Even though most of the focus tends to be on the Drivers’ Championship, the Constructors’ Championship is the prize that reflects a team effort. Ferrari are the sort of team that, if it misses out on the Drivers’ Championship, it will pick up the Constructors’.
The last time McLaren won the drivers’ Championship, with Mika Häkkinen, the Scuderia scooped up the Constructors’ prize. That was in 1999, and it was a victory that signified a team very much on the rise. This year, it reflects a team that refuses to go off the boil, even though they threatened to do so.
Let us not forget the massive changes that have been made in the Ferrari team over the past few years. Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver of all time, retired. Ross Brawn took a sabbatical and re-emerged at Honda. Rory Byrne took a back seat. Now Jean Todt has left. The axis of Schumacher is no more.
This was Stefano Domenicali’s first year in charge of the team. He had a baptism of fire in Australia, an unmitigated disaster with both drivers suffering from some kind of engine failure. Even though that proved to be a blip rather than the norm, it was by no means a one-off. The team that propelled Michael Schumacher to five World Championships is no longer the slick operation it was a few years ago. We have caught glimpses of the Italians’ calamitous ways once again.
In addition to the Australian disaster, there was a Singapore snafu. Before Kimi Räikkönen crashed out, Felipe Massa left the pitlane with his fuel hose still completely attached, the traffic lights having turned green. The controversial traffic lights system also caused Felipe Massa bother in Valencia, when he was dangerously released straight into the path of Adrian Sutil. Then, the team was simply slapped on the wrist by the FIA. In Singapore, though, it completely ruined Massa’s race.
Ferrari say they will bring back the traffic lights system for next season, adamant that it saves them enough time to justify the risk of complete foul-up. But if it saves them a couple of tenths, is that worth the occassional loss of ten points? Given how close the championship ended up being, that traffic lights system transpired to be a very expensive mistake for Ferrari.
The Scuderia also often found itself completely unable to answer the McLaren challenge. Hamilton was unstoppable in Silverstone while the Ferraris were spinning like tops in the midfield. Similarly in Hockenheim, Hamilton managed to make Felipe Massa look like a small child. A final sub-par performance came in China, though at least that time round they still finished 2nd and 3rd, albeit a long way behind Hamilton.
There were also a few alarming reliability problems. Ferrari continued to (legally) develop their engines through the engine freeze, though this was at the expense of reliability as two Ferrari engines went pop in two successive races, in Valencia and the Hungaroring. Perhaps more startling was the loose exhaust that ruined Kimi Räikkönen’s race in France — and that was when the rot began to set in in the Finn’s season.
A question mark also remains over the ability of their two drivers. Massa is clearly competent as I outlined in my previous post, but he is no Schumacher as a number of errors, particularly at the start of the season, demonstrate. And Räikkönen’s slump into near-obscurity remains a mystery to all observers. Meanwhile, four arguably better drivers — Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica and Vettel — are all weapons in their main rivals’ armoury. Ferrari are retaining their pair until at least 2010, and you have to wonder if that is the right decision.
All-in-all, then, Ferrari have had an up and down season. They have had some wonderful highlights, and also some incredibly low troughs. But almost all teams have had a poor season for one reason or another. Certainly their main rivals, McLaren, cannot exit this season without taking a particular look at their strategy or the performance of their second driver Heikki Kovalainen.
As such, even though I cannot stand the Ferrari team, I have to concede that they have done a great job this year. They have had eight wins to McLaren’s six. And both of their drivers were regularly in contention for good results unlike McLaren. So congratulations to the Scuderia. I just hope they don’t win too often. 😉