarens fail to recreate the results of the morning session, with Kovalainen ninth and Hamilton thirteenth.
"It's a very difficult moment, the car is slower, we don't have a diffuser or kers. We have to work, because we are professionals, but the situation is really difficult".
To say that Felipe Massa is down in the dumps after the first track day in Shanghai is an understatement. The Brazilian driver gets out of the single seater in which he recorded a dusky twelfth place and shows a bewildered face to the cameras around the world.
"We will work hard until the end and we will try to keep our heads up as much as possible, however it will be really hard".
Massa looks at the times and shakes his head. Then he starts to explain again, veering decisively from the sporting to the philosophical, that:
"Everyone's life is made up of difficult moments, whatever job you do. We are facing one of these moments, and we must try to do it in the best possible way".
What particularly depresses the Brazilian is the absence of the kers.
"This winter everyone was asking me what I thought of the kers, and I said I enjoyed it and thought it gave the single-seater speed. I haven't changed my mind. Especially today, running without it, I've had confirmation that the car loses a lot".
So, a journalist asks, is the championship already over?
"Not finished, but almost".
Also because the work to try and recover the kers is proceeding very slowly.
"Let's see if we can figure something out for Bahrain".
It is said from Ferrari.
"Formula 1 is no longer a sport. It's something else".
In the most difficult days for the circus, Ferdando Alonso returns to express his thoughts on the lack of sportsmanship in the Formula 1 world.
"I've been saying this since I arrived in this environment. They took me for a fool, they looked down on me, they called me a kid. Now what I understood years ago is now there for all to see. It seems that Lewis Hamilton wanted to change category after the Australian Grand Prix".
Has the Spaniard ever thought of leaving?
"No, not me. Although it's sad for me to find out from television that they want to award the title with medals. It's not fair".
What would you change if you could?
"I would give more power to the teams, the only ones who know how Formula 1 works, starting with the budget. I'd remove the kers, which is a waste of money, and go back to two suppliers for tyres. We need more stability in the rules, and the FIA should just guarantee the safety of the circuits, do the checks, in short: have the role of referee".
Instead, it does much more, and the atmosphere has become unbearable.
"Despite this, I still enjoy being here. I like getting out on track, trying, testing, racing and competing. Without Formula 1, my life wouldn't be the same".
But for some time now, Fernando Alonso has not been fighting for the title:
"That's true. But I keep thinking about my third World Championship, maybe my fourth. I don't set myself any limits: I can't even imagine retiring before I've managed to win again. I'm only 27 years old".
The new rules re-evaluate the importance of the driver over the car. Does that make the big teams less attractive to a champion?
"I don't think so. This season is over. The next one will be different: Brawn GP will not dominate the next five years; big teams will always be competitive and the drivers will always want to go there to have the best single-seater".
Among the top teams there is always McLaren, which on 29 April 2009 will be judged by the FIA: what does Fernando Alonso think about that?
"I left that team for that reason. My sporting philosophy is not theirs, who for the last three or four years have been more in Paris than on track. That is very sad".
Will Renault be able to fight for the World Championship?
"We are a strong team, and this is the time to prove it. But from behind, Ferrari and McLaren will also come soon".
Nico Rosberg in his Williams is the fastest in Saturday morning's free practice session. The German driver, who slipped off the track on the gravel at the start of the session, set a time of 1'36"133, followed by Trulli and Hamilton. Button was fourth, while Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. set the fifth best time of the session. Piquet's team-mate, Fernando Alonso, on the other hand - whose Renault R29 car is fitted with a new diffuser and without the kers - does not go beyond nineteenth. Robert Kubica, who has also removed his kers for this session, improves significantly on his BMW Sauber.
Timo Glock, in the Toyota TF109, experiences gearbox problems at the start of the session and is forced to replace the gearbox for the following qualifying session. Glock receives a penalty of five grid positions for this reason. Initially, BMW Sauber's managers had stated that Robert Kubica would use kers for the first time during Friday's free practice session. Kubica had not used the system in the first two races as it was feared that the extra weight would put him at disadvantage. However, Kubica decided not to use the device after Friday's free practice, as did the Renault team, reducing the number of cars equipped with kers to three. This means that only the two McLaren drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, plus Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber, will race with kers in Shanghai.
