“Twitches of life at Ferrari”
In some ways, this past week has been a relatively busy one in the press office for Italian Formula One-giant Ferrari.
Although that might not necessarily be saying too much in the midst of a cold January.
Truth be told, this is normally the week when someone finally remembers to plug in the fax machine, so that strong words and confident declarations, designed to get people fist pumping in the aisles, are declared.
Around about now launch dates emerge, while drivers and managers talk about their hopes and goals for the coming year – and for the most part in the past, the iconic Maranello team have delivered impressive sounding noise in a move to strike fear – or something – in the hearts of their rivals.
Yet for 2015, a more somber Scuderia have entered stage left come 2015.
Amidst the upheaval process that began at Ferrari last September with the ousting of former-president Luca di Montezemolo, the scarlet squad have been busy playing down their expectations.
Indeed, new president Sergio Marchionne began the process before 2014 had even drawn, declaring prior to Christmas that, “2015 will be a year of reconstruction. We have made some sharp decisions on the make-up of the team and we know exactly who the key people are for development. We have taken away all the baggage of uncertainty which harmed the start of the work on the 2015 project.”
The winter months have indeed given Ferrari ample time to rearrange the furniture following the departures of double-world champion Fernando Alonso, director of engineering Pat Fry and chief designer Nicholas Tombazis.
As revealed during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel has replaced Alonso with the German racer taking time out to enjoy his first full tour of the facilities at the Maranello factory recently as preparation continues.
Kimi Raikkonen has one further season in red, although it is unclear whether he will be retained beyond the end of this season. Commenting in Abu Dhabi last month, the Finn was relatively open when speaking of the challenges ahead. “It’s not been an easy year for me or the team. Ferrari is always expected to win races and fight at the front. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, but for the next season we laid down the basis for Scuderia Ferrari to come back to the level it should be at.”
Raikkonen, who won the world championship in 2007 with Ferrari, is well aware that much is still to be done behind the scenes. “There’s a lot of work to do but we know which areas we need to improve on. This job has already started and in the factory, we have everything we need, in terms of personnel and the means to make the necessary progress. All we need to do is work as a team, in the unified way that typified this team in past years.”
Yet, there is little doubt that Raikkonen – hampered by difficulties adapting to the new brake-by-wire system – appeared to racing below par on too many occasions last year. Should the Finn endures another year like the last one, his retirement note from Formula One may be drafted sooner rather than later.
In the wings are a trio of young stars. Former Sauber pilot Esteban Gutierrez joined last month as third and reserve driver following what can only described as a horror year with the Swiss squad.
The Mexican is confident the move to Italy will reinvigorate his career. “The important thing for me is to adapt and to settle in to this new environment as quickly as possible,” said the 23-year-old recently. Having used the Ferrari engine and power unit while at Sauber, Gutierrez is by no means a stranger to the tech lying beneath his left foot; however he understands there is still plenty to learn. “I need to get to know the people I will be working with and I hope that my experience with the Ferrari engine will mean I can contribute to the development of the new power unit.”
Alongside Gutierrez is Red Bull-expatriate Jean-Éric Vergne who will work at the team as simulator and test pilot. The 24-year-old Vergne commented, “The objective is a unanimous one and that is to help the Scuderia get back to the top step of the podium. Having had two years working in the simulator for a top F1 team and three years racing with Toro Rosso, my experience will add to the great efforts that are currently being made in order to get the team back to its winning ways.”
On the fringes, Ferrari Driver Academy racer Raffaele Marciello has been appointed as Sauber’s test and reserve driver and will enjoy an unspecified number of Friday Free Practice One sessions. The impressive Swiss-Italian racer will also continue in the GP2 Series with the Racing Engineering squad.
Both Marc Genè and Davide Rigon also continue in their roles as test drivers, with the latter believed to be remaining with the factory AF Corse squad in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
On the engineering side, Ferrari continue their preparation ahead of what may be a very difficult year in the chase behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
A restructure announced prior to Christmas sees Allison in the Technical Director position, while also taking up track engineering duties. The Briton will be supported by Chief Designer Simone Resta and Power Unit Director Mattia Binotto, with latter assisted by Power Unit designer Lorenzo Sassi.
As with last year, the Mercedes-powered Williams F1 team may be in the mix, but a reported smaller budget for the Didcot team could potentially hinder their progress later in the season, inviting the Scuderia back to 3rd in the Constructors – should they be in a position to take advantage.
The as-yet-unnamed 2015 car is due to be launched online on January 30th, with the first day of testing commencing at Jerez the following day. But this is Ferrari and 3rd place is not their desire; for Allison, the medium term gains will need to be significant.