Almost thirty years ago, the Italian football team’s run up to the World Cup, held in Spain in ’82 was anything but sparkling. Three friendlies (0-2 against France, 0-1 against East Germany and a one all draw with Switzerland) did not augur well and the three more draws at the start of the competition against Poland, Peru and Cameroon, would cause popular and media uproar, with many shouting for the head of the team manager, Enzo Bearzot. The final story was a very different one, with a run of four consecutive wins (Argentina, Brazil, Poland and West Germany) taking the “Azzurri” to their third title, the first in 44 years.
This football themed prologue serves to explain the parallel drawn by Stefano Domenicali when talking about Scuderia Ferrari’s run up to this championship, when he chatted with a few Italian media in Milan yesterday, just after the end of the FIA World Council.
“ To those who ask me if I would sign today for a third place in Melbourne, I would say that I’m not signing anything. Maybe the same will happen as in 1982 when in the World Cup, Italy got off to a bad start and then in the end, went on to win, when it mattered,” said Domenicali. “As for the media silence (a choice adopted also by the Italian team back then, Ed.) I want to stress there was no such choice. In Barcelona we had decided that only the technical head, Pat Fry would talk and then Fernando said a couple of words to the stadium, a place of passion par excellence. That’s all.”
Domenicali did not hide the fact he was not happy with the way testing had gone, but he would not hear talk of panic or pessimism from Ferrari’s side. “There is none of this, just an awareness of where we stand. We have been realistic when communicating about the problems we have had, because transparency is part of the way I go about things. The lack of satisfaction comes from the fact we did not meet our technical targets and so everything refers to ourselves. Where we are compared to the others, we do not know for certain and our lack of satisfaction might also turn out to be excessive. Having said this, a clearer picture of the hierarchy on track will only emerge after the first four races.”
As for the technical reasons behind the lack of satisfaction, Domenicali was very explicit. We had asked our engineers for an extreme car, because without that, we would have been unable to close the gap to the best. The first configuration of the exhausts showed good potential, but it caused problems: the tyres overheated and the performance was unstable. Therefore we had to change, even if I certainly was not happy about it. We are still working on the original set up, but we will be unable to test it until the Mugello test at the beginning of May, because we believe it could give us a good performance advantage.”
The Scuderia Team Principal then looked at the bigger picture, also talking about the evolution that characterises the team. “Sport goes in cycles. Over the last thirteen years, McLaren has won just one Constructors’ and one Drivers’ title, Renault had two fantastic seasons and then nothing, Brawn had a one-off, Mercedes has only managed two podiums in three years and at the moment, this is the Red Bull cycle,” he said. “In 2010, we began a new technical cycle: important steps were taken in terms of the organisation and working methodology and here I’m thinking mainly about the areas of simulation and strategy. Aerodynamics is not yet at an adequate level: it’s not easy finding the right people, but this has to be a stimulus for those who work for us. I tell you this as someone who experienced the Schumacher era first hand and I recall how much we suffered before getting there. Ferrari will be back with another winning cycle as the basics are in place to achieve it.
“This year, Red Bull again starts out in front,” continued Domenicali, talking about the team’s rivals. “McLaren is on form, Mercedes has taken a step forward and Lotus is looking strong, but they also began well last year. Toro Rosso and Force India also seem good, especially on a flying lap. So there might be some surprises at the start and then the situation will settle down but I expect everyone to be much closer to each other than in 2011.”
Domenicali did not avoid answering those who asked if he felt his own position was up for discussion. “I always feel that’s the case but in relation to my family, whom I don’t get to spend enough time with. I’ve got pressure on my back, which is as it should be. I am not the one who designs the car: my task is to give my people everything they need in terms of organisation and structure. Having said that, I am very much aware of my responsibilities. There is pressure, but I feel the support of the whole team and of President Montezemolo.”
Finally, Domenicali touched on two more purely political topics, the RRA and the Concorde Agreement that expires at the end of the year. “The agreements relating to cost reduction are still valid and we are evaluating if it can be up to the FIA to ensure they are respected, introducing sanctions of a sporting nature. Why didn’t we ask for the checks that were outlined in the agreement to be made last year? Very simple, because we did not want it to sound like an excuse for our performance. As for the Concorde Agreement, I can only say that we are moving forward: maybe, after what happened to the ocean going liner of the same name, we should not call it this anymore,” concluded Domenicali with a smile.
After testing, the analysis and predictions, it’s time for the stopwatch to have its say: the first verdict is expected in the Albert Park theatre next Saturday.