The dispute over the budget ceiling and the proposed two-speed World Championship wanted by Max Mosley has not subsided. On Wednesday, April 29, 2009, Luca Montezemolo wasn't present at the World Council meeting, nor was Stefano Domenicali, who represents the Formula 1 teams. Chairman Mosley, with only one dissenting vote from Italian Gino Macaruso, insisted, proposing a slightly higher budget cap of 40.000.000 pounds, still an afterthought, compared to the 400.000.000 euros spent by the top teams, and technical concessions to virtuous teams opposed to strict regulations for those who overspend. Rules that Scuderia Ferrari, like the other major teams, cannot accept. Coincidentally, while the meeting was taking place on Wednesday, it became known that Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo will be kicking off the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A clear message: if it comes to a breakup, the Maranello team can say goodbye to Formula 1, taking McLaren, Toyota, Renault and Bmw with it.
More than a polemic, it is trench warfare. With mortar rounds flying from one side to the other and each time leaving more and more elements of rancor in the field. One name of which is enough to think of what he has succeeded in doing and of the value he has, Ross Dennis, the former McLaren boss who sacrificed himself on the altar of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley for the salvation of his team, retiring from Formula 1 after a career that was nothing short of brilliant. Ron Dennis forgotten, and rather quickly too, the war is now going on more bloody than ever, which sees on one side Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley entrenched in defending their economic and political positions, and on the other, compact, the teams, or rather, the big teams, united under the acronym FOTA and led by Ferrari and its president Luca Montezemolo. A no-holds-barred war that declines from time to time, in different ways depending on the emergency of the moment actually has a single triggering motive: the sharing of economic revenues from the great spectacle of Formula 1. The Maranello team and its leader are officially public enemy number one; they always have been, actually, but in a decidedly more nuanced way. The level of confrontation is very high, as is evident from Max Mosley's statements:
"Formula 1 can survive without Ferrari".
A direct and violent response to the numerous, albeit never explicit, threats of splitting made in the press in previous days from Maranello. The bone of contention, at least the official one, is related to the forced introduction of the budget cap, stubbornly wanted by Max Mosley. From next year, the FIA president has decided, one must stay under 40.000.000 pounds. Those who manage to do so will have incredible facilities, from a sporting and regulatory point of view; those who do not will have to run under strict adherence to the restrictive rules in force this year. A choice that in fact creates two categories within the same competition. And which has been opposed in every possible way by FOTA, albeit in a less than united manner. In recent days Ferrari has launched a dense campaign of opposition, sending Luca Montezemolo and Stefano Domenicali to inaugurate the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a gesture with more than explicit symbolic content: beware, Formula 1 is not the only sporting event in which Ferrari can direct its investments. And, at the same time, a letter was sent to Mosley. Montezemolo writes:
"The new rules should be substantially revised".
The risk is that of an unfair and split championship. The budget cap is, according to Montezemolo, a mechanism that creates confusion among the public and lowers the value of Formula 1. Among the Ferrari president's and FOTA president's criticisms, one concerns timing too, while another concerns enforceability: it will be impossible to control the actual application of the budget cap, and how. According to the Concorde Agreement, no regulatory change of this magnitude can be made without the prior agreement of the teams. FIA president Max Mosley's response to Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo's words is firm and rather polemical.
"The teams knew about the introduction of the budget cap for weeks, and Ferrari chose not to discuss it with us".
Writes, in turn, the British lawyer in a letter, in which he explains the meaning of his project:
"Financial services and the automotive industry are our main forms of livelihood. And both are in crisis. We can't just sit back and wait, hoping nothing bad will happen... We already know that the costs of Formula 1 at the moment are unsustainable, and if we want to avoid the collapse of the system, we have to allow other teams in".
Reducing costs is the only way to make this happen. An explanation that didn't convince the president of Ferrari at all, who in a statement, again explained his position.
"Regarding the future of Formula 1, Ferrari reaffirms its strong commitment and sense of responsibility to keep the values of the sport intact. The only team to have participated uninterruptedly in all editions of the World Championship since 1950, Ferrari is convinced that this discipline must preserve its characteristics of advanced research of technological and sporting competition dea its competitors. Together with all the teams within FOTA, the need for substantial cost reductions as early as this year, the indispensability and gradual rebalancing between costs and revenues over the next two to three years has long been shared. All this, in order to allow the current protagonists to remain in this competition and encourage the entry of new teams. This is the position that Ferrari reaffirms today in the interest of Formula 1, without seeking easy polemics that are useless and harmful to all the protagonists of the sport".
A significant statement, not least because the references to Ferrari's importance in Formula 1 sports could be read as threatening. Though certainly less so than the reaction of Max Mosley, who explains in an interview how Ferrari's farewell to Formula 1, is hardly sad news for him. A kind of calculated risk. Nothing more.
"I would be sad if Ferrari left. It would be very sad, because it is the Italian national team, but in the end the sport survives anyway".
Ultimately, after getting rid of Ron Dennis and reducing the glorious McLaren to a pile of rubble, the FIA president has put Ferrari and its chairman Luca Montezemolo in his sights. The personalization of the clash is clear, as in a public letter, the FIA president quoted some words expressed by Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne in support of his arguments. Getting rid of the Maranello team and its president would be just one phrase in a much more complex strategy, which would aim to get the big car manufacturers out of the picture and turn Formula 1 back thirty years, to the 1970s, the years of the garagistas. Times considered mythical by a handful of hardcore fans, but little regretted by the rest of the circus. A return of Formula 1 to the garage days would mean the immediate farewell of the big constructors, Ferrari, Renault, Bmw, Toyota and McLaren-Mercedes, and the automatic contraction of the entire business. And this is precisely the weak point of Max Mosley's sketchy maneuver. Because it is hard to imagine that Bernie Ecclestone would look favorably on such a downsizing of the Formula 1 product. The next move, however, is up to the teams meeting in London. Their asserted compactness has been put in jeopardy by this start of the season and the maneuvers of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley.
FOTA, the association of teams, appears therefore to be split into three currents, at least apparently: there are the big guys who represent the hard line, partly because Max Mosley, as he did in March with the new score, has made serious procedural errors: then there are the small teams, which look favorably on Max Mosley's ideas, led by Williams, considered the fifth pillar of the institutions, behind Brawn GP and Force India, whose owner is ready to do anything to bring Formula 1 to Mumbai; and finally Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, which seem undecided. The goal of Luca Montezemolo and Ferrari, which never more than in these hours is regretting not having given Max Mosley a shove at the time of the erotic scandal involving the FIA president, is to try to recompose the front of the teams in London. A precondition for trying to force Mosley to retrace his steps once again, and then to sit around a table, to rewrite clear and stable rules together. There is no shortage of arguments, starting with the main one: the exit from the scene of the most famous brands would impoverish the whole system, with the related flight of televisions and sponsors. Therefore, some optimism is still warranted. But London's is likely to be the last chance to resolve this thorny issue.
"I will not allow Mosley to destroy Ferrari".
Surprisingly, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009, Bernie Ecclestone intervenes and admonishes the FIA president, concerning the latest statements riased. The positions are not so far apart, the compromise possible, says the British manager, hinting at a possible rise in spending. In Bernie Ecclestone's opinion, it seems that everyone is in favor of a fixed budget, including Ferrari. If an agreement could be reached, however.
"There are concerns about the budget limit and the risk of a split championship. These aren't unsolvable problems".
Says Bernie Ecclestone, not ruling out the possibility of raising the budget cap.
"The problem with Max is that he can't, as in the past, wrap things up with a pink ribbon. He puts things in a cardboard box and closes it with string".
The British manager continued, referring to the FIA president's far too direct ways. If Mosley were to take action against Scuderia Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone would be ready to intervene. There is room, because also for a comment on the conduct of president Luca Montezemolo:
"The problem with Luca is that you should not allow Max to start a debate or an argument. He is sly, you cannot win. And even if you win, you find yourself in the audience without a microphone: you then say something intelligent, but I don't give you the microphone, it's simple".
As the discussions continue, the Formula 1 Circus lands in Montmelò, at the Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona, to hold its first Grand Prix in Europe, an important junction for the continuation of a season that has seen the winning debut of the newly formed Brawn GP team and Jenson Button, winner of three Grand Prix and leader of a drivers' classification that sees the protagonists of recent years, namely Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, far behind. Kimi Raikkonen, World Champion in 2007, won his first points for Scuderia Ferrari in Bahrain, and now arrives at the Spanish race with the desire and hope that the changes made to the F60 will make the Maranello car more competitive. The Finnish driver hasn't won a race in exactly one year. In fact, his last success was last season in 2008, in Spain, preceding his teammate, Felipe Massa, and Lewis Hamilton.
"It has been just over a year since my last victory in Formula 1. In 2008 right in Barcelona I had one of my best weekends with Ferrari: pole, win and fastest lap in the race. Since then, other times I have come very close to success. I think of Magny-Cours, Montreal and Spa but, for one reason or another, I never succeeded. However, a driver doesn't lose the taste for victory and I want to try it again as soon as possible. After four races away from Europe, it is always nice to start the season on the old continent. Also, I really like the Circuit de Catalunya, partly because I have already had two successes here. I was pleased to hear from the team that the first indications about the new aerodynamic package are positive. It will be interesting to test the car as early as Friday morning free practice. Last March we already lapped on this track, but it is always difficult to tell from testing that it really goes fast: besides, so many single-seaters have changed a lot since then. With the new aerodynamics we will have more load than in the first races, but almost everyone else will also have updates: we will have to see who will have worked better".