At the end of Saturday afternoon's qualifying session, Sebastian Vettel took his second career pole position, and the first for his team, Red Bull Racing. Vettel, who runs just one dry lap in each of the last two parts of qualifying due to problems with his car's drive shafts, managed to edge out Fernando Alonso by 0.2 seconds in the final part of qualifying. The other Red Bull driver, Mark Webber, was third, immediately ahead of the Brawn GPs of Barrichello and Button. After a disappointing performance during free practice, Kimi Räikkönen secured eighth place behind Trulli, sixth, and Rosberg, seventh. Sébastien Buemi in his Toro Rosso and Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren completed the top ten on the grid. Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen, Felipe Massa, Timo Glock and Kazuki Nakajima finished from eleventh to fifteenth on the grid respectively.
The drivers eliminated in the first qualifying session and classified from sixteenth to twentieth place are Sébastien Bourdais, Nelson Piquet Jr., Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella, respectively. Due to his five-position penalty, Glock is nineteenth, while Nakajima, Bourdais, Piquet, Kubica and Sutil each move up one position on the grid. In China, too, the two Ferraris will start from the back of the grid. Raikkonen was eighth, Massa third. And yet, despite these results, there is also some optimism in the words of the Ferrari men.
"I can't be satisfied with eighth place; I did the best I could. We have two cars behind us, we'll see what to do. We are not fast enough, although I must admit that the car was not bad to drive. We need more load because we are not as fast in the corners as the others".
Felipe Massa admits his faults for a mistake that cost him elimination from the second qualifying heat:
"I had a good start, but in Q2 I made a mistake and found some traffic. I'm sorry, there was a chance to start in the top ten. Tomorrow we will try to get to the end of the race and bring points home. After all, that's how our season will be until we get the diffuser, which as Alonso's performance today shows, can be decisive. In addition to the diffuser, we have other solutions in store that could bring us other advantages during the season".
For Ferrari, it is yet more proof that the problem this season is not just the double diffusers, but something much deeper, involving the structure of a team that has clearly got everything wrong, at least up until now. It got its strategy wrong in the winter, relying entirely on the kers, it got the kers wrong in the factory and it's not working, it's got its approach to the season wrong and, perhaps most seriously, it's failed to do anything to react in the face of the opposition. And so now he looks down from the last positions at the beaming smile of the talented Vettel, who, in the spotlight, admits being thrilled:
"I'm very happy today, and I want to thank all the mechanics who worked like crazy, all night, to solve some problems with the single-seater".
Even happier than Vettel is Fernando Alonso, who now faces a future that is yet to be defined:
"I think this is a strange weekend for us. We have a completely new car and we only run three laps this morning. It was a blind test, for us coming from a couple of months of hell. I'm really happy. Of course, now we have to see what happens tomorrow with a tank full of fuel, but it must be said that we did the last session quite comfortably, and that makes us optimistic. How quickly things change in Formula 1...".
Fernando Alonso smiles. After just a few laps, the new car is already on the front row. Together with him, chasing the Brawn GPs of Button and Barrichello are the two Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber, who will start respectively in first and third position. But beyond an apparently revolutionized grid, the Brawn GPs are fourth and fifth, even though they apparently opted for a different race strategy and did qualifying with more petrol in their tanks. In short, this day (Saturday 18 April 2009) tells the world that, having got over the shock of the new regulations and the thousand controversies, Formula 1 is trying to recover its own balance.
And it is doing so with the ideas of the designers, the investments of the teams and above all the work at the factories. After the Paris ruling, almost everyone has taken action. The Red Bull Racing team, which had already impressed in the first two races, perfected its work, conquering a historic result thanks to the talent of Vettel and the determination of Webber. Renault, which for some time has been working on a solution similar to that of Brawn GP, responded just as well, mostly thanks to its top driver. Even McLaren, in the spare time between one sporting process and another, has improved by inventing a kind of diffuser similar to the one used by Brawn GP. In the midst of such industriousness, the parenthesis of Ferrari shines, which has still not managed to organize the slightest reaction and which places Massa in thirteenth and Raikkonen in eighth. The team still hopes to pick up a few points in the race.
