Ferrari, Formula One’s oldest, most successful and most famous team, is in a bit of a slump. By the standards of Ferrari at least. It’s not that the cars are terrible or the drivers lacking speed and determination. For the past few seasons, the cars have typically been second or third fastest, and with Fernando Alonso leading the team there is no doubt that the results reflect the capabilities of the cars. The problem is the lack of championship trophies at Maranello in the last four years.
The last time the drivers’ championship went to a Ferrari driver was 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen edged out the McLarens of Alonso and Lewis Hamilton by a single point. That season also saw Ferrari secure the Constructors’ Championship, which Raikkonen and Felipe Massa would retain in 2008. But five Drivers’ and four Constructors’ Championships have now gone the way of other teams and their drivers.
Alonso is in a similar position to that of Michael Schumacher in 1999. Just like Schumacher, he was hired by Ferrari because he was regarded as the number one driver in Formula One and was seen as the man who could deliver titles to the stable of the Prancing Horse. And just like Schumacher in 1999, Alonso is entering his fourth season at Ferrari without having yet won the title. The pressure on the shoulders of the Spaniard must be enormous. His performance on the track in 2012 certainly showed that he is determined to win for Ferrari, and he very nearly accomplished it in a car that was clearly not championship material.
While the 2012 car was frankly embarrassing early in the season, what was particularly impressive was the rate of development at Ferrari. In the space of a season, the car went from being a midfield runner to competing at the front with Red Bull and McLaren. In fact, the team’s recovery through the season was enough to secure second place in the Constructors’ Championship, which no-one could have predicted at the first race in Melbourne. But for Ferrari, second is not good enough. They will be determined to win both titles as soon as possible, and 2013 could very well be their year.
With technical regulations virtually unchanged for 2013, the pecking order is likely to be much as it was at the end of 2012 – Red Bull and McLaren out in front, with Ferrari close behind. Unless of course Ferrari can close the gap over the winter. They certainly demonstrated an ability to develop during the season, so it stands to reason that off-season development should be the same or even better. The team has the budget to spare no expense in the pursuit of victory, and the personnel to achieve it.
One man who will be increasingly nervous about the team’s lack of titles is Stefano Domenicali, who was appointed Ferrari team principal from 2008. He has delivered only one title – the 2008 Constructors’ Championship – and has since had no silverware to show for the efforts of his team. Ferrari is not a team that is used to coming second, and Domenicali will be all too aware that his position at the helm of Formula One’s greatest team could be in jeopardy if another year goes by without success.
Ferrari’s 2013 car will be unveiled at the factory in Maranello on 1 February. Whether or not it will be capable of winning the title will start to become clear during testing which begins on 5 February. But the real indicator of Ferrari’s competitiveness will be the pace of Alonso and Massa in Australia on 17 March when the season gets underway.