He then continues:
"On the Circuit de Catalunya, aerodynamic efficiency is crucial to make the time. It's a very technically demanding track and you have to have a good single-seater to be competitive. It will be important to do a good qualifying to avoid being in the middle of the pack with all the risks that this entails at the start, to avoid repeating what happened in Bahrain. Overtaking has never been easy here, and now we will see if the KERS can help to make it easier. On a track like this it could make a difference, especially at the start. So far we have picked up just three points. Sixth place in Bahrain is a decent result but now we should aspire to something more. I spent these vacation days in Switzerland, at my home. I have been training and following the Ice Hockey Championship which is being held right in my Finland. On Monday night we played very well and managed to beat Canada: this game showed once again that you should never give up until the last minute and that is what we do that we in Ferrari".
Kimi Raikkonen's teammate Felipe Massa is also seeking redemption. The Brazilian Ferrari driver hopes to turn things around starting with the Spanish Grand Prix:
"For Barcelona I hope well, we have to improve the single-seater and start the championship again in the best way. I am a driver, this is my life and I want to win, but to do that we have to work because things do not come by themselves. The team is united, we have full confidence".
The Ferrari F60 is a completely new car: chassis, suspension, rear diffuser. The Maranello team is sending a completely new single-seater to the track. It has never happened in the history of Formula 1 to witness such a fast revolution. The miracle happened in a short time, less than a month. In Ferrari, they managed to make a new Formula 1 single-seater to overcome all the problems that the F60 had proven to have. This alone is enough to make one realize the enormous potential of the Maranello team: such a running change of car had never been seen in the more than 100-year history of motor racing. The Ferrari that will debut at the Catalunya circuit is not a revised car with a few additions, but an entirely new model, from the body to the engine, via aerodynamics and suspension. Even on this single-seater there will also be all the extra changes that were originally planned for the races in Turkey and Great Britain.Montezemolo had announced that the technicians were literally working day and night, however, no one imagined that it would be possible to send the fruit of so much night work to the track immediately. Instead, Ferrari amazes: the F60 even has a new body, much lighter than the previous one, so that the KERS can be fitted without any problems and then still have room to be able to place ballast at will and thus vary the set-up of the single-seater.
His chassis will be used on Sunday only by Kimi Raikkonen, who given his size presents more problems than Felipe Massa when it comes to weight, and therefore on his car it is more difficult to fix the KERS without unbalancing the single-seater. Not only that: the double rear diffuser also debuts, promising more downforce and thus greater cornering speed. Also new are the electronic and hydraulic systems: a redesign from scratch that was necessary to make room for the new rear diffuser and to increase the cooling of the KERS, which Ferrari has in any case decided to continue using since-as was proven by alternating tests during the Bahrain trials-the F60 enjoys no advantage in terms of balance when running without it. Among other things, the Catalunya circuit is poorly suited to overtaking and so snapping well - and in this sense the KERS helps a lot - is crucial. Just as it would be crucial to trigger well, but from pole position. And here the doubts arise: how fast will this Ferrari be? Mystery: the single-seater is so new that only on Friday will there be a small chronometric feedback. A little help, however, for its debut will come from the weather, since the temperatures that are expected are much milder than the extreme ones in Bahrain. It is therefore hoped that reliability will not be a problem.
"I am very optimistic, hopefully we can start in Spain with a diverse championship".
The key to this should be the infamous diffusers, i.e., the disputed aerodynamic device developed and pored over by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, which should provide a significant advantage. The problem, however, is that Ferrari adopted this solution in the race, and since the new regulations do not allow on-track testing, but only simulations and straight-line testing, they find themselves using it in the dark, with only a few hours of straight-line testing conducted on Saturday, May 2, 2009, at Fiorano. A decidedly uncomfortable situation, that of Scuderia Ferrari, which faces a kind of ultimatum in Barcelona, in the sense that if the aerodynamic revolution to introduce the diffuser, for which much of the F60 had to be redesigned, does not bring the hoped-for benefits, then the season would be considered definitively over. In these decisive hours, however, there is another thought crowding the heads of Ferrari fans, and it is a thought that in some respects is even more important. For it is that which concerns the future of Formula 1 and, in particular, the clash with Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. On Thursday, May 7, 2009, Maranello team managers fly to London with a single mission: to recompose the team principals to try to put up some resistance to the regulatory and economic drift imposed by the FIA. While Scuderia Ferrari prepares the car for the Spanish Grand Prix, Bmw decides to abandon the KERS in order to concentrate work on the new aerodynamic package with which the two single-seaters will take to the track. This is not just any renunciation: Bmw has been the brand that has pushed more than the others to introduce this device in Formula 1, and now its decision really makes one wonder what the developments of this expensive energy recovery system may be. In any case, Ferrari is moving forward and showing great confidence ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. Reason? Kimi Raikkonen explains.
"We should be in much better shape than those seen in previous races. Hopefully, the gain we have made will be greater than that of others and we can fight for the top positions, where we should be instead of fighting for sixth or seventh place. This is an important race for us, but it isn't a last resort. I am sure that Ferrari will come back, as well as of the fact that we will still be able to win. I could say that we are capable of being in the top four, but there is still a long way to go, and anyone can happen. These changes, starting with the rear slide, should give us 0.4 seconds per lap. I don't know if they will be enough to win the race, but at least we will get closer to the podium".
Felipe Massa doesn't quantify the possible advantage, but he is eager to test the new single-seater.
"I am a fighter and I miss the triumph in a Grand Prix. This weekend I expect a big step forward in terms of performance, although I realize that our rivals will improve as well, so there may remain some gap. I am honest, should we get back in the World Championship race it would be a miracle, but sometimes dreams come true and to give up after five races would be absurd".
The Brazilian driver is also clear about the Formula 1 he would like.
"Less politics and more competition, table wars do not excite me. I don't think a World Championship without Ferrari is possible, but I recognize that the world is in crisis. If it would help save our sport I would be willing to cut my salary".
Bridgestone, the official tire supplier for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, announces the tire specifications that will be used in the upcoming championship races. 2009 is an important year in terms of tire supply in Formula 1, following the technical regulations that proposed the return of slick tires, after eleven seasons of grooved dry tires. Unlike in 2008, the two compounds brought to each race weekend are no longer contiguous, and in addition to a difference in compound consistency and stiffness, there is a variation in the range of use temperatures between the two compounds brought to each Grand Prix. At the Monaco Grand Prix, Bridgestone will bring a new intermediate tire compound and this type will be used for the rest of the season. The new compound is softer than the previous one and is designed to partially compensate for the loss of aerodynamic grip in wet track conditions, in accordance with changes in the single-seater aerodynamic packages for the 2009 season. Both dry specifications will have to be used in each Grand Prix, unless intermediate and wet tires are used. Drivers will then have to find the best compromise to use the potential of both tires. To distinguish the two compounds in each race Bridgestone uses a green stripe placed on the shoulder of the softer compound tire. The green color was chosen to represent Bridgestone's continued support of the FIA-sponsored campaign, Make Cars Green. Hirohide Hamashima, Development Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport, states:
"The criterion for choosing the tires to be used starting with the Monaco Grand Prix is based on the data collected so far, in addition to the knowledge we have of the locations of the upcoming races. For the Monaco race, there is a change in our allocation system in view of the unique configuration of the particularly linear and slippery track: we will carry super soft and soft compound tires. In Monaco we will debut the new intermediate tire that will be used for the rest of the season. It is a softer compound that will provide more grip".
Brawn GP and Williams. It is always the cars that were the first to adopt the diffuser that command the time rankings, at least sticking to the result of Friday's free practice on May 8, 2009, which, however, don't always tell the whole story, or at least hide part of the truth. Jenson Button leads the standings in the morning, taking off, if only by a small margin, the best time of the day. Brawn GP starts well. The white single-seater is again ahead of everyone, even in the first free practice session of the Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth round of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship to be held on Sunday, May 10, 2009, at the Catalan circuit Montmeló. Championship leader Jenson Button posted a time of 1'21"799 with twenty-one laps under his belt, ahead of Jarno Trulli's Toyota, which posted a time of 1'22"154 and completed thirty laps. Third and fourth place for the BMWs, with Robert Kubica (1'22"221) and Nick Heidfeld (1'22"658), respectively. The new aerodynamic package, at least for now, seems to have brought improvements to the performance of Ferrari, which closes the first practice session with the ninth time for Felipe Massa, thanks to a time of 1'22"855 with only fifteen laps completed, and eleventh for Kimi Raikkonen with a time of 1'22"873, with twenty laps under his belt.
Also back were Lewis Hamilton, 14th at more than 1.2 seconds behind Jenson Button, and Fernando Alonso, 17th. The second practice session, in the afternoon could give a little clearer idea - but not too much - about the values on the field. In the afternoon, however, it is the German driver Nico Rosberg, with his Williams-Toyota, who is the fastest in the second practice session. With a time of 1'21"588, the German precedes the Japanese Kazuki Nakajima, his teammate, just 0.152 seconds behind. Third time for the Renault of Spaniard Fernando Alonso with a time of 1'21"781, fourth ahead of Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP with a time of 1'21"843. Behind Webber's Red Bull, the usual Jenson Button shows up, sixth, ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The first Ferrari, that of Kimi Raikkonen, is 10th, with a gap of just over a second. Further back by 0.3 seconds and five positions is Felipe Massa in 15th. Bad again for McLaren-Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton thirteenth, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen. At the end of FP3, Ferrari dominate the last free practice session of the Spanish Grand Prix.