On Sunday 19 April 2009, Shanghai is hit by a heavy downpour, so the Chinese Grand Prix is held in wet conditions. Robert Kubica and Timo Glock start from the pit lane. Due to the heavy rain, the first eight laps of the race are run under Safety Car conditions. Sutil, Rosberg and Alonso, taking advantage of the race neutralization, make their first pit stops, then find themselves at the back of the pack when the green flag is shown. Lewis Hamilton began to make progress, overtaking Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen, before spinning on lap 12 and dropping back to tenth place. Meanwhile, Jenson Button overtook Rubens Barrichello for third place after the Brazilian made a mistake in a corner. Trulli and Räikkönen were rather slow in the early laps and therefore lost ground to the leaders, while Hamilton made progress again and climbed up to seventh place on lap 11, before making another mistake that forced him down one position.
Webber made his first scheduled stop on lap 14 and Vettel on the next lap. Button is now ahead of Barrichello, followed by Vettel, Buemi, Massa and Webber. On lap seventeen, Robert Kubica crashes into Jarno Trulli as he goes into the final corner. Kubica damages his front wing and Trulli his rear wing, forcing the Italian to slowly drive the entire track, to return to the pits and retire. On this occasion the Safety Car is called out, due to the presence of debris left on track. Shortly afterwards Vettel is the victim of a small collision by Buemi, who damages his front wing in the contact. Buemi therefore decides to make his pit stop, along with the Brawn GP drivers and Sutil, who makes his second stop and will have to finish the race with the same set of tires.
On lap 20, Felipe Massa's car suffers an electrical problem while the safety car is on track, hence the Brazilian driver is forced to stop on the back straight. On the restart, Sébastien Bourdais spins before the green flag and loses several positions. The race continues with Vettel in the lead, followed by Button, while Webber, Räikkönen, Hamilton, Barrichello, Kovalainen and Buemi in the top eight. On lap 28 Piquet damages his front wing, but manages to continue the race, while Button misses the braking point at the hairpin, allowing Webber to pass. However, Webber mistimes the corner two laps later, allowing Button to move into second again, until the Australian passes him from the outside at Turn 7.
Hamilton makes his only scheduled stop on lap 33, and his teammate Kovalainen follows a lap later. Vettel stops on lap 37 and Webber on lap 39, while the two Brawn GPs continue to race until laps 42 (Button) and 43 (Barrichello), before pitting. Buemi is the last driver to make a scheduled pit stop, on lap 45, when the order in the standings still sees Sebastian Vettel in the lead, followed by Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld. Nico Rosberg opts for intermediate tyres on his second stop, but spins soon after and decides to pit again on full wet tyres. Hamilton continues his race, making several mistakes due to the lack of grip, and Kovalainen and Sutil take the chance to overtake him. But then, on lap 51, Sutil has an accident just before turn 5, ending his race. At this stage, Heidfeld is forced to avoid Sutil's tyre, which bounced back onto the track; Glock and Buemi take advantage of this and overtake the German BMW Sauber driver.
In the meantime, Sebastian Vettel manages to stay in the lead until the end of the planned fifty-six laps, getting his second Grand Prix win, and the first victory for Red Bull Racing. His teammate Mark Webber gets his best career result with second place, while Jenson Button gets his third consecutive podium with third place. Barrichello finishes fourth, followed by Kovalainen, Hamilton, Glock and Buemi. At the end of the race a total of seventeen drivers are classified, including Sutil who had retired. After the usual celebrations, confusion arose on the podium when God Save the Queen (the British national anthem) was played for the winning manufacturer, Red Bull Racing, instead of the notes of Land der Berge, Land am Strome (the Austrian national anthem). The inconvenience arises because Red Bull Racing is based in the UK, but is registered with the Austrian national motoring authority, demonstrating its Austrian ownership.
