Unfortunately the Valencia Street Circuit did not come up with the goods. There was excitement in some quarters about the possibility of overtaking in Valencia, but the race was in fact one of the most processional we have seen all year. The only decent overtaking move was Coulthard on Piquet very early on in the race. Coulthard was later caught out by an over-optimistic move on Adrian Sutil.

However, there are a few talking points coming away from the European Grand Prix and they all centre on Ferrari. I can’t work out who has got the upper hand in the championship battle between Ferrari and McLaren. But definitely think that the ball is in Ferrari’s court. It’s theirs to win or lose.

First of all, it is now crystal clear that Ferrari have gained a huge performance advantage in the engine department. This is astonishing given that there is a supposed “engine freeze” whereby development on the engine is not allowed. It looks like Ferrari have been utilising a loophole whereby they can change parts of the engine on reliability grounds.

This is demonstrated by the sheer pace of the Ferrari engines at the Valencia Street Circuit with some long straights. Through the speed trap during the race, the top five fastest drivers were all using Ferrari engines. This ranges from Sébastien Bourdais’s top speed of 313km/h down to Sutil with the fifth-fastest speed at 311km/h. It’s been the same story all weekend.

It seems clear that most other engine manufacturers have been using this loophole, albeit perhaps not quite to the same extent as the Scuderia. It is equally clear that Renault have barely lifted a finger when it comes to developing their engine this season.

You can see this in the advantage Toro Rosso now have over Red Bull. They both have an identical chassis, but Toro Rosso use a Ferrari engine and Red Bull use the Renault. Toro Rosso have moved forwards while Red Bull have moved backwards. Frank Williams said in the September 2008 edition of F1 Racing that he had heard a rumour that one of the Red Bull drivers drove a Toro Rosso and was amazed at the pace of the Ferrari engine. More and more evidence mounts that Ferrari have a major engine advantage over Renault.

You can point the finger at Ferrari if you want to (and yes, I do want to). But the fact is that Renault have failed to exploit a loophole. This is a cardinal sin in Formula 1. Renault have taken the engine freeze at face value and failed to look for the loopholes which is what every other team has done. It’s amazing to think that this is effectively the same team that bent the rules to breaking point in the mid-1990s when Michael Schumacher drove for them in the Benetton days.

At the start of the season Renault blamed their woes on aerodynamic deficiencies. But it is clear now that they are hurting more in the aero department. It would be funny if it was mainly down to aero because if anything Renault have moved forwards as the season has progressed while Red Bull are steadily sinking towards the bottom end of the grid.

However, one has to wonder if Ferrari’s ability to find so much engine pace within the bounds of the rules is so healthy. Teams are allowed to develop new engine parts on the grounds of reliability. However, as I think Keith pointed out in the liveblog for the race, Ferrari’s engines have become more unreliable if anything.

This has culminated in two spectacular engine blow-ups in two consecutive races — one for Massa in Hungary, and yesterday’s blow-up for Räikkönen. The FIA ought to be asking Ferrari some probing questions about their engine development. Why are they able to use this loophole to make their engines less reliable?

Like I say, I can’t decide if Ferrari have the upper hand or not. They clearly have the fastest car now. However, the unreliability must be a major worry. Despite not being on the pace for the past two races, Hamilton has extended his lead after both races — and it’s all because of Ferrari engines blowing up.

It’s worth pointing out that the next two races put huge strain on the engine. Spa has long, fast sections and Monza is the fastest circuit in the calendar. If any period of the year demands a reliable engine, it’s this period. Ferrari will be looking hard at their engine to make sure they don’t blow up in Belgium and Italy.

2 comments

  1. At the end of the season if Ferrari have somehow managed to not win the driver’s championship despite having the best car for most of the season thus far, two questions will be asked:

    One will be whether they shouldn’t have started supporting one driver over another sooner. The other is whether by trying to develop their engines by circumnavigating the rules they actually caused themselves more problems by making them less reliable.

    They have a potentially tricky problem now. Massa has a ‘free’ engine change to use, which could be valuable if they discover what the problem with Raikkonen’s engine was and wish to insert a fix before the next race.

    But that would mean doing Spa and Monza back-to-back on the same engine – the two tracks with the highest proportion of full-throttle running (70%).

  2. Regarding the “supporting one pilot”: I think that the turning point will be Spa. If Kimi can’t clearly beat Massa there, he should switch to “supporting role” by himself (not because Ferrari tell him to do it), even if he still has mathematical possibilities. It would be the most honorable think to do, but it is yet to see if this will be too late or not…

    About the engine of Massa: the things are worsened by the fact that Kimi has to do Spa and Monza on the same engine, and two blows at Monza will be a disaster… In my opinion they should run Spa on this engine, reduce the RPM to a safe regime and use it the less they can (anyway, they have a powerfull engine and it seems that they need only 10-15 laps more). Kimi should win Spa, Massa minimize the damage (third), and then go for the glory at Monza…

    By the way: I agree on the loophole issue, it is in the blood of F1 to stretch the rules to the limit (and sometimes, a little further ;-) ). Renault should know that…