In the hour before and qualifying, the Maranello cars are the fastest, with Felipe Massa posting a convincing time of 1'20"635. Behind, but 0.5 seconds behind, the two Brawn GPs, with World Championship leader Jenson Button third with a time of 1'21"050, and Rubens Barrichello fourth with a time of 1'21"163. Fifth time for Robert Kubica's BMW, 1'21"239, sixth for Jarno Trulli's Toyota, 1'21"256. It is difficult to interpret this apparent exploit, which could be the result of much emptier tanks than the competitor, thus partly untrue. Certainly, the Ferrari's improvement is clear, by more than two seconds, and by a second over the fastest times set on Friday by Brawn GP and Williams. On the other hand, the rival teams also almost all improved their respective performances, suggesting that exactly slow they didn't go. More will be known at the end of qualifying. Raikkonen gets out of the single-seater, takes off his helmet, looks at the monitor. There are still several minutes to go before the end of Q1, he might get back on track for another try, but the Finnish driver is confident and Ferrari's engineers endorse optimism, no need to waste another set of Soft tires. Better to save it, it will come in handy in Q3, when the top ten will be fighting. Instead, that conserved set will be useless, because the time is nowhere near good enough to allow Kimi Raikkonen to enter Q2.
Qualifying on Saturday afternoon was split into three parts. At the end of the first session, Kimi Räikkönen was knocked out from 16th place. He later admitted his fault, believing his first qualifying lap was good enough to secure passage to the next session. Scuderia Ferrari is at it again, making the same mistake it made in Malaysia with Massa. The Finn is eliminated, out of the top fifteen, he has the sixteenth fastest time, he will start on the eighth row, his race is compromised, at best, if one wants to believe in miracles, he can hope to bring home a point if whoever is in front stops, or if the strategy will manage to turn the situation around. His single-seater weighs twenty-seven pounds more than Jenson Button's. The mistake infuriates Stefano Domenicali, the team manager. He promised: certain mistakes should never happen again. Instead, they repeated themselves. Ferrari has struggled so hard to get back into the lead; to hurt itself is unacceptable. In the meeting after qualifying, Scuderia Ferrari's team principal will make himself heard loud and clear. And there are also those who are ready to bet that this episode will exacerbate the tension between the driver and the team. Because it is true that Ferrari, in words, talks about collective guilt but inside the pits it is known that it was Kimi Raikkonen who insisted on this choice. At the same time, some friends of the Finnish pilot make it known how he is beginning to show signs of dissatisfaction with the team.
After all, the mistake comes from afar, and exactly from the Bahrain Grand Prix; in that case, the Scuderia Ferrari did not trust and in the second attempt had sent Raikkonen onto the track, causing him to waste the last set of new Soft tyres, with the result that he had no more in Q3. But it was worse in Barcelona. With Michael Schumacher blameless, as he had just arrived on track, again spectating at the pit wall. Also knocked out were the Force India's of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, and the Toro Rosso of Sébastien Bourdais. The second part of qualifying saw the Toro Rosso of Sébastien Buemi, McLaren's reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, BMW's Heidfeld, Renault's Nelson Piquet, and Williams' Nakajima all fail to progress. Jenson Button claimed pole position in the final part of qualifying, starting his lap just two seconds before the session ended to put in a time of 1'20"527, one tenth quicker than second-placed Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. Button's teammate Rubens Barrichello was third quickest, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Red Bull's Mark Webber in fourth and fifth. Toyota's Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli were sixth and seventh fastest, in front of Renault's Alonso, Rosberg in the Williams, and the BMW of Kubica.
After a start to the season full of bitterness, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa is visibly happy with the leap in quality of his F60 that allowed him to take fourth place at the end of qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix.
"I am absolutely delighted with the improvement of the single-seater. There is a lot to improve, but a leap in quality like this was needed".
The former world champion - who won at Catalunya last year - had a poor first lap in Q1 and then decided against a second run, believing that even his disappointing initial time would be sufficient to reach Q2. But instead he was pushed back to 16th and eliminated from the session.
"I thought that we were going to get through. It was maybe a bit tight on the time, but we didn't want to waste laps. But we didn't get through. It was a silly mistake because the car was much better here than before. But that's how it goes. I wasn't keen to go. I knew that the lap wasn't very good but I that maybe we should get through still. In the end it doesn't matter whose mistake it was, it was just a silly mistake and we paid the price for it. In the morning we were much faster. I just didn't get a very good lap. If I'd done a better lap we wouldn't be in this situation, but it's too late now. The media can blame me if they want, I don't mind. It's a mistake and we can't take it away. We'll just try to do the best job we can tomorrow and try not to do the same at the next race. I'm more disappointed because the car is much stronger here than before and we would have had a good chance to fight for a good position. But we'll try to do the best we can. Of course here it's not very easy to overtake so it all depends on what happens at the start and how the first few laps go. We'll do what we can and hopefully we can still score some points".
With his team-mate Felipe Massa fourth on the grid, Raikkonen believes it is only a matter of time before Ferrari is fighting for victory again.
"We are still a bit behind, I would say, but it's much stronger than it was before. It's more or less what we expected, but other people have also gone forward. It's only the first step, so we can get some more for the next races. After that, for sure we can catch them up even if it takes a little while. If we just look at what happened today, for sure the car now has the potential to score much better results and we're going in the right direction. So we still have a little way to go to catch up to the front guys, but we can catch them and definitely challenge them. I don't know if we can tomorrow or not, but in the later races we can definitely fight for wins, podiums and good positions".
And Chris Dyer concludes:
"We have worked so hard to bring new components here for the F60 and the result of those efforts was confirmed today by Felipe's performance. Unfortunately, we were unable to fully exploit this improvement, because we made a serious mistake in our evaluation of Q1, believing that Kimi's time would have been good enough to get him through to the next stage. It was a serious error which is really regrettable. We will try to make up for it tomorrow in a race which he will start from way down the order. Felipe is on a good strategy and although we wait to see the fuel levels of the other drivers, we can aspire to a podium finish. As usual, reliability will be the number one priority".
This time, that of Felipe Massa, could be real glory. Because not only did he fight with the best, he set the fourth fastest time, won a precious second row, but of the best eight, in terms of petrol load, he is second only to Jarno Trulli, who finished seventh in the Toyota, and with a gap of just half a kilo, while Jenson Button won his third pole of the season, sixth in his career, but with nine kilos less, a sign that he will have to stop at least three laps earlier than the Brazilian Ferrari driver to refuel. The British driver's car is lighter too than that of his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, third on the grid, who in turn has five and a half kilos less fuel than Massa. Young Sebastian Vettel, second in qualifying and proportionally faster than Jenson Button, will start with three and a half kilos less fuel than Felipe Massa's Ferrari. The Brazilian driver seems to be competitive, and seems to have the right tactics to be able to get on the podium.
"You might have thought I was a liar when I claimed on Friday that we had made significant steps forward, but I know that our tank is full and that we have only worked with the race in mind. I realised that our performance has improved and qualifying proved it. I still don't have the car to win, but with this Ferrari you can aim for the podium. We drive well, now the aerodynamic load is right, even better on fast corners, we are more aggressive, the single-seater has gained stability, it no longer creates problems for me under braking. I have to thank the guys in the team, because to improve my Ferrari in this way, they worked day and night. Let's be clear, the story of the diffuser had us displaced, to make up the gap from Brawn GP we needed time, we should have brought the changes to Istanbul on 7 June or at the limit to Monte-Carlo, in a fortnight. Instead we realised we could not wait that long and decided to tighten the schedule, but the effort was enormous. Now, however, our World Championship can begin".
To the point of creating some concern for Button, always fast with his Brawn GP, but not at all happy with the Ferrari rebirth. The Englishman is thinking about the start and the KERS that gives more horsepower to Massa's single-seater on the long main straight.
"It can be very useful here, I'm afraid it could give me a ten-metre gap. I am ahead of him, I hope to take the lead at the first corner. Otherwise the race gets complicated".
Also because despite the Brawn GP has a decidedly superior pace, the Englishman will be forced to stop in the pits first and therefore, if he does not manage to start in the lead, he will not have the chance to get away and create a safety margin for himself. Felipe Massa dreams, Ferrari fans revive, hope is rekindled. But unfortunately, there is also the other side of the coin. Kimi Raikkonen was able to repeat the same mistake he made in Malaysia. He believed his time was good enough to qualify him for Q2, the top fifteen passed, and he got out of the car, deciding not to return to the track. Ferrari argues that the responsibility is collective, that everyone took this decision together. The fact is that the result is that Raikkonen will start sixteenth, on the eighth row. Ferrari were back on top, but Kimi Raikkonen remains at the back and it will be a real challenge to pick up points again in this Grand Prix.
The Finnish driver admits, taking much of the blame. However, the anger remains, which is especially present in Stefano Domenicali, the team manager, who is literally furious at the repeated mistake. The last to overtake him, relegating the Finnish driver to sixteenth position, are Jarno Trulli and Nelson Piquet Jr. But this time it is even worse, because at that very moment Felipe Massa is in the lead, who will then finish fourth. Ferrari has done so much to re-emerge: to hurt itself is unacceptable. The tests say that Brawn Gp is still ahead of everyone, although no longer with the gap of the past, that Ferrari has worked well, at least on the design front, much better than McLaren-Mercedes, which, without any apparent tactical errors, ends the tests far from the top: Heikki Kovalainen goes out at Q1 and will start 18th, Lewis Hamilton does little better, he holds out until Q2, but then closes sadly in 14th position. The real anti-Brawn GP remains Sebastian Vettel, who will start from the front row and is second in the world championship standings. The German driver is the only one to have won a Grand Prix, apart from Jenson Button. For the 21-year-old German driver, and for Red Bull Racing, which has interpreted the new regulations in a classic manner, as Ferrari and McLaren had initially done, it is a great result.
At the end of qualifying, Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn congratulated his driver, Jenson Button, who also took pole position in Barcelona:
"Congratulations to Jenson for his third pole position of the season and another great job from Rubens to secure third place. After some hard work from the team overnight, we were able to resolve the issues which Jenson encountered with our upgrade package yesterday and were greatly helped in that process by the input from Rubens. The developments on the car have enabled us to make good progress over the weekend and whilst we are still to fully maximise their impact on performance, the signs are encouraging. Rubens was very quick in the first two sessions on low fuel today with Jenson having the edge on the heavier fuel loads in Q3. Today's result puts us in a good position and we look forward to a very exciting race".