Vintage champagne and rainwater have a very sweet taste in this Sunday of glory for Sebastian Vettel. Because to win in Shanghai, under a deluge of rain and against opponents with single seaters hitherto considered unreachable, was something to dream about at night. But this boy with his polite and confident manner is someone who is used to making dreams come true: many claimed he is Michael Schumacher's heir when they saw him win the Italian Grand Prix last year, bringing Scuderia Toro Rosso its first triumph. Now he has been promoted, he is at Red Bull. And his victory shows that that the promotion was more than deserved. But it also proves much more than that, and that is that Brawn GP is beatable. That the diffuser is a competitive advantage, but that this advantage can be bridged by talent and lucidity.
Exactly what Ferrari is lacking at the moment, closing its race with a retirement for Massa and a tenth place for Raikkonen. The counter-evidence is that behind Vettel there is neither Button nor Barichello, only third and fourth respectively, but his teammate Mark Webber. With all the strategies of the eve nullified by a thin and incessant rain, and with visibility reduced to a minimum, the drivers gave life to a spectacular and exciting race, which resulted being more unpredictable than technical.
The first to surrender to the impracticality of the situation was Jarno Trulli, who was literally run over by Kubica, followed by Massa, as his Ferrari gave way releasing in an instant all the questions about the quality of the work produced at Maranello, and Nelson Piquet Jr. But the others also had their difficulties. All except Sebastian Vettel, who drove with the confidence of a veteran and who, in the end, moved the whole garage by whispering a series of endless thank you over the radio to his team, who had worked on the car until dawn on Friday night.
Brawn and Red Bull - the two revelation teams of this year - had adopted different strategies on the eve of the race, but despite this they found themselves in front of everyone, putting on a show from start to finish, passing and overtaking each other to the delight of the wet Chinese public. A clash that ended fifteen laps from the end, when the German, who had just come out of the pits, passed Button, closing the Grand Prix in his favor. The rest was a lonely ride. It has symbolic value that the overtaking took place just as what was left of the Ferrari after Massa's inglorious exit, namely a red car driven by a Finnish shadow, was mortified first by Glock and then by Alonso.
Behind the first four cars, the two McLarens of Kovalainen and Hamilton arrived at the finishing line: the Anglo-German team, relying on two consistent drivers and a single-seater that was unwatchable, but at least correct on track, managed to do what Ferrari wanted to do in its programs, and gained a fifth and sixth place that, at the moment, is worth a lot. Behind, disappointed, Alonso ninth, whose Grand Prix was compromised by the rain, ruining a race strategy from which he had expected much, as well as for Kubica, thirteenth, whose performance was one to forget.
Sebastian Vettel will have heard his nickname, Baby Schumacher, at least a million times over the past twenty-two years in Germany. It is nobody's fault but fate. As well as resembling each other technically and having a splendid relationship, the two have too many things in common to avoid comparison. They were born fifty kilometers apart and completed their first laps at the same kart track in Kerpen, where talent scout Gerhard Noack hung the photo of little Sebastian next to that of his mentor Michael, having discovered them both himself:
"I saw in Vettel the same ambition, the same capacity for self-criticism, the same iron will to improve that Michael had. He will undoubtedly win the World Championship sooner or later".
Like Schumacher, Vettel has a penchant for breaking records. He has broken all sorts. From the first, the most symbolic, being fined €1,000 on his first lap in Formula 1 for speeding in the pit lane, to the most recent, being the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix, the Italian Grand Prix, with a perfect race in a downpour, at only twenty-one years and a handful of days old. The next morning everyone was talking about his future at Ferrari. In the wake of Schumacher, of whom Vettel also has another characteristic: the ability to be adored by those who work with him. At Toro Rosso they almost weep when they think of his voice blowing confused words and indistinguishable thanks over the radio after his triumph at Monza. Red Bull wanted him the year before. Today at Red Bull it is the same. Last night the mechanics worked until 4:00 a.m. to prepare the car for him. And he thanked them by shouting thank you over the radio, in world view.
