I’ll admit to being surprised by Stefano Domenicali’s recent revelation that, in the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he considered resigning his post as Ferrari team principal.
Yes, it’s undeniable that a team mistake on pitstop strategy cost Fernando Alonso the World Championship. But, truth be told, mistakes of that kind are made by every team at some stage, although usually – as Stefano said – without such devastating effects.
Right after the race there were rumours from Italy that heads would roll, and of course there was speculation that Domenicali, as the man in charge, would be at the top of the list. Fortunately rumours were all they turned out to be, and quite rightly he remains at the helm. The job Stefano has done, not least in transforming Ferrari’s image in the paddock, deserves high praise.
As well as that, we wouldn’t care to see Formula 1 follow the path well trodden in the Premiership, where a manager gets pitched if his players don’t perform for three or four games on the trot. Well, I wouldn’t, anyway – but then I’m invariably keen to have comparisons between motor racing and football kept to a minimum in all respects.
“But… we always have one driver who is faster than the other…”Now, as Ferrari prepares for the coming season, there will be a good deal of focus on Felipe Massa, so disappointing in 2010. While the team – even in the Schumacher days – never officially nominated a number one driver, it’s a fact that Alonso is unequivocally regarded as that, and not surprisingly so. “At Ferrari,” Mauro Forghieri used to say, “we never have a number one driver.” Pause. “But… we always have one driver who is faster than the other…”
Just so. In 2010 Alonso comprehensively outperformed Massa, and if Felipe’s act isn’t more – much more – together this season, it’s a given that he will be out at the end of it. “Every driver,” said Domenicali, “in order to race, must feel the strongest. When they don’t manage to be the strongest, it’s very hard to clear their heads from those excuses everyone creates when things go wrong.
“I think this was the cause of Felipe’s bad season, but he’ll come out of it if he works on that. That’s why I’m certain we’ll see a great Massa in 2011. He knows full well he can’t afford another season like the last one…”
Well, we’ll see. If Stefano’s diagnosis of Felipe’s problems is the right one – and I think it is – I don’t find it easy to agree with his prediction of a great season for him in 2011. Invariably he found it difficult to keep pace with Alonso last year, and after the Hockenheim incident, where Ferrari ‘asked’ him to move over for Fernando, his head seemed to droop for the balance of the year.
Interlagos, where he had become nigh invincible, told its own tale. At his home race he won from pole for Ferrari in 2006, took pole and handed victory to team-mate Kimi Räikkönen in ’07, took pole and won in ’08. The ’09 race he missed, of course, still recuperating from the injuries sustained in Hungary, but last year he qualified only ninth – more than a second from Alonso – and made no impression in the race.
In truth, once it became clear that Ferrari was concentrating its efforts on Alonso for the World Championship, Massa looked like a man who couldn’t wait for the season to be over. I can see Felipe sparkling occasionally this year, particularly in the early races, but it’s unlikely he can ever feel, in Domenicali’s words, ‘the strongest’ while he’s teamed with a driver like Alonso. Within the team Massa is immensely popular, and understandably so, but if he doesn’t show a lot more fight – and consistent pace – than he did in 2010, his days at Ferrari will be done. Some indeed think the decision is already taken.