Two words stick out from Ferrari’s 2010 campaign, ‘team orders’. The switch between the drivers at the German Grand Prix (whether justified or not) is the lasting thought from the season Ferrari had in 2010.
With the signing of Fernando Alonso to partner a returning Felipe Massa after his horrific accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, the cards were there for a strong season with two very fast drivers. 2010 couldn’t have started better for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso winning on his debut for the Scuderia in Bahrain with Felipe Massa finishing 2nd must have been a dream come true for Stefano Domenicalli and would have justified their signing of the double world champion Spaniard. There was some fortune with this 1-2, with mechanical problems befalling Sebastian Vettel while in the lead in his Red Bull.
After Bahrain, the team were brought down to earth with the struggles they would face in 2010. Poor engine reliability hampered the team early in the season and cost Fernando Alonso a strong finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but improvements to the car through the middle of the year meant back to back wins for Fernando at the Italian Grand Prix in front of the tifosi, and in Singapore, where he held off Vettel for most of the race.
Ferrari made the decision to abandon development of their 2009 challenger mid-way through the season and focus on the 2010 car. The F10 was one of the first cars launched during the winter. Ferrari spent a lot of work on the diffuser package and had optimised the car to fully maximise the double diffuser, which they were caught out on in 2009 and were one of the teams to question the legality of to the FIA. One thing that helped in this was to angle the engine and gearbox by around 3 degrees to increase the space under the car that the diffuser could extend to.
As in 2009, Ferrari were caught out with concepts pioneered by their rivals. They worked to introduce their version of the blown rear wing and mid-way through the season brought their version of the Exhaust Blown Diffuser to their car. This helped them to overtake McLaren as Red Bulls closest challengers come the final part of the year, but it is the controversy of the German Grand Prix that sticks out in Ferrari’s season.
Ferrari had the pace around the Hockenheim track, qualifying 2nd (Alonso) and 3rd (Massa) behind Sebastian Vettel. Massa got the jump at the start overtaking his team mate and the young German. Alonso slotted into 2nd place and this is how the pair ran for the early part of the race. With a steady gap between the pair, Alonso made calls on the team radio stating he was the faster of the two, and with Vettel closing in he was under pressure. That is when the fans watching around the world heard Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley on the radio, ‘Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand the message?’ it was clear that this is an order from the team to let Fernando go past.
The way this was handled by Massa, slowing down on the exit of the hairpin and letting Fernando past, reminded everyone of Austria 2002 when Rubens Barrichello slowed to allow Michael Schumacher past exiting the final turn. Ferrari maintained that this was not a team order, but that was just as bad as the drivers switching places, as what everyone saw was clear and it was seen to be an insult to the intelligence of the fans and followers of Formula 1 around the world. Ferrari were summoned before the World Motorsport Council & walked away with a $100,000 fine.
Whether or not it was a right decision, it was one that Ferrari are entitled to make. They have 2 contracted drivers, and have always historically favoured one driver over another. Ferrari exists to win championships, and the decision they took at the German Grand Prix was based on backing who they felt would be their best chance of winning the title.
Moving on from the German Grand Prix, Ferrari pushed hard towards the end of the year. Fernando winning in Korea was again down to luck when Vettel suffered an engine failure, but it was on pace that He was victorious at Monza and Singapore.
An error in the strategy in Abu Dhabi ultimately cost Fernando the world title. Believing that the soft tyres would degrade more than they did, Fernando pitted after Mark Webber to get out in front of the Red Bull and push on the harder tyre, knowing that 4th place would secure him the title. Ferrari did not factor in the other Red Bull & when Vettel stayed out longer on the softer tyre and ultimately go on to win the race, it was frustration for Fernando who found himself stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov & unable to overtake due to the Russian rookie being on a different strategy after an early safety car.
Ferrari’s pit call laid a lot of blame on the team on the pit wall, but it is fair to say that Ferrari have had a history of poor strategic decisions, two that stick to mind are 1999 at the Nurburgring when Eddie Irvine pitted with the team only having 3 tyres available, or 2008 at Singapore when Felipe Massa leaves the pit lane with the fuel hose still attached to his car.