"I was so happy, I wanted to tell them: enjoy this moment guys, even if I hope you can live through it again this year".
The only difference between Michael and Sebastian is in their character: Vettel is a little more extroverted and, at first glance, more likeable. When talking about his victory, for example, he says:
"It was a very long race, it never ended. Especially when I realized how far behind I was in second place. So, I started to do strange things, I tried to keep up with him so as not to risk it, but I saw that I was getting distracted, so I started to go at my own pace again".
Or as when he confesses his dreams. He has two of them: winning the Formula 1 World Championship and taking porn star Jenna Jameson to dinner. A heavy declaration, given Sebastian's ability to make his dreams come true. Now that every alibi has been dropped, and it is clear that the kers, the Brawn GP diffuser, Bennie Ecclestone, or the FIA had nothing to do with it, now that it is clear that Ferrari is solely responsible for its own downfall, it is almost tender to see Felipe Massa shaking his head as he strolls mournfully in the rain along the Shanghai straight, alongside his unpowered single-seater pushed by five Chinese assistants. But then again, that's the image that best captures the mood of this car that just can't seem to do anything right. Whether it's because of their own inability, most of the time up until now, whether it's because of their opponents, or whether it's just bad luck, it doesn't matter: the men from Maranello continue to be a major disappointment.
This time they had opted for a cautious race strategy: knowing they didn't have a podium-seeking car, the team decided to try and win a few points. Hence, they decided to sacrifice a little performance in qualifying, filling up the tank, in exchange for a pit stop less in the race. A choice that was paying off at least up until halfway through the Grand Prix, given that, at the time of the single seater's breakdown, Massa was third and Raikkonen fifth. Instead, on lap 20, the unthinkable happened. Felipe Massa's single seater, under full acceleration, began to lose power and, a few seconds later, ended up parked at the edge of the track. The Brazilian tried to pull it back onto the track, but there was nothing he could do: the lights on the steering wheel indicated that his race was over, and that his hopes of seeing some points, the first points of the season, were all pointing towards Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finn, just to give a sense of continuity to Ferrari's work, was immediately overtaken by Hamilton, then returned to the pits to make his stop. On the re-entry he was at the back, from where, at the end of a difficult race due to a problem with the accelerator, he was unable to recover: his race virtually ended seventeen laps from the end, when even Glock easily overtook him. Speaking of Force India, Ferrari's only positive note was the accident that happened to Sutil five laps from the end: the German driver was sixth at the time, so if Force India had finished the race in the points they would have overtaken Ferrari in the constructors' standings, leaving them alone in last position, with zero points. Nonetheless, Felipe Massa is trying not to be despondent.
"It's a moment when we all have to stick together and believe in our work. In this moment, when I could be angry with the team, I say that it is also my fault, and that we must not waste time making controversy. We have to get back to working hard, I am convinced we will get out of this crisis".
Raikkonen looks forward to Barcelona, hoping to see a different car, with several updates:
"Today the car was not so bad. The situation should improve in Barcelona, where we will race on 10 May. In the next race the aim is to score some points".
Alibis crumble under the water in Shanghai. And Ferrari finds itself naked, with its wrong car, its mental confusion, and its ranking: three Grands Prix, still with zero points, like Force India. Stefano Domenicali, team principal of Scuderia Ferrari, raises his arms. And for the first time the shadow of surrender appears. The last time Ferrari went so badly was in 1981, with Pironi and Villeneuve at the wheel of the Maranello car.
"It hurts. And it hurts twice as much if we consider that Massa was going even faster than Vettel's Red Bull when the car stopped due to an electronic software problem. Felipe had a lot more petrol: he would definitely have gone on the podium. All we can do is appeal to the culture of work, unite, compact and go without panic. Red Bull's victory? I don't know if it hurts us because it shows that you can win without diffuser and kers, or if it gives us relief because it shows that Brawn GP have not already won the World Championship. Now we have to tighten up: in Bahrain we should have the kers back, then in Spain we'll bring the new car. Fortunately, in this F1, it seems that things change very quickly".