Although Jenson Button grabbed a brilliant pole position for Sunday's race at the Circuit de Catalunya, the host of upgrades all teams introduced for this event have left Brawn in little doubt that the Briton and team-mate Rubens Barrichello are set to face an increasingly tough challenge for victory. Brawn is delighted that the package his team introduced for Barcelona, worth at least four tenths of a second, has kept his outfit fighting at the front of the field. However, he concedes that things are closing up - and his team will need another step forward soon to respond to the efforts of its rivals.
"You tend to react to what is going on. We were fortunate enough to set the bar, and then everyone has come up to it. I am sure someone will exceed it, and then we are going to have to respond. That is the nature of Formula 1, and there are different things that drive you along. So obviously I am very pleased that on a circuit like this, which tends to be a good judge on the performance of cars, that we are still competitive. I think if you look at where we are quick here, then Monaco I am quite looking forward to. But we are going to need another step going into the middle of the season, because it is all happening very rapidly".
Brawn is confident that more time can be eked out of the BGP001 in its current guise, and he also thinks world championship leader Button is excelling now he has a car capable of fighting for wins.
"It is the belief and confidence and all the things you get when things come together. I am sure that is giving him a push as well".
Rubens Barrichello, third at the end of qualifying, comments:
"We have had a really good weekend so far here in Spain and I'm happy to be starting from third position on the grid tomorrow. Of course it is a little disappointing not to be on pole after a great Q2 however my final lap in Q3 was good. We may have gone out slightly too early for the final run and missed an opportunity there. However I'm happy with our strategy and we are well placed for the race. We will need to get off the line cleanly and stay ahead of the Ferrari down to the first corner to make the most of our potential".
The Brawn GP driver, Jenson Button, left it very late in the session to score his third pole in five races, and the sixth of his Formula 1 career. Button left the pits with just enough time to complete his out lap, crossing the finish line to start his last run with just two seconds left. The Briton admitted his team had got lucky.
"It could have gone very, very wrong. We timed it quite well but I had Kubica who I thought was on an out lap and I had to let him past. The guys said you had four seconds less than a proper lap time to get across the line in time. I got across the line just with a couple of seconds to spare - it was more luck than judgement. It was the best lap of my weekend. I had been having some trouble with this guy low fuel but I got the lap on the high fuel. I am very happy and it is a bit of a surprise in a way, when I heard Shov's voice on the radio it felt pretty good. But I am not sure it is an amazing advantage being on pole by half a tenth. This package is a step forward. We still need to work with it a bit more, we haven't got the maximum out of it, hope we haven't anyway, but everyone at Brackley should he happy with what we've done. Over the weekend we tried lots of things and were happy with the direction. I am happy with performance. I don't know what lap Seb is stopping on, but it will be a nice feeling to be back here. The last two races I wasn't near the press conference. It's a good position to start from tomorrow. The Ferrari was surprisingly quick in Q2 and they have KERS. I am excited and didn't think I would be in this position".
The reigning champion Lewis Hamilton could manage no better than 14th on the grid for this afternoon's race at the Circuit de Catalunya and, with Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing looking set to extend their points advantage, Hamilton's hopes of a back-to-back crown appear to be slipping. However, despite not having seen the kind of progress he had hoped for in Spain, Hamilton is not too downbeat about the situation he had found himself in.
"I think we understood our position and we knew here that we would not have a big upgrade, so it is not a huge surprise to us. We think about the Barcelona test we had here and we were 2.5-3 seconds off, so to be now eight tenths - we knew this could happen. It is no surprise to us, and for the race we will just do the best job we can".
When asked specifically about his title hopes, Hamilton said:
"I think it is difficult to say. Here we have to see how many points we can get, but the title is never over until it's over. As we've seen in the last few years it can go down to the last race".
Despite McLaren's worst qualifying performance of the year, Hamilton's teammate Heikki Kovalainen was sure that the high speed characteristics of the Barcelona circuit were punishing the team's car more than normal.
"I think for sure Bahrain flattered us a little bit, but everybody has some upgrades for this race and we've had upgrades since the beginning of the season. We've been improving our car since the last test here by about two seconds per lap. Everyone is going a bit slower now than they were at the tests whereas we are going quicker than the test, so we have improved a bit - but it is not enough yet. We need to keep working in the same direction".
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren-Mercedes team principal, says:
"We knew in advance that this was going to be a particularly difficult circuit for us and today proved that. Let's not forget that only eight weeks ago we were more than 2.5s off the pace - during qualifying today, Lewis was only three tenths off second place in Q1 and eight tenths off the front in Q2. While that's still disappointing, it's nonetheless a significant step up from where we were back in early March - and at a track that we knew would challenge the deficiencies in our car. However, the first four races have demonstrated that we have two very determined racing drivers in our team: they have battled against the odds in the first four races and we have every faith that they will make the most of tomorrow as well".
Norbert Haug, vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, concludes:
"Lewis in 14th and Heikki in 18th place is obviously a very disappointing result today. On the positive side, we closed the gap to the quickest car from 2.5s per lap at the last test two months ago before the season stared when we were dead last, to a little less than one second today. We knew that the fast corners of this circuit would highlight the shortcomings of MP4-24, which is mainly a lack of overall downforce. It took us two months to cut our deficit in half - our aim now has to be to be fighting for race wins within the next two months".
The Red Bull Racing driver was beaten by Brawn GP rival Jenson Button, who put on superb last-gasp effort to emerge on top just when it looked pole belonged to Vettel. The German said second place was great nonetheless.
"We have a very strong car and also this weekend it seems to work pretty well, so I am pleased with that. In the first run in Q2 I felt pretty comfortable. I thought that lap time was good but not good enough to beat Jenson. I wished to have the pole, but at the last minute he took it away. Second position is great. We had a good recovery from yesterday where we were struggling. We fixed it and from this morning we did another adjustment of car which seemed to work. We only needed one run in Q1 on the hard tyre and one run in Q2 with soft tyre. So a great job and compliments to the whole crew because some of the parts arrived at the last minute".
Vettel admitted he was surprised to be Button emerge on top, after the Briton had been slower in the first two sectors of his lap.
"It was a great effort from Jenson, he is doing a great job and deserves to be there, it came as a surprise. I had a good lap. It may have been a bit early on the track and that is the only missed opportunity. The lap was good, well within the limits. We have a good car for the race. I am still fighting, Jenson is really doing well this minute and I just have to try harder to try and get him".
Mark Webber ends qualifying with the fifth fastest time:
"That was a bit disappointing. I would like to have done a slightly better job in Q3 and I could have done it. Q2 was good, but that's not the most important session. We're fifth, so let's see what we can do from there tomorrow. Thanks to the guys at Red Bull, they've done another good job this weekend".
Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal, says:
"A very exciting qualifying session - ultimately it was really tight between Jenson (Button) and Sebastian. We believe we have a good strategy for tomorrow so we wait with interest for the fuel levels, but the performance in Q1 and Q2 was extremely impressive. Mark's performance in particular in Q2 was very strong, which is also encouraging for tomorrow".
And Fabrice Lom, Renault Principal Engineer Track Support, concludes:
"It's a good result today and the car was very quick in Q1 and Q2. Now, we need to wait to get the weights of the cars to see if we are very happy or just happy! Tomorrow's race will be tough I think. There was a question mark over where the car would be with all the updates that we bought here, but we are still at the front so we can be positive for the rest of the season".
Although rival outfits have not joined Toyota's public confirmation that they will not lodge an entry to next year's championship by this month's deadline unless the rules are changed, there is intense debate going on behind closed doors. Members of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) held a two-hour meeting in the Toyota motorhome at Barcelona on Sunday morning, and it is expected that the teams will meet again next week to discuss their next plan of action. Speaking about the situation going forward following this week's two FOTA meetings, Whitmarsh said:
"I think we are at a critical time for Formula 1. FOTA has made a lot of progress, you never make as much progress as you want in these situations. I think that was the case this week, and we've got to continue to work together. It is inherently healthy and right for Formula 1 that for the first time in the history of Formula 1, the teams are sitting down and having sensible conversations about the health and wellbeing of our sport. There is a lot of challenge there and we have to continue to press".
Whitmarsh felt that Toyota's confirmation about its intention for the 2010 entry was not helpful to the situation, however, as the teams and the FIA seek a solution to the current dispute.
"I think we will keep our opinions to ourselves. I think really making those sorts of comments probably isn't helpful. What Formula 1 needs is a good sense coming together, and working together. I think there is enough challenge in Formula 1 without us creating other problems for the sport. Clearly as is normal in life, there are a range of opinions, and the teams should be able to discuss that privately amongst themselves and engage in constructive conversations with the FIA. Holding that discussion via the media is not right the quite way for us to get a good outcome".
Whitmarsh was not the only team principal keen to keep the matter behind closed doors. When asked about his team's situation regarding an entry for 2010, BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen said:
"Our position is to talk about it within FOTA next week and then to announce what we do. We operate with one now, and it is the one that the shareholders give me to go motor racing. Anyone who says they are not operating a budget cap is operating in an artificial world. There is a cap on what we can spend going motor racing. So the concept isn't foreign to any of us. At the moment F1 has to recognise the real challenges, even if you are part of a team that is facing a less of a fiscal challenge. It is important that we keep ten teams or more in Formula 1".
Sunday 10 May 2009, at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello makes a good start from third on the grid and takes the lead at the first corner. Jenson Button is second, while the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, equipped with KERS, manages to gain a position from the start and takes third place ahead of Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. An accident on the first lap of the race causes Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and both Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers to retire. There followed four laps behind the Safety Car as marshals removed debris from the track, after Nico Rosberg made a mistake in Turn 2, forcing Trulli into the gravel, where the Italian driver lost control of the car and flipped onto the track, hitting Sutil. Sébastien Buemi and Sébastien Bourdais come into contact, as the Swiss driver brakes sharply to avoid Trulli and Bourdais, but crashes into his teammate. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton was forced off the track on the grass at the start by Nelson Piquet and ended up at the back of the grid, avoiding being involved in the incidents that broke out in front of him.
