Prancing Horse fails to keep up with the rest

Last Updated 19 April 2014, 18:21 IST

Think Ferrari and you will probably think of a sports car with a massive, powerful, purring engine, in a road car that is about as expensive and inefficient to operate as a private jet.

So it is no surprise that of the three engine manufacturers in the Formula One racing series, which is preparing for its fourth race of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai on Sunday, Ferrari seems the least able to benefit from the new engine rules that have dominated the racing discussion this year.

The downsized 6-cylinder, 1.6-liter turbo-charged engines with a maximum of 15,000 rpm and a fuel consumption of no more than 100 kilograms over the race -- to say nothing of the 160-horsepower energy-recuperation systems -- are far from the legendary 12-cylinder monsters of the Italian racing team’s glory days.

They are also a far cry from the sports cars Ferrari sells to its rich, horsepower-hungry clientele.

And judging by the complaints over the first three races of the season, from Ferrari fans to the highest levels of the company’s management, it is also a far cry from the image the company wants to give in Formula One.

Before the previous race, in Bahrain two weeks ago, Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari chairman, compared the new engine setup to “taxi-cab driving,” criticizing the technical regulations’ focus on fuel and tire conservation and a lack of appreciation for what has traditionally made the series a reflection of the Ferrari road car: high-octane, loud, fossil-fuel-burning pure brute power racing.

Then the Bahrain Grand Prix produced one of the most exciting races in recent memory.

But a Mercedes-powered car again won the race -- as it had the two first races -- while the best-placed Ferrari was only ninth. Montezemolo had left the race in disgust with 12 laps remaining.

After three races, Ferrari lies fifth in the series, while three teams motorized by Mercedes are in the top three spots, and the Renault-powered Red Bull is in fourth.

The two other Ferrari-powered teams, Marussia and Sauber, have scored no points.
Yet despite its blustery, public condemning of the new Formula One, Ferrari not only has business to gain from this new format, but until the year began it vaunted its aspirations.

In what amounted finally to conceding that the team itself has failed to rise to the challenge, Stefano Domenicali, director of the racing team, announced his resignation Monday

It should not have been a surprise. In a promotional video about the challenge posed by the new rules made last year by Shell Oil, the Ferrari fuel supplier, the tone was of optimism rather than denunciation of the new technical regulations.

“Everyone has to start from zero, and everyone has to think about the power-train, has to think about the car,” said Luigi Fraboni, head of engine trackside operations for Ferrari.

“I am confident that Ferrari will interpret the new rules better than the others, and we will be successful again next year.”

The problem was, however, that because Ferrari is the only team that has taken part in the series since its inception in 1950, because it is the most victorious in the total number of constructors’ and drivers’ titles it has won, with 31, and in the number of Grand Prix race victories, with 221, and because it is an Italian national icon and obsession, it is also under the spotlight like no other racing team. “Being Ferrari, you have to win,” said Luca Marmorini, director of engine and electronics, in the video. “Second position is not a position for Ferrari.”

But in an interview a couple of hours before the race in Bahrain, in what would turn out to be one of his last, Domenicali countered some of the popular views about Ferrari’s commitment to the new, greener formula.

He pointed out that the original idea for the smaller engines had come from Renault - largely supported by Mercedes - and that Renault had considered leaving the series if it did not become more relevant to developing road cars in line with regulations in many countries calling for reduced carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel economy.

The same reasoning is true for Ferrari, even if to a lesser degree, Domenicali said.
“It is important, because the regulations on fuel consumption are quite strict,” he said.

“In certain markets - it depends where - you pay a lot of money in terms of taxes, for pollution and so on. So therefore, I assume and I believe, that something will be beneficial for sure also in that area for us.”

And he said that the kinetic-energy-recovery system was relevant to the new LaFerrari hybrid car that was unveiled at the Geneva auto show last year and the turbo was relevant to the new Ferrari California model.

On the other hand, Ferrari is behind the mass-market road car companies in terms of being able to call on huge research and development resources from the parent company for development of the electronic hybrid technology.

Both Mercedes and Renault in their Formula One engine programs have called directly on the resources of the parent company to solve problems with the new technology.

(Published 19 April 2014, 18:21 IST)

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