The significance of the planned changes is explained by Raikkonen:
"Our single-seater has no downforce. It's well balanced and it drives well, but it doesn't allow you to be fast in the corners. The double diffuser can make a difference".
Talking about today's race, the Finn explains it like this:
"At the start I wasn't even going that badly. Then I had a few engine problems, but they sorted themselves out, and in the end I just didn't have any grip on the ground".
He spent Sunday at the mercy of his rivals, to finish tenth. The man who could have saved the day for the Scuderia was Massa. He had started behind and with a lot of fuel but had gained many positions and, at the time of the mechanical failure, he was third.
"I was fast, and the car was responding. Then I had a problem with the accelerator: I pushed but nothing happened; I'm very sorry".
The Brazilian feels the delicate moment and tries to take charge of the team:
"It doesn't matter who did wrong. It would be easy now to point the finger at someone, but no, this is not the moment. I am very motivated, and I want to solve the problems by working with the rest of the team. We have to be united as a family".
A family that also includes the fans, to whom Felipe turns:
"Keep supporting us with passion, we will prove that we deserve it".
Felipe Massa's thoughts are online on the Ferrari website, where in the days following the Chinese Grand Prix the Brazilian gives his version of events. In reality, as obvious a consideration as it may be, it is easy to be more competitive than a single-seater that breaks down in the course of a race. Massa explains in detail what is happening to the team, and what they plan to do in Maranello to get out of this terrible crisis. A crisis that not even Schumacher's expensive advice seems to solve.
"The days of relax after each race talking about winning and being on the podium seem to belong to a very distant time, and honestly, right now, talking about each race has become more of a pain than a pleasure. But I haven't lost hope, there have been moments of light in the dark and wet weekend in China".
The Brazilian's comeback would undoubtedly have ended on the podium without the issue at the accelerator: the car expressed a solid performance. And it is in fact to this that the Brazilian driver refers.
"In Shanghai, once again, we were not competitive enough and we took the decision to run without the kers, which could have created problems, but in the rain on Sunday we went very strong. I was able to make up several positions, and I was able to have a similar pace to the guys in front. That was the positive side, but on the negative side, once again we had reliability problems, and I couldn't finish the race. Once back at the factory, we continued to work hard to overcome that problem. The electrical system failure forced me to finish the race at the side of the track; it was, once again, something that had never happened before. It has to be said that at the moment luck is not on our side, since it was a small and stupid problem that caused the single-seater to stop, a simple error in reading the data that told the control unit to block the accelerator. So, even though there wasn't any particular problem, the car's computer decided to block the throttle and I had to park".
He then continues:
"After the Malaysian Grand Prix we restructured the team, with Chris Dyer, our chief engineer, having absolute more responsibility. He is now trackside, and he did well in China. Chris is very calm and patient when it comes to making decisions. Although, actually, once we decided to make a pit stop during the race, there weren't many other decisions to be made about my car. So it's still too early to say whether the team's new set-up will work, and we'll have to wait and see what happens in more complex race conditions. I'm sure Chris will do a great job. Because of the problems we had in Malaysia we decided not to use the kers, and considering that we raced in the rain, it had less of an impact on our performance than it would have in dry conditions. But even in the rain, the kers could have been useful, especially on the straights. At the time of writing, a big part of the work has been on developing the system, starting with the Sepang race, so hopefully it will help us in the next race".
He then concludes, saying:
"At the moment I'm in Dubai, and tomorrow - maybe - I'll pay a visit to Abu Dhabi to attend some events organized by Mudabala and Etihad, before arriving in Bahrain on Wednesday night. I've always done well at the Sakhir circuit, where I won the last two editions of the race, so I really hope it's a good precedent".
But now, what will really happen? And what chance does Ferrari have of becoming competitive again?
"In more practical terms, we did the winter testing here and the car behaved quite well; the tires seem to fit well with the package we had. I really expect to be more competitive, especially if we use the kers, which should build an advantage on this track. I hope that, in the end, we can make life difficult for the other teams, and fight for a good result. I'm very motivated, despite the difficult times I've been through so far. But changes will come sooner or later and if everything goes well, they will start this weekend. It should be warmer than we are used to, but I don't think it will be a big problem to deal with".