Shortly after the entry of the Safety Car and the restart of the race, Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren-Mercedes stopped on lap seven due to a gearbox failure, forcing the Finnish driver to retire. Meanwhile Rubens Barrichello lapped Jenson Button consistently throughout the first part of the race. After the first series of pit stops, it is clear that Barrichello is adopting a three-stop strategy, while Jenson Button and the other leading drivers will make two stops. Barrichello, however, fails to create a sufficient gap to the chasing pack before making his second pit stop, and therefore loses the lead to Button. After all the other drivers made at least one pit stop, Barrichello found himself behind Felipe Massa, third, and Sebastian Vettel, fourth. At the end of the final pit-stop lap, Button was first, while Barrichello climbed to second and Mark Webber took third, thanks to a long second stint the Red Bull had chosen to get back on track ahead of Felipe Massa's slower Ferrari. Button had initially adopted the same three-stop strategy as Barrichello, but switched to a two-stop strategy to avoid coming out of the pits behind Nico Rosberg's Williams. Ferrari's problems continued when Kimi Räikkönen suffered a hydraulic failure on his car, causing him to retire on lap 17.
Meanwhile Felipe Massa defends his position against Sebastian Vettel throughout the afternoon, but at the end of the race Ferrari's engineers spot a problem: during the pit stop, when refuelling, something went wrong and the level of fuel put into the tank was lower than expected. As he could potentially run out of fuel before the end of the race, the Brazilian driver is instructed to slow down and conserve the remaining fuel, losing fourth place to Sebastian Vettel and fifth to Fernando Alonso on the final lap. Jenson Button takes his fourth win of the season, while Brawn GP gets its second one-two: Barrichello crosses the line 13 seconds after the British driver. Mark Webber takes the final podium position, with teammate Sebastian Vettel behind him in fourth. Fernando Alonso took fifth place, Felipe Massa sixth, Nick Heidfeld, who had significantly reduced the gap to Massa on the last lap, had to be content with seventh place, however, beating Michael Schumacher's record of twenty-four consecutive finishes, while Nico Rosberg took the final spot in eighth place.
By now it is Formula Brawn: the British team gets a one-two in Barcelona humiliating, as always, its opponents. The unstoppable Brawn GP no longer stops, as happened to Senna-Prost's McLaren in 1988, Schumacher's Ferrari in 2002 and 2004. It conquers victories one after the other. In Barcelona Jenson Button takes his poker, even if he is surprised by his team mate, Rubens Barrichello, at the start, and is second at the first corner, but halfway through the race he takes the lead and flies towards the finish line, as he has always done so far, except for the Chinese interlude, in which Sebastian Vettel triumphed in the rain with the Red Bull in Shanghai, the only voice out of the chorus in a monologue that is now embarrassing and that risks ending the World Championship well in advance. The two Brawn GPs are confirmed but in Spain, for the rivals, it is even worse, because this time the British team conquers a one-two, with Barrichello second, something that the team directed by Ross Brawn had only succeeded in Australia, at the debut race. So much for closing the gap with the technical innovations introduced: the blow dealt to the rivals is even stronger because the numbers say that the domination is further accentuated, making it clear, after five races, that for this season there will be nothing to do.
Because as far as the race is concerned, not only is the chronicle scarce, with overtaking reduced to a minimum, but the feeling that the verdict could have been different is also non-existent. There was no struggle, the two Brawn GP drivers disposed of their opponents at will, from the Red Bulls, who won third place with Mark Webber with the help of strategy, and fourth place with Sebastian Vettel, to the Renault of Fernando Alonso, fifth thanks to an overtaking move on the last lap, to the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, sixth and with final problems. All that remains is to pick up a few points. Not to mention Bmw, seventh with Nick Heidfeld, Williams, eighth with Nico Rosberg, and McLaren-Mercedes, which with Lewis Hamilton, reigning World Champion, suffered the wave of being lapped by compatriot Jenson Button. But it is precisely this dictatorship that may give hope to the rest of the world, because it has caused the first cracks to appear. Rubens Barricchello, in the lead at the start of the race and with three pit stops planned, seemed destined for triumph, but instead the team, by changing Jenson Button's tactics and reducing the latter to two pit stops, overturned the verdict. Of this the Brazilian driver complains.
"In the morning meeting we decided on three pit stops, having managed to par the race in hand, I don't understand with his pit stops they changed their minds".
In his lamentation he refers to the times when the Brazilian driver was at Ferrari with Ross Brawn:
"Back then the law was known, Schumacher had to win, just think of Zeltweg. Instead the race is free, whoever is faster wins. Here the climate is friendly, but yesterday I was penalised".
And Button replies:
"The three pit stop strategy was better, when they changed it for me I was surprised myself, they were filling me up with Barrichello in front and Massa behind. All I had to do was push like crazy. And maybe that's what made the difference".
As for Scuderia Ferrari, World Champion in 2008, some small improvements began to be seen in Barcelona. We have seen Felipe Massa fighting for the first positions, he starts well taking advantage of the KERS, he overtakes Sebastian Vettel, he keeps him behind for a long time, at a certain point he is even in the lead, then he is second, third, he makes his mechanics hope that he can at least get the podium. All in all, the Ferrari is on the upswing, but it is not enough. Because in the final laps Massa is succumbing to the problems of his single-seater and the idea of bringing home a podium and precious points fades. The difference in race pace between the Hard and Soft compounds is evident: the Hard slow down the pace of the Brazilian driver, forcing him to abandon the fight with the Brawn GP, including the podium, suffering the overtaking of Mark Webber. This is only the beginning. Already at the first pit stop less petrol than expected entered the tank, then during the second pit stop the problem recurs and is greater. In the pits they realise the problem, and as a result Massa risks not finishing the race because of insufficient fuel. After a frantic radio conversation, the engineers tell the Brazilian driver:
"Go ahead, don't pit, don't push and make sure you have enough fuel to finish the race".
Behind, however, is Sebastian Vettel, who isn't happy with fifth position. New message to the Brazilian driver:
"Put your foot up, get passed otherwise you don't finish the race".
From a positive result to a consoling one. Because on lap 63 Massa drops to fifth place, being overtaken by Sebastian Vettel. And on the last lap it is Fernando Alonso who overtakes him: the Brazilian runs out of petrol with three corners to go. A third pit stop with a top-up would have been pointless: the Spanish driver would have overtaken him in any case. The anger, however, remains:
"Because the single-seater was going well, something else compared to the previous versions, we collected much less than the potential. We will still improve, sooner or later we will reap the fruits of our labour and we will be competitive again, we are already at the level of the Red Bulls, the gap to the Brawn GPs is not much, but you have to be realistic: the World Championship is gone".
So the title fight is over for the Brazilian driver, as well as for Kimi Raikkonen, once again forced to retire. The trouble that occurred during the race for Felipe Massa is not yet certain. There is talk of a mechanical problem, but it is not yet certain that it is the fuel pump delivery. The Finnish driver, on the other hand, had problems with the accelerator.
"The engine was running, the single-seater did not switch off, however the accelerator did not respond".
Kimi Raikkonen recounts that he had difficulties at the start too:
"The rear wings are very high, from the sixth row I couldn't see the light, I started because I saw the others do it".
The KERS wasn't flawless either:
"I operated it, but I still couldn't overtake Heidfeld. The rev limiter, which cuts the engine power, was holding me back".
Scuderia Ferrari was supposed to recover, and instead it was a disaster in Spain. And the team principal of the Maranello team, Stefano Domenicali, is furious:
"No more mistakes, breakdowns, we have to work better. The whole team has to wake up. We have to invest in the men we have, and also in those who are not there yet".
As if to say, the purchasing campaign is open. For technicians and, probably, pilots. If it is to be a year of transition, it must be the only one. While in the week the Ferrari president, Luca Montezemolo, will meet the FIA president, Max Mosley, to induce him to take a step backwards on the budget cap. Avoiding the flight from Formula 1 of the big constructors, after a long team meeting in Barcelona on Sunday, in which Scuderia Ferrari also participated. Meanwhile, the Spanish press dreams of Fernando Alonso joining Ferrari as early as the 2009 season. A move that at the moment seems impossible, if only for a question of sponsors and existing contracts, not to mention the philosophy of the managers operating at Maranello. The Spaniards would like to but the project is unfeasible. Their eagerness, however, fits in well with the difficult relationship that has been created between Raikkonen and Ferrari, always ready to defend him, as happened on Saturday after his elimination in Q1, always ready to remind him that he has a contract until December 2009 and that he should not feel questioned, but eager to have from its highest paid driver, 30,000,000 euros per season, a more exciting performance and above all less inclined than in the past to tolerate his mistakes and amnesias.
Kimi Raikkonen, as they say from Ferrari, should not feel under indictment, but he has not won a race for a year, his last joy was at the Spanish Grand Prix on 27 April 2008, and this fast is beginning to take on embarrassing proportions. Hence a certain frost that is beginning to surface, because if it is true that this year Ferrari has shown itself to be competitive only in Barcelona, recovering half a second on Brawn GP and in the first races to ask for a podium from one of its drivers would have been like invoking a miracle, it is equally true that last year the single-seater was very fast and that Felipe Massa, during the abstinence of his team-mate, triumphed five times, even going so far as to fight for the title with Lewis Hamilton at the last corner of the last race. Now there are those who say that even Kimi Raikkonen is showing signs of indifference and wonder why he is adding to the discomfort and certainly risks accentuating the wear and tear. After all, it was said at the start of the season: the Finnish driver has a lot at stake: if he does not improve, despite winning the World Championship in his first year, at the end of 2009 it will be divorce. In this case the arrival of Alonso at Ferrari becomes very likely, relegating the German Red Bull driver, Sebastian Vettel, to the role of second choice.
