Why Ferrari need to win the title this year
After 10 years of losing the championship in the last race, or simply not being competitive enough, we look at why it’s so important for Ferrari to win this season.
Ten years ago was the last time Ferrari managed to win the drivers’ title, even though it was unbelievably close against the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. This was nothing like it was a few years before though, where Michael Schumacher had won 5 titles in a row, most of them in quite superior fashion. On the flip side though, the championships after Raikkonen’s 2007 title were either lost by narrow margins, or the team had no chance to fight for the championship at all.
If you look back at these past ten years, you can see why it’s so important for Ferrari to win the championship this season.
Massa’s heartbreak in Sao Paulo
Back in 2008, another episode of Red vs. Silver followed after the three-way driver battle the year before. Alonso left McLaren and returned to Renault while Kovalainen joined Hamilton as his teammate. At Ferrari the drivers remained the same, although this time it was Massa who emerged as Ferrari’s title contender to go up against Lewis Hamilton. Both drivers made costly errors during the season which made the battle even more intense towards the end, and it all ended up coming down to the final race in Brazil.
Here, Massa did all he could, crossing the finish line to win his home race in tricky, damp conditions, and as Hamilton lost one place against the Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel, it seemed like the Brazilian had the title in his hands. In the last corner, however, Hamilton got past the Toyota of Timo Glock who was still driving on dry tyres, allowing the McLaren driver to clinch the title, causing the mood at Ferrari to quickly go from excitement to frustration. As close as the team came in 2007 to win the title, it was even closer in 2008 to lose it. Interestingly this was Massa’s final win for Ferrari.
The rule changes for 2009 mixed up the order heavily, with both McLaren and Ferrari dropping back. This made way for Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing to fight for the titles, and it wasn’t until after the summer break that Ferrari and McLaren finally began to catch up. After a podium at the Nurburgring, Massa sustained a severe head injury, and was lucky to survive, after getting hit by a suspension spring in Hungary. Raikkonen at least took one victory in Spa after that while Massa’s replacements, Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella, both failed to impress or even score a point.
At that time though, it was more about preparation for 2010. The Scuderia paid Raikkonen to leave the team, freeing his seat for the arrival of Fernando Alonso, with whom Ferrari hoped to get the title back.
A new hero? – the Alonso years
This new era at Ferrari started well, with Alonso winning his first race for the Scuderia ahead of the recovered Felipe Massa. In that season, however, two more teams were capable of winning races: Red Bull and McLaren. Through the first half of the season, it seemed that Ferrari would lose ground, but then came Hockenheim, where Massa and Alonso famously switched positions, which was not allowed at that time. Despite the criticism he and the team endured after this, Alonso was back in the game, winning races in Italy, Singapore and South Korea and making it to the final, 4-way decider in Abu Dhabi as the championship leader.
At the start, Vettel stormed away from pole, with Alonso losing one position to Button as he dropped back to fourth, which would have still been enough to win the championship. However, a safety car on lap 1 changed everything and crucially saw Rosberg and Petrov take their pit stops early and switch to the other compound that they would finish the race with. After Webber pitted 10 laps later after he slightly touched the wall, Ferrari decided to call in Alonso as well. The Spaniard ended up right behind Petrov and did not manage it to get past the Russian all race. With Alonso finishing 7th and Webber 8th the title went to Sebastian Vettel.
The next year Ferrari was without a chance, taking just one win in Silverstone, and that was probably caused by a one-race regulation change in terms of engine mapping concerning the infamous blowing diffuser being banned for that grand prix. With regular podium appearances though, Alonso made it to fourth in the standings and even scored more points than the year before.
Brazilian heartbreak again in 2012
2012 seemed to look worse than 2011 at first, with bad performances in pre-season testing and the first race in Melbourne. But then came the wet race in Malaysia where Alonso could make a clear difference, and he duly won in what was an inferior car. That was probably all the motivation the Scuderia needed, and the car improved markedly from here, allowing Alonso to take 2 wins on the way to leading the championship before the summer break. With seven different winners in the first seven races and difficult to understand Pirelli tyres you had to go for consistency.
The situation changed after the summer break though, as Red Bull Racing improved and Vettel began to close down the 40 point lead of the Ferrari driver by winning all four races in Asia. Unfortunately, around this time Alonso was forced to retire twice due to first corner collisions in Spa and Suzuka, which could be seen as a deciding factor at the end.