Meanwhile, in China, the winners eat bananas, dance until dawn with their heads adorned with taurine horns, drink energy drinks instead of wine, and fire people. We are referring to the Red Bull Racing team, who is dominating Formula 1 - the same team that, on Sunday, during the award ceremony, heard the Chinese direction playing the English anthem instead of the Austrian one. In the paddock, their tents were always far away from the top positions, so Red Bull mechanics could at best hear the party hymns of other teams. But the forces on the field are changing in Formula 1. Brawn GP has 36 points in the standings, Red Bull 19.5 points, Toyota 18.5 points, McLaren 8 points, Renault 4 points, Ferrari 0 points. Flavio Briatore is right: looking at the classification, one wonders what happened.
The fact is that, while the big teams were busy with their legal wrangling, Red Bull's engineers took advantage of the opportunity offered to them by the global economic crisis. They worked better and are now the strongest. This is how Red Bull Racing's Chinese triumph began. In view of the air of revolution, Christian Horner won the best young driver, decided to invest everything in the new single seater, and turned to one of the most brilliant designers, Adrian Newey. An engineer who historically designs extreme single seaters: no gadgets, no kers or diffusers. Just a perfect, sharp line. Christian Horner shouts at the Red Bull party, where horned helmets can be seen:
"Now we're going to fit the speakers and we'll have no limits".
Take the story of Ross Brawn: Ferrari's former technical director has turned the financial drama that forced Honda out into a competitive advantage. So, while with his left hand he was preparing a company re-launch plan with 270 job cuts out of a total of 700, with his right hand he was giving the go-ahead to have the infamous twin diffusers designed. Toyota also took advantage of the crisis: the engineer who had invented the double bottom was fired by Honda, but when he arrived in Cologne he explained his idea and the new boss, who shared it with Williams, gave him a big raise.
Now the Japanese manufacturer will cut 250 jobs places, but in the meantime it's competitive on track. At Maranello, meanwhile, the promise of eternal love between Ferrari and Michael Schumacher is also in danger of being broken by the storm. The doubts and frowns that have been accompanying the German at every appearance at the race wall for some time now, have increased out of all proportion since Australia and took on an explicit character on Sunday afternoon. After the umpteenth embarrassment, Schumacher went in front of the German televisions and fired off a sentence with the flavor of a verdict:
"Ferrari must consider giving up on the 2009 season and concentrate on the next one".
The meaning Ferrari must give up was cleared to everyone, so much so that a few reporters went to Ferrari’s team principal Stefano Domenicali to ask for explanations, obtaining only an interlocutory.
"We will evaluate what to do when we get to Spain".
A very honest answer, which also brings unexpected news in the world of motorsport. Ferrari does not rule out giving up in order to prepare the 2010 single-seater. Schumacher's statement bounced around the internet and the newspapers, and obviously no one was happy about it. Michael has been a consultant to Scuderia Ferrari in Maranello since 2006. And you don't expect a consultant to go around the TV stations spouting embarrassing opinions on the team's future strategies. The truth is that the relationship between the two parties has definitely frayed in recent times. The role of the champion in the team has never been clear, being something between technical advisor and image man. Only with the new Formula 1 rules, a technical advisor is decisive. After the first defeat, Stefano Domenicali had made a call to the team.
"Everyone must take responsibility".
The Ferrari team principal had said this, making a fairly explicit reference to those who, at the time they were called upon to decide, had allowed themselves to be conditioned by third-party indications. Everyone immediately thought of an excessive influence exerted by the German on some member of the team, and in the days that followed a change was made that saw the immediate repatriation of Luca Baldisserri, the man in charge of strategies. Asked specifically, Domenicali said:
"I don't want to answer that, it's an internal management issue that at this point we have to review in a different way and that we will address at home during the week, because it's important".
