Friday, 29 July 2016

Choppy Waters still ahead of Red Revival, by Ewan Marshall

Another week, another hurdle for the Prancing Horse to navigate. But are the latest developments at Ferrari cause for concern or simply part of the course in its search for supremacy?

Only a day after Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene called on critics to leave the team "in peace" to address its problems, news broke that its technical director James Allison would depart with immediate effect.

Maurizio Arrivabene and James Allison have parted ways
Photo: Octane Photography
Allison, who previously worked for Ferrari between spells at Larousse and Enstone-based Formula One team, is highly regarded within the motor sport world and was thought key in returning the team to glory. Initial signs were positive, with the Englishman helping extinguish memories of a winless 2014 with three victories last season.

Of course, tragic developments in Allison's private life have been well documented by other outlets. Whether this was instrumental in his decision remains speculative, however his expertise will surely be missed by Ferrari, and will be fought over among its rivals should he wish to make a swift return to the sport.

2016 was a year which promised so much for the Prancing Horse, even if talk of wresting the championships from the ever-dominant Mercedes team seemed highly unlikely.

While the team has made great strides in closing the deficit to the Silver Arrows and stamping out its early unreliability, it has been at a loss to extract its true potential when it mattered – especially in qualifying. In Hungary, the SF16-H showed encouraging race pace, but for poor grid positions forcing its drivers to race on the back foot from the onset.

In 2016 Ferrari has remained in the Mercedes shadow
Photo: Octane Photography
There have been suggestions that the team's management of Pirelli's 2016 tyres could be at the heart of its woes, however poor luck and tactical naivety can also be attributed to a poor season so far.

Nevertheless, this will do little to satisfy Chairman Sergio Marchionne's desire for a rapid upturn in fortune, with change already underway. In his short spell in charge of iconic Formula One squad, the Italian-Canadian has shown no signs of wavering in his demands and such upheaval looks set to pile even more pressure on the team, with more inevitable changes.

In the interim, it appears that Ferrari will look internally for solutions, as has been the case since the end of the Schumacher era. Allison himself will be replaced by Mattia Binotto a long-time servant of the squad having recently overseen development of its power unit. Sebastian Vettel, publically at least, has thrown his weight behind the move, declaring his faith in the management its roadmap to success.

Of course Vettel has much to be positive about. Although Ferrari may lack the 'Hollywood' personnel, the team is not devoid of talented engineers and designers. Furthermore, he enjoys de facto number one status and has positioned himself to have full influence over future direction, with Kimi Raikkonen unlikely to rock the boat.

Despite leading in Canada, this season has
been disappointing for Ferrari
Photo: Octane Photography
Yet, the German will be well aware that Allison's exit leaves little of the top brass which helped lure him from Red Bull in 2014.

It's hard to believe that Ferrari has not won either championship since 2008, especially with Fernando Alonso falling short on two occasions. Nevertheless, there was always a sense that the team was missing something; a final piece of the puzzle. 'Something' which would have given it an edge rather than subjecting it to plucky underdog when up against the all-conquering Red Bull juggernaut.

There's no doubt there has been significant progress in recent years, but nothing from the outside suggests that outright victory is around the corner. Marchionne may well be impatient; however, like a super tanker in the ocean, history suggests that Ferrari always needs time to turn things around.

It could be argued that the team is facing as big a challenge as the one which finally led to utter domination with Michael Schumacher. Many believe that the road to recovery began upon the German's arrival in 1996 and the hiring of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne subsequently after. However it's possible to trace the green shoots back to 1992, when Luca di Montezemolo returned as President. Then, Ferrari was still reeling after coming agonisingly close to the crown with Alain Prost in 1990, before sensationally firing the Frenchman a year later.

Luca di Montezemolo's return to the team
was arguably the start of its turnaround
Photo: Octane Photography
The Italian's first move was to install Niki Lauda as an advisor before opening the door for the return of Harvey Postlethwaite and John Barnard – neither strangers to Ferrari's quirks. The former's tenure was brief at best, exasperated by the same issues which dogged his previous stint. Meanwhile the latter oversaw car design until 1997, once again establishing a base at home in England.

Although none of Barnard's cars brought championships, he was pivotal in enacting many of the changes which lured Schumacher in the first place. Despite intense pressure from all sides, his three-year plan was instrumental in engineering a switch from V12 to V10 power and directing the team to design cars in modern wind tunnels using new state of the art technology (such as lightweight titanium and carbon fibre gearbox cases). This, alongside the introduction of the highly effective Jean Todt as General Manager in 1993 and increased money from Philip Morris, laid the foundations for the creation of 'Team Schumacher'. Even then, it would take a further three seasons after Barnard's departure for sustained domination.

While Ferrari hopes that it will not have to endure this same agony it, like McLaren at this time, still faces a road to recovery. For Vettel, he will hope that Fernando Alonso's chequered spell was in a similar vein to Jean Alesi's and Gerhard Berger's in the 1990s, allowing him to emerge at right-place-right-time to reap ultimate rewards.

Will Sebastian Vettel start to look elsewhere
if things don't improve?
Photo: Octane Photography
2017 may well provide that opportunity, with Formula One undergoing a major revamp. Should this fail he will be hard pushed to find another top drive immediately. With Nico Rosberg recently signing a two-year extension, Vettel has been blocked out of Mercedes for the near future - unless things become so toxic between team-mate that an early opening emerges. Meanwhile, both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are locked into long-term deals at Red Bull, making a return to Milton Keynes highly unlikely. Although this will make for an interesting market ahead of 2019, it does maintain a suffocating status quo – forcing drivers like Vettel to stick with what he knows.

At the same time, a lack of success may prompt Ferrari to also look elsewhere – to those aforementioned or whoever is ripping up the track by then?

It is very plausible that Ferrari can return to the top with the help of Sebastian Vettel. Ultimately both parties will hope this is swift. However do not be surprised if the ship still needs time to turn.

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