The Spanish driver has always dreamed of racing with Maranello cars, while the German driver has a long contract with Red Bull. When Scuderia Ferrari's team principal Stefano Domenicali speaks of a purchase campaign, it is because he wants to send a strong message to the entire team: no one should feel they have arrived, everyone should give their all, deserve their job; but it is clear that in addition to technicians and mechanics, the subject of drivers can also easily be included in the discussion. On Sunday, the post-race meeting is attended by a calm Luca Montezemolo too. No more mistakes and failures, the problem that slowed down Felipe Massa's race will soon be discovered, but there is also the satisfaction of having made a great leap forward in terms of performance in just a few weeks. To the point that the Brazilian driver's surrender regarding the World Championship is disavowed, while waiting for the board of directors, talking about Formula 1, to reiterate the line taken by Ferrari: on the conditions of Max Mosley, who will soon meet Luca Montezemolo, the Maranello team leaves Formula 1.
Button has 41 points out of a possible 45 so far this year, and the Briton and his Brawn team dominated the Spanish race on Sunday. Massa scored his first points of the year at Barcelona and is already 38 behind Button. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen is tied with Massa on three points. The Brazilian reckons his chances of fighting for the title are over.
"In the championship? No, I don't think so. Even if we improve massively and we are three or four tenths if front of them they will still score points. So forget it. In Q2 we were two tenths slower. In qualifying, in Q3 we were four tenths slower because of the fuel. Usually the picture is similar in the race. Two tenths in the race is quite a big difference. Most of the time they were going slowly away. So that's the real picture at the moment. Maybe we are still a couple of tenths behind. Red Bull I don't know because I was always in front of Vettel, so I don't know if I was holding him a lot or he was really similar. We still need to improve, but I think if you compare the car we had in this race and the car we had before it's a big stop forward. That's really, really encouraging. We didn't have a problem with the calculations. We had a problem with the machine. But I don't know if the problem was human or the machine. We need to analyse what was the problem. It was very frustrating. You fight the whole race and then you have to back off. I was already saving fuel in the last run, but it was not enough, so I had to really back off and let Vettel go. I lost a position to Fernando and almost to Nick, so it was quite frustrating".
At the end of the race, as is normal, Rubens Barrichello is not entirely satisfied:
"The race began really well for me and I had a great start overtaking Sebastian and Jenson to be leading the race coming out of turn one and through the safety car period. The car was feeling really good during the first stint and getting out from my first stop ahead of Nico on track set the race up nicely for me. I was quite surprised when Jenson's strategy was switched and from then I knew that I had to go flat out to make my strategy work. However I suffered on my third set of tyres and was not able to get the lap times which would have kept me ahead of Jenson. It was a great result for Jenson and the team today but I am disappointed not to have won the race after having such a good weekend. I am a positive person however and I am confident that my victory will come soon".
While the team principal of Brawn GP, Ross Brawn, says:
"A fantastic result for the team today after a great deal of hard work to maximise the performance of our new developments this weekend. Rubens had a great start to be leading the race from lap one and we asked both drivers to push as hard as possible to build a lead over the chasing pack. As we approached the window for the first pit stops, it became apparent that Jenson would come out directly behind Nico Rosberg if we went with his planned three-stop strategy. We therefore made the decision to switch Jenson onto a two-stop strategy to ensure that he could run in clean air. Rubens was going extremely quickly at the front at that time and his three-stop strategy was clearly the quickest option for him. Unfortunately his tyres did not perform well after his second stop which compromised his pace and ultimately cost him the race. Rubens has performed extremely well throughout this weekend and it has been largely thanks to his input that we have been able to maximise our pace and achieve the successes of today. Our second one-two finish is a fantastic way to start the European season and I am extremely proud of Jenson, Rubens and the team. Our thanks as always to Mercedes-Benz and all of our team partners for their continued support".
Rubens Barrichello had led the way early on, but it was Button who triumphed in the end after he was switched to a two-stop strategy at the first round of pitstops. Those actions prompted conspiracy theorists to suggest that the team used the strategy to favour Button - something that has been strongly rebuffed by Brawn chiefs Nick Fry and Ross Brawn. But Barrichello points out:
"No. Both sides of the garage were racing. Listening to what was going on there was huge determination - firstly for Jenson to make the gap, and then on Rubens' side of the garage with a bit of frustration at the end that they didn't make it happen".
Brawn said that the team never expected the switch to a two-stop to favour Button, and it was only poor lap times from Barrichello in his third stint that cost him the victory.
"If you look at the lap times on the tyres and the fuel, there was a period of the race where he was a lot slower than expected. And that's what cost him the race because Jenson on more fuel was quicker".
When asked if he was worried that Barrichello had believed team orders had been used, Brawn said:
"I hope not, because we're not. You saw at the first corner that there are no team orders. Rubens made a great start and got past Jenson. I'd love to see Rubens win a race and see his crew win a race because it would be great for the team. There is no priority being given. It's natural. Any driver who gets beaten and is happy is not a driver I want in the team. The fact that Rubens is unhappy is a healthy sign because I'd feel very strange if he was quite content to be second behind Jenson".
Barrichello's poor lap times in that penultimate stint were the result of an unidentified problem on his car which cost him time when he needed to build up a cushion over Button. Speaking about the reasons for switching Button, Pat Fry said:
"Obviously he was shorter on fuel than Rubens, and we assumed he would pull away at the front and build a bit of a gap. When that didn't happen, it was necessary to split them. It was something that we had talked about a lot before the race anyway. It was something we had planned for, and it turned out to be the best. We were a little bit worried about Massa and Vettel, for Rubens that is, and that faded when they both came into the pits together. That was a bit of a surprise as we thought Vettel was going to go a bit longer than that. I don't know if they did that deliberately or that was the plan".
Lewis Hamilton ended the opening lap at the tail of the field after being forced onto the grass as the lights went out and then being delayed as he avoided the four-car pile-up at the opening complex of corners on lap one. After fighting his way up to the edge of the points positions, he was forced to make an early final pitstop after overworking his harder set of tyres.
"What can I do? I drove my heart out, as I always do. It's just that the car is not good. I just had no grip. It's just a shame they haven't given me a car to defend the championship with. The car is that bad. I'm driving the socks off it. There's just no hope".
Despite his tough afternoon, the British driver praised the efforts of the McLaren team and refused to write off his hopes of retaining the world title.
"I'm not even thinking about that. We're not even halfway through the season and the car is really hardcore. At the moment, for sure we don't have the car to win the championship, but the team have done a fantastic job and every weekend they do a fantastic job. We have great reliability and the morale in the team is high. It's just a shame they've not given me a car to defend the championship with".
It was worse for his teammate, Heikki Kovalainen:
"Luck just doesn't seem to be going my way right now. It's been a difficult weekend - the car's performance is not where we want it to be and this was tough for us all - but that's life. But we shouldn't forget that we've improved our car massively since we last tested here in the winter and eventually we'll be fighting with Jenson and the other guys at the front. I'm already looking ahead to Monaco where I'll be fighting harder than ever. I'm not going to let this get me down".
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren' team principal, adds:
"Lewis made a great start off the line - but, after having been obstructed by another car, through no fault of his own he lost time avoiding an accident and ended up at the back of the field at the end of lap one. After that, his task was always going to be a tough one, because the Barcelona circuit is not an easy one on which to overtake. Furthermore, his tyres went off during his second stint, and then he got pipped by Fernando when they made their second pit stops. But he kept pushing as hard as he could, in ninth place, in the hope that one of the cars ahead of him would drop out and thereby allow him to score one hard-earned championship point. It didn't happen, unfortunately, but the fact that Lewis never gave up demonstrates just what a competitive individual he is. Heikki made a decent start, but his race was ended disappointingly - and unluckily - by a gearbox failure. We predicted that this race would be a low point of our season, and we've been proved right. In two weeks' time, at Monaco, which is a very different kind of circuit from Barcelona, things ought to be significantly better for us. But we know we aren't yet where we want to be, and we'll continue to work flat-out to get there".
Norbert Haug, vice-president, Mercedez-Benz motosport, concludes
"We knew since testing here what to expect from our car on this racetrack. Being lapped here is not what Lewis deserves: he delivered everything that was possible with his car today - we just cannot handle the high-speed corners and need to dramatically improve over the next weeks and months. Thank God the Brawn guys saved our bacon again with our engine in the back. Congratulations Jenson, Rubens, Ross and the whole team, you guys have been the benchmark since the season started".
Alonso had started from eighth position but gained a few places at the start and then passed Ferrari's Felipe Massa on the final lap when the Brazilian slowed down in order to save fuel. The Renault driver was pleased with the result and with how his car had handled during the race.
"As I said before the race, you have to finish it. We had favourable circumstances since the start of the race, gaining a few positions, and then Massa with the problem that he had. We were a bit lucky, and the car was good during the whole race so we could. In the end we saw that we weren't so light. The Brawns stopped ahead of us and the Toyotas too, so the strategy worked well. I only had a problem, which was a puncture. I was scheduled to stop on lap 45 but had to stop on lap 41, but I managed to stay ahead of Rosberg and nothing changed much".
Team-mate Nelson Piquet finished outside the points in 12th position.
"I was lucky not to get caught in the accident at the start of the race. The performance of the car was disappointing and the balance wasn't good. I don't have a fully updated car yet so I hope that we can make some improvements for the next race".
Flavio Briatore, Renault' team principal, adds:
"Today's result and our pace in the race showed the potential and the improvements made to the car as Fernando's times were very close to those of the front runners. Now we must work hard and keep improving in order to secure strong points for both cars in the races to come".
