Ferrari Finally Feels Ready Compete Consistently
It's been a long time since Ferrari was this confident entering a Formula One season.
After four years without a title, the Italian team finally feels like it has a car that can compete for victory on a consistent basis.
"Compared to the F2012 the F138 is on another level," Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said at the Geneva Motor Show this week. "It's like running with two legs vs. one in a cast. The car is responding well. The data from the wind tunnel and the simulator give us a real idea of what we can expect. The drivers have felt great during testing. We're ready."
Last season, Fernando Alonso finished just three points behind Red Bull champion Sebastian Vettel — which was all the more impressive considering the development problems Ferrari struggled with.
The plan this season, which starts with the Australian Grand Prix on March 17, hinges on constant development.
In recent seasons, Ferrari departed for the opening races in Australia and Asia with the idea that it would try and just get by before finely tuning the car in time for the traditional European races starting in May.
But playing catch-up from the start proved difficult.
"It's going to be a very long season and the winner will be the team that is able to progress and develop each week, without stopping," team principal Stefano Domenicali said following the final preseason team meeting at Scuderia headquarters in Maranello on Wednesday.
"In 2012 we developed for a long time but then we slowed down at the end and Red Bull moved ahead after the summer," Domenicali added. "We need to create a situation where Alonso can win with 80 percent of his own talent, whereas in 2012 he needed to give 110 percent."
Already admired as perhaps the most talented driver in the sport, the Spaniard has stepped up his physical preparation this season, and even skipped the first testing session in Spain last month to do athletic training instead.
"I've improved since last year," Alonso said. "I'm better prepared and more motivated. In 2012, I had the greatest season of my career but this one will be even better. Last year, I left for the first race in Australia with little confidence. ... It's different now."
The main difference, of course, is the car.
"This car is easier to work with. It gives us precise responses whereas before we had highs and lows without knowing why," Alonso said. "I'm not asking for it to be a half-second faster than the adversaries but as long as it's within two-tenths."
In October, Ferrari extended Felipe Massa's contract for one more season. While the Brazilian hasn't won a race since a life-threatening accident at the Hungarian GP in 2009, he had a solid second half to last season, and finished third in the year-ending Brazilian GP.
"I'm also hoping to fight for the podium," Massa said. "Being more competitive in qualifying would help us. That's what we've been working on."
Last season, Alonso took Ferrari's only two pole positions at the British and German GP's.
"We've made an enormous step forward in aerodynamics and now we need to do just as good of a job with the tires," Domenicali said. "We need to continue with our race strategy and erase our weakness, which was qualifying.
"The podium in Australia is a realistic goal and a good starting point to be able to win over the course of the year," Domenicali added. "So, yes, we're ready."
Ferrari last won the constructors' title in 2008 with Kimi Raikkonen and Massa, while Raikkonen won the team's last drivers' title in 2007.
Domenicali took over from Jean Todt as team principal for the 2008 season, and the one title the team has managed under his guidance pales in comparison to the 14 it won under Todt, mainly with Michael Schumacher in the driver's seat.
"I would have been unwise not to think that by replacing Jean Todt, I would face difficult years," Domenicali said. "Winning cycles don't continue forever. But these years were necessary to cement the team together and now we have everything in place to start a new cycle."