The shattered empire
The rebuilding of Ferrari started so well. The 2015 car was a massive step up from their atrocious 2014 challenger. Sebastian Vettel broke the dry spell for the Scuderia by winning three races and a pole position. It seemed that the Italians were on the way back to being a genuine championship contender. That was merely a few months ago. Ferrari will not return as the team to beat in Formula 1, because all signs suggest that the chaos is back at Maranello.
Making the convenient choice
The fans that hoped that the Ferrari management had a genuine recovery plan got the first cue that was not the case soon after the summer break. The “Vettel teammate saga” finished with the team extending Kimi Raikkonen’s contract to 2016. Raikkonen’s driving since his return at Maranello has not been spectacular and it did not miraculously improve since the extension was signed.
The Finn is the convenient choice for the position, because he is probably Vettel’s choice. The two drivers seem to have a great off-track chemistry and the aging world champion is no longer a match on the track for the German. Rather than looking around for a driver that could get the best out of the 2016 car, the Ferrari management proceeded the same way they would during Fernando Alonso’s time at Maranello. They hired the driver that was not a challenge for their Number 1.
Investors do not care about “Formula 1 legacy”, they care about profits.
Scared by Red Bull
Keeping a driver that scores half the points of his teammate is not the only similarity with the subpar 2010-2014 era at Ferrari. The engineers at Maranello are still afraid of being comprehensively beaten by those at Milton Keynes. Six months ago, the Scuderia Chairman Sergio Marchionne was loudly proclaiming that he had no problem supplying Red Bull Racing with power units, because the Scuderia aerodynamicists were good enough to handle the competition. The boasting, however, ended when Red Bull actually came begging for engines.
Rather than agreeing to supply both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso with 2016 power units, the team forced the Strategy Group into allowing in-season develop and year-old-spec engines. There is no calmness behind the scenes and probably no clear long-term plan to make the aerodynamics department at Maranello the best in the field. The Italians are afraid of fighting RBR on equal footing, because very little has changed since they were comprehensively beaten between 2009 and 2014.
It will get worse
What spells doom to any chances of Mercedes having their work cut out in 2016, is that the problems at Ferrari will only get worse going forward. Ferrari is being spun off from its parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. One tenth of Ferrari’s shares was recently floated on the New York Stock Exchange. Another 80% will be sold to FCA’s shareholders early next year.
The Wall Street investors do not care about “Formula 1 legacy”, they care about profits. Ferrari’s top management will be reluctant to dump money into short-term engine development. The racing division will need to learn to work on a budget. It will also be forced to live with the short-term thinking associated with delivering positive figures right away. Their 2016 Formula 1 car better be something special, because the target next year will certainly not be two wins.