Pat Symonds, Renault' Executive Director of Engineering, says:
"Barcelona is not renowned for producing exciting racing, but that certainly wasn't true today. It was a fight all the way through to end and a great result from Fernando. Nelson was extremely lucky not to have been taken out in the first corner accident, which seemed to have happened all around him. From then on the car didn't have the pace we expected and we feel that there is probably unseen damage to it".
And finally Remi Taffin, Renault' Head of Engine Operations, concludes:
"Overall it was a weekend that brought us more than we expected. We came here with hopes of taking a step forward, but unfortunately everybody brought lots of developments and the order of the teams remained pretty much the same. But thanks to the work that we have done throughout the weekend, we've come away with a great result. Fernando was pushing flat out for the whole race and fifth place is a nice reward. This result puts us in a good frame of mind for the upcoming races, but we will continue working hard".
Returning briefly to the discussion regarding Scuderia Ferrari's results, team principal Stefano Domenicali states:
"We can take some satisfaction from this weekend, but at the same time, it has thrown up further concerns. On the one hand we saw that the effort expended in recent weeks has born fruit in terms of improving the performance level of the car. Both in yesterday's qualifying and today, Felipe was competitive at the highest level, as was confirmed on the clock: it's not by luck that we got the third fastest time in the race, which would have been far out of our reach in previous races this year. Once again, the downside comes from the reliability side. Again today, we had problems which forced Kimi to retire and cost Felipe two places in the final stages, having also robbed him of the chance of getting to the podium, which would have been well deserved. This is unacceptable for a team like Ferrari: we must all react to get back to our usual standard, as indeed we have partially managed on the performance side. There is much to do on all fronts and we will tackle it with our usual absolute determination".
And Chris Dyer concludes:
"The most important thing this weekend is that the car performance is much improved compared to the previous races. Today we were capable of fighting with the best and we had a great chance of finishing on the podium. On the downside, we can only be disappointed about our reliability and the running of our on-track operation. After what happened in qualifying yesterday, Kimi had to retire because of a problem with the hydraulics used to control the accelerator. On Felipe's car, the front left wheel fairing broke and at both pit stops we had a refueling problem, the cause of which we have yet to find out. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. We are all very unhappy for what happened and lament the fact that so much work from the team to improve car performance was not adequately rewarded in the final result".
Mark Webber takes an encouraging third place, leading Red Bull Racing to the podium:
"I had a very long second stint and was much happier with the car than in the first, although the tyres had nothing left for the last ten laps. We planned to be long in the second, as we knew Felipe would be one lap longer and his drive would be the key to my race. We had to unlock ourselves from him and that second stint was the key. I was very happy with the way I drove and the car was fantastic. I expect Monaco will be closer than this, but the way the car performed here, on circuit that is a tough test on a car, is a good sign for places like Turkey and Silverstone. Red Bull has done a great job and so have Renault".
The Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel finished the race fourth - 19 seconds behind winner Button, but is certain that he could have got in among the Brawns had he not been passed by Felipe Massa's Ferrari at the beginning.
"My start wasn't the best - by first corner Rubens Barrichello first and I was fourth, so obviously we some positions most importantly Massa. I was stuck behind for almost all race. He was impossible to pass, he did good job with mistakes. It's obviously disappointing my car was quick today, but I couldn't finish the podium. it's a strong result for the team we take away some good points".
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner adds:
"A very good drive from Mark, who claimed his second podium of the season. His strategy worked very well and put Rubens under a lot of pressure at the end of the race. It was frustrating for Sebastian as unfortunately it was the second race in a row where a KERS car has cost him dearly. Massa stopped on the same lap as Sebastian for his first stop and then, despite us bringing his middle stint very short, they picked the same lap for Massa as well, so he spent 63 laps looking at the back of a Ferrari! As soon he was released from him, his pace was obvious. We showed again that we have a car that is quick enough to win races, but third and fourth is still a very strong result".
Fabrice Lom, Renault, Principal Engineer, Track Support, says:
"A difficult race and one that, once again, we could have won. We are tested hard by these KERS cars! Massa got in front of Sebastian at the first corner and it ruined his race. Mark had a very solid race and was very quick, he had some free air and finished very close to the Brawns. It's a good overall result for us, with eleven more points, but it's still frustrating and we need to focus on a win for the next races".
It was another very hard and difficult race for Robert Kubica, who at the end declares:
"At the start I lost several places due to a clutch problem. But that was only the beginning of a very difficult race. After the safety car period, my car had no grip at all. I just couldn't push and the car was sliding all over the place. I really don't understand what happened. Up to Q3 yesterday everything was going well, and the performance of the car was good, but today there was nothing I could do. We have to analyse what happened".
Mario Theissen, Bmw Motorsport Director, adds:
"We made a come back for the start of the European season, although our situation after the first lap wasn't that good. Robert got stuck in traffic at the start, lost five positions and was just able to avoid the early accident. Whereas Nick on the outside was able to gain some places. During the race it was our pit crew that did a great job and enabled Nick to get by another car with every pit stop. Two points for seventh place is not a big result, but it demonstrates the improved performance of the car with the new aero update. We can build on this".
And Willy Rampf, Bmw Head of Engineering, concludes:
"The significant modifications we made to the F1.09 obviously brought us one step forward. After the accident at the start Nick moved up from P13 to P9, and later he was able to gain another two positions. This was also thanks to the fantastic work by the pit crew with two excellent pit stops. Robert was unlucky as he was squeezed in at the start and lost a lot of positions. During the race he wasn't able to drive at his true pace for most of the time because he was stuck in traffic. Now it's all about bringing the next development steps onto the car as quickly as possible".
The German squad introduced a major upgrade package for the Barcelona race and moved closer to the front-running teams, with Nick Heidfeld finishing in seventh position after having started from 12th. Theissen concedes Bmw is still off the pace of the leading teams, but he is optimistic of more progress in the next races.
"We are not as quick as the front-runners but we are competitive and that makes me confident for the coming races".
On Tuesday 12 May 2009, after initial rumours, Ferrari issued a statement explaining that it does not intend to enter its single-seaters in the 2010 World Championship. The company announced this at the end of the board meeting analysing the prospects and rules of Formula 1. So we are faced with a tough stance by the Maranello team against the FIA, in relation to the fixed budget for 2010. And not only because of the hypothetical expenditure ceiling set at £40,000,000: with these new rules there is a risk of creating a World Championship divided into two categories. Already, those who choose to race with these limitations will have considerable technical advantages over the bigger teams. What advantages? There is everything and, to sum it up, suffice it to say that a working group of Formula 1 engineers, of which Peter Wright of the FIA itself is a member, has quantified it as a real enormity: two seconds per lap on average. Obviously it is not only Ferrari that is protesting, but also all the other top teams, from McLaren-Mercedes to Toyota, via Renault, Bmw and Red Bull. To tell the truth, not everyone is taking a clear position; in this McLaren is the master, but Toyota and Red Bull must be credited with taking a clear stance. Indeed, the Tokyo giant is threatening to withdraw if the rules provide for a budget cap of their choice, while Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has even made public statements:
"If the rules for 2010 remain unchanged, we will not enter the World Championship. At the moment, the conditions are that we will not enter the 2010 World Championship".
Red Bull shares the positions taken so far by the teams linked to manufacturers and distances itself from the front formed by Williams, Brawn GP and probably Force India. However, it must be clear: if Ferrari threatens not to run and unofficially makes it known that it intends to organise its own World Championship, the others are tougher and do not admit any middle ground. For them, the only possibility is definitive withdrawal from racing. How will it end? Hard to say. But the hope of an agreement seems the only way forward. For now, the FIA seems intent on restarting negotiations with the team association, FOTA. It's just that the patience of the team principals in recent years has really been tested to the limit with crazy rule changes that have never hit the target set, i.e. to decrease expenses and reduce speed, by inserting rules on the parc ferme, the engine block, the change of engines from the previous V10s to the current V8s, and finally the KERS. In any case, having to make a prediction, it can be said that the agreement will surely be reached because it is Ferrari that is threatening to abound in Formula 1: no other team seems for now to be willing to race in a new and expensive championship, in which the Maranello team would start as the favourite.
And, similarly, Bernie Ecclestone knows full well that a Formula 1 without Ferrari would make no sense. Just as a Formula 1 with a starting grid reduced to ten or twelve single-seaters would make no sense. It is Ferrari itself, on the other hand, that leaves an opening when it asks for the same rules for all, stability of regulations, continuity of the methodical and progressive work of cost reduction on the part of FOTA and the Formula 1 governace. And when he makes it clear that if these preconditions are not met and if the regulations decided for 2010 do not change, only then will he withdraw. The pressure that Ferrari is able to exert, however, is enormous. And not only for an industrial or sponsor issue: the Maranello team is loved all over the world. Even in the official communiqué, the Maranello team says that it trusts that the many fans around the world will understand how this painful choice is consistent with the behaviour that Scuderia Ferrari has always maintained in defending the sporting and technical values of motor racing, and of Formula 1 in particular. What if the agreement is not reached at all? A lawsuit is also possible, the words prophetic:
"The board has finally mandated the president to examine the most appropriate venues and ways to protect the interests of the company".
Reactions to Ferrari's sensational decision to leave Formula 1 are not long in coming, but Niki Lauda's words leave everyone stunned. The former Scuderia Ferrari driver, a living legend, indeed promotes the FIA's plan to introduce a fixed budget of £40.000.000 in 2010.
"The budget cap is the most sensible thing I have heard in my life".
But several teams, including Ferrari, fear that the measure will create a two-category World Championship and do not rule out a possible farewell to the circus.
"All the teams have asked for a similar measure. And now all of a sudden Ferrari is against it. It is completely stupid".