Very important: the contract that binds Schumacher to Ferrari is worth several million euros, reportedly €5.000.000. And, in times of crisis, there must be a very good reason to spend that much. In this regard, his agent, Willi Weber, says:
"Michael Schumacher's contract expires at the end of 2009. But I don't know if it will be renewed".
In the meantime, some are already betting on the German driver's next destination. Brawn GP seems to be waiting for him.
"We have enough experience to know how to win".
Jenson Button exclaims. But Ross Brawn, an old friend of Michael's, may not think so. Deep red, disaster, crisis never seen before: these are the headlines of newspapers and websites, which, however serious, are really nothing compared to what circulates on blogs around the world, where the accusations are much heavier. And the tone is much more heated. To sum up, what the fans are saying is this: kick everyone out of the team, rebuild the car and immediately replace Massa and Raikkonen. The fans, as you know, never like half measures, but would the cure to get Ferrari back to winning be really that drastic? Let's go step by step and examine the problems. Let's start with the drivers: Massa and Raikkonen continue to make too many mistakes.
In China, both of them went off the track during the first few laps. The track was flooded, but it was under the safety car regime. And only one other driver was capable of such a mistake: Sutil, who eventually lost a historic points position for Force India in an attempt to resist Hamilton's attacks. Not only that: Raikkonen was overtaken three times by Hamilton. But if the drivers can be discussed at length, and both of them contributed to winning the Constructors' Championship last year, what is more worrying is the situation of the single-seater which, kers or not, not only does not show the hoped-for performance, but also lacks grip, and above all is not reliable.
It is hard to say that at Maranello, they will succeed in the long-awaited turnaround of which they are capable, but it's out of question that something might happen at the next Bahrain or Spanish Grand Prix, because it is impossible for the single-seater to change as radically as it would need to between transfers and tests. Therefore, the first possibilities for Ferrari are only the Monaco Grand Prix, the sixth round of a season made up of seventeen races. In short, there is the risk that until then it will only be possible for Ferrari to win a few points and no podiums. This is the real disaster: the season would inevitably be compromised.
Ferrari, therefore, is clinging to the short classification. The start was the most disastrous of the Montezemolo era: three races and zero points. To find a similar ordeal, we must go back to 1981. But, at the end of the day, in case of an immediate revival, Brawn GP is not so far away: 36 points, two one-two wins and Button who has only two victories of advantage with fourteen Grands Prix still to run. The problem is that the Ferrari crisis risks dragging on in Bahrain as well, given that the single seaters will be the same as the ones that raced in China, and they will mount the kers to increase the straight-line power, but with the risk of deteriorating the tires.
Perhaps for this Ferrari, slow and inferior to many rivals, the chase for the title is not over; perhaps, with the arrival of the new diffuser, it will be able to start its comeback. But it certainly needs to be dismantled, filing away all the mistakes, and rebuilt with the painstaking precision of past years, the mastery, design, development, pit work and race management that in the last thirteen years has always led to fight for the title, both for drivers like Schumacher, Irvine, Raikkonen and Massa, and for constructors.
A team that has the strength to start from scratch. Not in the design: nothing can be done about that now. If the single-seater was designed wrong, the team might as well begin thinking about 2010. Not even as far as development is concerned because, from this year onwards, testing (often Ferrari's trump card during previous championships) will be banned; but at least in the choices to be made. At the moment, a feeling of confusion prevails. Certainly, the change in regulations is a determining factor, along with the robust cut in aerodynamics, given that, from the words of the drivers, the single seater seems to be stable and drivable, but it is not aggressive and struggles in corners.
As must have worried the kers - a weapon that many rivals have immediately abandoned with the result of neglecting some important details -, another determining factor in reliability. The absence of kers in China proved to be of no difference. Then we come to the diffuser: Ferrari's reactivity was proverbial. This time, however, it lingered, thinking more about the legal battle with Brawn GP than the debut of this aerodynamic innovation. Now it must start working immediately, otherwise the World Championship will be definitively lost. Finally, the pressure in the pits must be better managed. When you're chasing, every mistake is lethal. The group on track has been revolutionized, and a task force has been created in the factory: the hope is that they will now come back winning.