Tuesday 13 May 2014

Silly season latest part 1 - Adrian Newey to Ferrari rumour

The world has changed. Not sure when or how, but it has.

As the name might suggest, 'silly season' in F1 used to actually be a season. Time was it used to start sometime around mid-summer and continue roughly to the campaign's end. Indeed the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim was once upon a time viewed as the traditional silly season starting gun; some said that in these pre Schumi-mania days the fact that this meeting, at a rather soulless venue given to tepid races, tended to give not much to talk about on-track so speculation about who was going where would fill the gap (the old Hockenheim seems to have established a curious popularity in hindsight which it never actually had at the time - though I digress).

Hockenheim - the former scene of the start of silly season
Credit: AnRo0002 / CC
Silly season was finite in other words. With a beginning and an end. Meaning we had some respite from it. But it is not a season any more, instead it seems a perpetual, 12 months of the year, presence.

Most likely this is down to the fact that the 'who goes where' activities of an F1 team - be it for drivers or for other staff - is now also a never-ending activity. These days those suggesting waiting until July to think about firming up your various contracts for the following year would be considered close to certifiable by any team principal. And to take an extreme example, Fernando Alonso's deal to take him to Ferrari, originally intended to come into force for the 2011 season, was thought to have been signed all the way back in the July of 2008.

But even with this the Spanish Grand Prix weekend just passed seemed quite the classic for encircling silly season rumours. And none less than the fact that, for some reason, the Adrian Newey to Ferrari speculation reared its head again, with word that the Scuderia is prepared to offer him the earth to get him aboard.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner was right to point out this particular rumour is a perennial, at least since Newey's Bulls started their extended run of wiping the floor with Maranello's best efforts. This wouldn't be Ferrari's first approach to the man accepted as the sport's contemporary design star, nor its first approach waving a blank chequebook. And each time before now the Scuderia has been rebuffed.

But is there reason to think that things are different this time? After all, Newey was notably coy in front of a microphone over the Barcelona weekend when the subject was raised, not ruling anything in or out. Horner was equally coy on the subject of the length of Newey's contract.

Newey too has admitted in the past that having children of school age was a major impediment to any prospective move to Italy, though now perhaps given the said children are a bit older...

Adrian Newey - looking to the future?
Photo: Octane Photography
Possibly too - and slightly absurd though it may sound - having reached the mountain top at Red Bull Newey may now be scanning around looking for new peaks to scale (even America's Cup rumours linger in this ilk). Newey's wing man and long-time ally Peter Prodromou after all left the Milton Keynes outfit last year, which some reckoned might just be the thin end of the wedge; just like the dominant Ferrari squad before it Red Bull's preponderance owed a lot to a stable technical and management team. Losing one part has the potential to herald a Jenga-like effect.

While at the age of 55 Newey likely has one big move left in him, Ferrari of course always has an allure all of its own, so what better final act of a fine career to go to Maranello and haul them back to championship glory?

What Newey would bring to Ferrari is obvious, yet old lingering doubts about the likelihood, perhaps even the wisdom, of the move remain. This is mainly that Newey is considered a resolute Englishman, perhaps not keen to relocate to Italy; perhaps even if he did relocate not keen to adapt to their ways. And those with long-ish memories think back to the 1980s when Ferrari with parallels with now snapped up another resolute Englishman, and design star of the age, in John Barnard, this time from McLaren.

John Barnard - once sought by Ferrari
Credit: Aconcagua / CC
Barnard though wasn't keen to relocate to Italy at all, so Ferrari let him have his own GTO. Not the car you understand, but in this case his Guildford Technical Office. In other words, and astonishing though it may be to the modern reader, he sat in England designing Ferrari cars which would be built as ever in Italy. The inherent risks in this set-up are obvious of course, and remember this too was the pre-internet age wherein communication was much more difficult than now (Barnard though insists to this day he preferred this set-up relocation or not, as it rather freed him from Maranello politics and allowed him to concentrate on designing).

Given this snub - combined with the fact they probably weren't all that keen to see an Inglese succeed where their own had failed - Barnard was never popular with the Italian media and they tended to rip him to shreds at every opportunity, while driver Michele Alboreto hardly helped matters by saying to the press that it was all like 'a brain surgeon attempting a complicated operation over the telephone'. Whatever was the case, and while some of his Ferraris were fine efforts, under his leadership the Scuderia never managed to topple Barnard's old employers from Woking.

You rather doubt Ferrari would go this far again though, even for Newey.

But another part that I don't really get is that Ferrari has just hired a new Technical Director, and a very highly-rated one, in James Allison. And by consensus neither he nor those brought in with him such as Dirk de Beer had much opportunity for input into the 2014 car. While all's fair in love and F1, to immediately bring someone new in over his head like that would be a bit heroic even by Ferrari's standards.

Perhaps though it's all even simpler than that and Ferrari is about as concerned about depriving Newey from its rivals as it is about getting Newey for itself.

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