The opinion of Coni president Gianni Petrucci is different:
"On behalf of Italian sport I appeal for common sense to prevail, with the restoration of those basic rules that can guarantee the presence in 2010 of the only manufacturer in the world that has never missed an appointment in the history of Formula 1. Today is a sad day for Italian sport and I launch an appeal to guarantee Scuderia Ferrari's presence at the next World Championship. The possibility that the Maranello team will not enter the 2010 World Championship is certainly news that saddens not only me but millions of Italian sportsmen and fans for whom Ferrari represents a myth. Ferrari is a fully-fledged part of the history of our country's sport, and has contributed to enhancing the palmares through successes and triumphs that have no equals in Formula 1. Coni and the Italian sports movement stand by Ferrari and its managers in this affair, which has been conditioned by irrational and contradictory choices that undermine the credibility of international motorsport".
Of the same tone were the statements of the Mayor of Modena, Giorgio Pighi:
"A Formula 1 championship without Ferrari on the track is unimaginable. The absence of Ferrari from the top motorsport competition would be a serious detriment for the Modena area, in terms of prestige, technological development and even top quality jobs. I don't even want to think that this is the epilogue that has been going on for sixty years, but I also understand the reasons of Ferrari's management in the face of a legislative and regulatory framework that is constantly changing and therefore does not allow serious companies to do their job, that of planning growth and constant improvement of the product and performance. I think it is reasonable to think about an agreement, and we must work with determination and willingness to reach it, without prevarication, but also without accepting absurd and brainless impositions. Modena and Ferrari are inextricably linked and in this matter too we will be close to the company, the workers and the millions of fans around the world who love and support Ferrari cars".
On Wednesday 13 May 2009, the ACI, which is in fact not exempt from the FIA organisation, sided with Ferrari. The Automobile Club, one of the fourteen founding members of the FIA, and Enrico Gelpi, as a member of the World Sports Council. The president of the Automobile Club of Italy, Enrico Gelpi, writes underlining his role as a member of the World Sports Council, and consequently puts pressure on the presidency led by Max Mosley, at a very delicate moment. ACI's accusation is severe:
"A Formula One championship without Ferrari would be unthinkable and a very different thing, lacking in passion and sporting appeal compared to the current championship. Our interest is to protect a manufacturer that isn't only our associate, but is also a symbol of Italian excellence in the world for technology, development and innovation of the automobile, which is identified with the very concept of sporting competition, which is connoted with Formula 1 having participated in the championship uninterruptedly for all these six decades. This is why I hope that a constructive round table will be opened as soon as possible, to which I assure my willingness to positively resolve this delicate situation in the interest of the sport, of the millions of fans, of the FIA, of Ferrari, of the other manufacturers and also of those who, like the ACI, represent sporting and non-sporting drivers in Italy, for whom, as for me, Ferrari is a symbol and a myth".
In short, the pro-Ferrari front within the FIA is officially open. And the weight of the ACI and other members of the world council, have enormous weight in the choice of Max Mosley's successor. A successor that Mosley himself would be keen to design. Ferrari's announcement that it will forfeit the Formula One World Championship for the 2010 season if the FIA rules don't change has shaken the entire motorsport world, which is only to be expected. But it has also provoked many reactions from Ferrari fans. From all over the world, fans wrote to support the position taken by the company's board of directors. and as a result, Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo personally thanked the fans via Ferrari's official website.
"Dear friends, I would like to personally thank you for the many messages of support that have come from all over the world in recent hours to our website and to the emails of so many of us. It is important to know that we can count on the support of our fans all over the world and the knowledge that the motivations that have led us to this step are totally shared".
It is very likely that the FIA will take a step back at this point because Formula 1 cannot afford to lose teams like Ferrari, Renault or Toyota. But if this is not the case, the Italian team will still continue to race.
"If we should be forced to leave a championship in which we have been protagonists throughout our sixty-year history, and which sees us hold all the records in terms of victories, it is because you want to distort the fundamental values. If that is indeed the case, then it will mean that our single-seaters will race in other competitions where, I am sure, they will find the enthusiasm and passion of millions of fans who follow us all over the world. Racing has always been part of Ferrari's nature, and that will never change".
The threat has become real. Now it is formalised in writing, in a note released after a board meeting that lasted an hour and a half. Ferrari is no longer joking.
"If this is to be the regulatory framework of the future Formula 1, the reasons that have motivated Ferrari's presence in the world championship over sixty editions, the only manufacturer to have participated uninterruptedly since its inception in 1950, would be definitively lost".
Unambiguous words, which also sound like a precise ultimatum to Max Mosley, the FIA president, just a few hours after his meeting with Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo, as well as being the representative of FOTA, the team association. No cap on the budget, unilaterally set by the FIA at £44.000.000, a figure that is only enough for Ferrari to pay the employees of the Gestione Sportiva. But above all, no two-speed world championship, the crazy idea conceived by Max Mosley. It is a war that is above all about the methods used by the FIA president, who does not recognise FOTA, who shows contempt for the governance rules that have contributed to the development of Formula 1 over the last twenty-five years, and who has failed to honour his contractual commitments to Ferrari regarding regulatory stability. Montezemolo demands an immediate step back from Mosley. He will then fight for his farewell in November, when his term ends. On Friday 29 May 2009, the deadline for entering the 2010 World Championship will expire.
Ferrari has decided: it will not submit an application. Luca Montezemolo works on the project of an alternative World Championship. The tear is violent. Max Mosley cannot say that he didn't expect it: perhaps he hoped, as happened in the past, that the Ferrari executives would change their minds at the last moment. As in the days of the Grand Prix World Championship and the threatened alternative world championship, when the astute Bernie Eccclestone found an economic agreement with Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo until 2012: an arrangement beneficial to Ferrari, which broke the constructors' front irreparably. But for weeks now the signals filtering through from the Italian team's headquarters haven't supported this hypothesis at all. Ferrari is determined to go ahead, the president Montezemolo with his blitz in Bahrain had made it abundantly clear, other big constructors, BMW and Toyota, had already exposed themselves publicly, medium-sized teams such as Red Bull and Toro Rosso had agreed, for the pronouncement from the president of Ferrari it was only necessary to wait for the right moment, the board of directors. Max Mosley had miscalculated, trying to unilaterally impose unacceptable rules.
Not only did Ferrari reject them immediately, going so far as to announce his farewell to Formula 1, but now it will work to ensure that at the end of 2009, when his term of office expires, Max Mosley will be able to leave the FIA summit for good, something that the Ferrari president hadn't done in June 2008, when he was in the balance over the scandal concerning his consorting with the fairer sex. The Ferrari president, who receives full support from his fans for his diktat on his own site, does not trust it and in the meantime begins to look at alternative lists, knowing that in cascade all the other constructors will follow, even those who, Renault and Mercedes, haven't yet announced their farewell to Formula 1. The statement from Maranello speaks of legal action against the FIA, for protecting its interests and for not respecting contractual agreements on regulatory stability. But the exploratory mandate given by Luca Montenzemolo to lawyers and experts is broader, and embraces the possibility of organising an alternative World Championship, something that could not be called Formula 1, since the name is owned by the FIA, and managed by the companies run by Bernie Ecclestone, but that with the presence of Ferrari would be the real Formula 1. It is a difficult hypothesis to realise in a short time, but the race has already begun.
"Eventually an agreement will be found".
On the most difficult day, Bernie Ecclestone tries to reassure everyone, himself first.
"Split the World Championship in two? But don't listen to him, that's a crazy idea of old Max".
An idea that is slowly disappearing from the FIA's plans. The budget cap will remain, but on that eventually an agreement will be found with everyone, says Ecclestone. Even with Ferrari. After all, the reasoning is always the same, and today more than ever it is worth repeating:
"Formula 1 cannot be without Ferrari and Ferrari cannot be without Formula 1".
A mantra, who knows how true it may be, that has been going on for sixty years, two ontologically and anthropologically incompatible worlds: the Anglo-Saxon one of the organisers and assemblers, meticulous and eccentric, and the Italian one of Ferrari, made of myth and genius.
"Ferrari and Formula 1 need each other. And at Maranello they aren't stupid, they will not go away, you will see everything will work out".
Bewildered by the words of his partner and friend Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley avoids, for a day, playing his part, entrusting the FIA's official reaction to a declaration.
"In principle, Ferrari's statement merely puts in black and white what has already been said verbally".
Meaningless and fearful words, those of Ecclestone and Mosley. Quite different from those used at the start of the season when, after neutralising those of the Renault and McLaren team principals who threatened not to race in Melbourne, Bernie Ecclestone said:
"If you come to me and put a gun to my head you have to be sure you can pull the damn trigger and above all you have to be sure the gun is loaded. If not, you risk getting hurt".
Now the gun is loaded and ready to fire, even if there are some who pretend not to notice. Like Niki Lauda who, instead of explaining what fascinates him about a two-speed world championship, the Austrian manager has intervened to accuse Ferrari of getting hung up on a completely stupid argument. That may be, but it doesn't convince anyone. Least of all Flavio Briatore, who makes a strategic marketing argument:
"Formula 1 is a high quality product. We must avoid that anyone with 20.000.000 or 25.000.000 euro can make a Formula 1 team. It would be like if on an exclusive shopping street they suddenly opened low cost shops, they would ruin everything".
Today, just to reinforce the position, Briatore explains how Renault is completely in line with what the president of Ferrari is doing. And the circle around Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone will tighten even more. The gun is loaded and ready to fire, just a short time to go, as Reanult too follows what Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo is doing, and on Thursday 14 May 2009 declares:
"We too are leaving Formula 1".
Now the French team, like the one in Maranello, together with Toyota, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, could really start a new World Championship. This suddenly becomes a new, important and perhaps decisive piece in the fight between the big constructors and the FIA: Renault is also leaving Formula 1 as of next year. But like Montezemolo, the board of Renault also leaves open a small possibility to enter single-seaters in the 2010 World Championship.