2011 sees Ferrari being the first to launch their new car, the F150, a few days before the start of testing in Valencia. Ferrari know that they cannot repeat the strategic mistakes of 2010 and with organisational changes over the winter; they hope they will have addressed this. As for the car, the team has struggled over the past few years after the dream team of staff through the Schumacher era have all moved on. Looking like they were finally understanding the requirements of the current generation of car towards the end of 2010, they come into 2011 with a strong base. Whether they can be aggressive enough to be able to match the pace of the Red Bull and what is rumoured to be a very radical McLaren remains to be seen.
After leaving McLaren at the end of 2007, it was a difficult 2 years at the Renault team for Fernando with the controversy that surrounded that team following the incident with Nelson Piquet at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. 2010 marked a move to Ferrari for the Spaniard, one that had long been in the planning for both sides.
It was a dream move for both parties, Ferrari because they were getting a double world champion and a proven leader within their team, which is something they had been lacking since Michael Schumacher left. For Fernando it meant driving for a team where he knew everything could be geared around him and would give him the best chance of claiming a third world title.
The season started off well with a win at the 1st race in Bahrain. A difficult mid part of the season meant was followed by good wins in Italy and Singapore. Alonso went into the final race of the season needing a 4th place finish to guarantee the World Championship, but the strategy error meant he walked away emptied handed.
Fernando has always divided opinion between fans, some find him arrogant and his time at McLaren and the friction between him and Lewis Hamilton has meant a lot of negative criticism from the British fans and media. There is no doubt that he is a quick driver, especially on race pace, and he wrestled an underperforming F10 to strong
finishes. Mistakes are rare with Fernando, crashing in Monaco in third practice was probably the biggest and cost him a possible podium finish at the minimum.
For 2011, Fernando wants the World Championship, only reliability and a poor strategic decision cost him in 2010. Ferrari have taken actions to correct the problems of 2010. With the possibility of four teams fighting for the title, Fernando’s pace and aggressive nature should stand him in good stead to fight for good results in 2011 and with one year behind him at the team, he will fully expect to claim the world championship for Ferrari.
July 25th 2009. Qualifying session for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Felipe Massa exits turn 3 on a flying lap with Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn further up the road. As Rubens goes through turn 3, a rear damper spring breaks loose from the car and starts bouncing along the track. As Felipe accelerates up the hill towards turn 4, he is hit by this spring just above his left eye and suffers a high speed impact into the tyre wall at turn 4.
It was a testament to safety in Formula 1 that Felipe survived this horrific incident, let alone be in a position to drive a Formula 1 car again. 2010 marked Felipe’s return to racing for the first time since this accident. Ferrari had kept faith in a driver that has been a part of the team since 2003 and had shown a marked improvement in his driving in recent years, coming within 1 corner of winning the World Championship in front of his home fans in 2008.
2010 was a difficult year for Felipe, whether or not this was due to the psychological impact of racing again after his accident, he struggled for pace all through the season. Felipe has stated that this was due to problems he suffered with heating the front tyres, unable to get the best out of the tyres meant struggling in qualifying which ultimately hampered his results in races.
The team orders at the German Grand Prix cannot have done much to help he confidence of a struggling Felipe, and constantly being pushed by Luca di Montezemlo to increase his performance to aid Fernando and the team in their title push would have also had a negative effect on Felipe.
Following on from a winless season in 2010 for Massa, and he goes into 2011 knowing that this is a make or break season for him. A lot has been put on the new Pirelli tyres and Felipe is hoping this will help to cure the problems he suffered with the 2010 specification Bridgestones.
Rumours of being replaced in 2012 by Robert Kubica will not help Felipe, but he knows that he must get back to his best in order to extend his Ferrari career. If he has another season like 2010, it would be difficult for Ferrari to consider keeping him at the Maranello team when there are a number of top drivers available for 2012.