July 2004. Ferrari and Michael Schumacher have won ten of an optimum eleven races, they are on the way to their sixth and fifth consecutive titles respectively.
TEN YEARS LATER.
July 2014. Ferrari has one podium from nine events, lying third in the standings by the skin of its’ teeth.
The team principal and engine chief are gone, whilst speculation is rampant that one or both of its’ World Champion drivers won’t remain there next season.
Ferrari can boast two constructors’ and a drivers’ title since that imperious campaign a decade ago, though it is hard to escape the notion that the Prancing Horse has been in decline since Schumacher departed – not entirely by his own choosing, at the conclusion of 2006.
With the German’s exit, the off-track triumvirate as pivotal to implementing the successful regime as Schumacher went their separate ways. Technical guru Ross Brawn entered a sabbatical – returning to the sport with Honda, car designer Rory Byrne took a step back, and team principal Jean Todt handed over responsibilities twelve months later.
Consider that Schumacher is German, Brawn is British, Byrne is South African and Todt is French.
You couldn’t have dreamed of a more diverse combination.
Their respective replacements, comprising Italian – Aldo Costa: technical director 2007, Stefano Domenicali: team principal 2008, Greek – Nicolas Tombazis: chief designer 2006, and most recently Spanish – Fernando Alonso: driver 2010, nationalities, has facilitated a Latino heavy organisation. It is one which certainly doesn’t want for passion, but has led to a narrow philosophy, loath to deviation from a set path, leaving little room for contingency.
The fact is that Ferrari are this season as close to the shambles they represented in the pre-Schumacher era.
Fernando Alonso continues to flatter a package which, by rights, shouldn’t be anywhere near the top three. Yet, he depicts an individual who has given up on the dream of becoming a Ferrari world champion, following three runner-up placings in four seasons, two of which were near misses.
The 33-year old cannot be blamed for considering his options, even if he won’t admit as much. Schumacher claimed his first Ferrari title in his fourth complete campaign. Alonso is midway through his fifth, but doesn’t appear any closer to a breakthrough, despite giving as much to the cause. As such, if it comes to pass that the Spaniard returns to McLaren, he stands to lose little.
Kimi Räikkönen has been at sea for the duration of his second stint at Maranello. He has never looked like troubling the top five, much less challenging Alonso. He has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for his Silverstone accident, which could be attested to his growing desperation to achieve a decent result.
It would be no great surprise to see the Finn depart once again at season’s end, and whilst his 2007 title during his first season with the team remains the most recent for a Ferrari driver, it is becoming rapidly apparent this was the best we have seen of the 34-year old. Though the F14T’s glaring deficiencies must inherit a portion of the blame for his woes, the second half of his campaign will determine his future.
Rory Byrne returned to the fold last season to combat the new regulations, yet he hasn’t been able to work his magic on the F14T. He must be given the benefit of another campaign to produce a competitive package, whilst significant improvements to the powertrain are just as vital as the design.
Briton James Allison – another invaluable member of the 2000-2004 dynasty, returned from Lotus at the end of last season, too late to implement any significant bearing on this year’s challenger. Thus, his input can’t be truly measured until 2015, and it could even be 2016 before his work comes to fruition.
There have been calls for Ross Brawn to make a comeback, this time as Team Principal following his stint at Honda/Brawn/Mercedes. A legitimate case can be put forward that much of the Ferrari 2002 & 2004 style success which Mercedes currently enjoys is courtesy of Brawn’s, and to a lesser extent, Schumacher’s efforts, throughout the past four seasons.
Whether he’d want to return to the coalface is another question, he’s already achieved so much, but there’s no denying Ferrari would be immeasurably improved for his presence, in any capacity.
The outspoken president, Luca di Montezemolo, steps up his rhetoric in opposition of the current regulations on an almost monthly basis, relentlessly pushing for three-car outfits, and recently floating the idea of a switch to LMP1. One has to wonder if there would be any such noise if Ferrari were in the position they enjoyed a decade ago.
As little weight these threats may possess, it surely couldn’t be doing any favours for stability.
Focusing all resources towards a concerted tilt at the title should be priority number one, and this means implementing whichever measures are necessary. Whether this fails or succeeds, they can console themselves with the knowledge they gave it their best shot, but throwing the toys out of the pram when another organisation is reaping the rewards of doing a better job reeks of petulance.
As somebody who grew up on routine Ferrari triumphs, it’s hard to watch the current iteration, constantly questioning what they stand for – the simple answer at the moment is a shell living in the shadow of past glories.
You can’t be in Formula One and expect to win simply through stamping your feet. Sooner or later, the realisation must dawn that actions speak far louder than words.