The finale in Brazil, with the championship on the line, gave us one of the most exciting races ever. Alonso’s hope was to make it to the podium and that something could happen to his only contender Vettel, and it did! On lap one the German collided with Bruno Senna, damaging his car and spinning to the back of the field while Alonso moved up positions, following the two McLarens.
Vettel did not give up though and managed to fight his way back to the points again. Changing weather conditions then caused a wrong strategy call for the Red Bull driver, dropping him out of the points again. With other drivers crashing and spinning Alonso ended up in P2 just behind Button, but Vettel was catching up again, getting past Kobayashi and Schumacher to finish 6th, which was enough for the German to become world champion for the third time in a row. With all the ups and downs during the race, you could clearly see the disappointment in Alonso’s face. Another near-miss in the last race of the season.
Years of changes
The next year Alonso would win two more races, with his now final race win to date coming in Barcelona in front of his home crowd. But it seemed that the championship was already lost in July after Pirelli had to go back to the 2012 tyre specs for safety reasons after several tyre failures in Silverstone. This allowed Red Bull and Vettel, who were quite superior with the 2012 tyres at the end of the previous season, to return to this superior position, winning 9 races in a row to crown Vettel a four-time world champion. Alonso again managed to come in second, but he was clearly starting to get tired of it.
2014 started with personnel changes at Ferrari, with Felipe Massa making way for the returning Kimi Raikkonen. With 2 world champion drivers. and the new engines formula for 2014, Ferrari hoped to finally be able to have a strong package again being able to fight for the championship. Sadly though this wasn’t the case, and Mercedes did the best job, leaving Ferrari quite a way off the pace and causing team boss Stefano Domenicali to resign after the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari had to find a new team principal which was Marco Mattiacci, the CEO of Ferrari North America who did not have any experience in Formula 1. As the season progressed Alonso decided to leave the Ferrari at the end of the 2014 season and Luca di Montezemolo was also replaced by FIAT chief Sergio Marchionne. The new hope for the Scuderia was Sebastian Vettel who was seeking new motivation in emulating his childhood hero Michael Schumacher to become a world champion with Ferrari.
Even though team principal Mattiacci made the deal with the German, the Italian was replaced by Maurizio Arrivabene after the 2014 season, meaning that Ferrari had three different team principals within one year. Big changes within one year, but these moves started to pay off almost immediately. In the second race of the 2015 season, in Malaysia, Vettel managed to defeat the Mercedes by using a slightly different strategy, while also enjoying a similar level of car performance on that day. For Ferrari, it was really a relief after almost two years without winning any races.
This victory came quite early in the season though and proved tough to repeat. Mercedes were still, on most occasions, too far ahead, but Vettel could shine, scoring several podiums and two more wins in Hungary and Singapore, capitalising in these instances on poor performances from Mercedes.
For 2016 the goals were set higher: Winning the championship. Boss Marchionne wanted wins but did not get even one. In the first few races a win was possible, but in hindsight, the racing strategy often went in the wrong direction. Even Red Bull managed to win two races against the all conquering Mercedes, and Ferrari dropped back to be the third best team again. The team also suffered technical losses, with technical director Allison leaving during the season after a family crisis. 2016 then was a clear write off for Ferrari, but they were already preparing for the regulation changes this year.
Is 2017 Ferrari’s year?
That’s why the Scuderia kept patient and calm this year and did not set high hopes at the beginning despite running well at the pre-season testing in Barcelona. This cautious optimism seems to have worked however, with Vettel winning four races, leading the championship before the summer break, and Ferrari being competitive at almost every race this year. The only issue is that Raikkonen still hasn’t managed to win a race since his return to the team, but him being supportive to Vettel’s championship battle, like in Hungary where the German faced problems with his steering wheel, can be an advantage for Ferrari, unlike at Mercedes where both drivers are fighting for the championship, winning races and scoring lots of points.
You never know how the battle will turn out at the end though, but for Ferrari, it is crucially important to win again after 10 years. Otherwise, it takes us back to 1990 where, after 10 years of Ferrari not winning a championship, Prost lost the fight against Senna in Suzuka after both crashed out in the first corner, making the Brazilian the champion. From then it took Ferrari another 10 years until Schumacher could finally stop the curse and win the title for Maranello again – followed by 4 more championships.
Maybe then, another German can stop Ferrari’s ongoing losing streak to win the title this year, along with a teammate who was Ferrari’s last world champion.