19 November 2013
Kate Walker: Back to backs
In her latest exclusive column for Crash.net, Kate Walker looks at the health of Ferrari's 2014 line-up...
Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes F1 a political melodrama, here columnist Kate Walker takes a look at Felipe Massa's move to Williams for 2014...
Given that design work is still underway on the 2014 cars, and engine manufacturers are still arguing over whether or not the 2014 regs should be tweaked, it might seem rather early to predict a challenging year for Ferrari.
On the face of things, the Prancing Horse should be in pretty good shape for next season. They have a strong technical team, including the very highly rated James Allison – who has been a key part of Lotus' recent successes – a new wind tunnel that is said to have been calibrated correctly, and two world champion drivers.
They're also an engine manufacturer in a year with a massive spec change, which is a real advantage: the car design lot can be in constant communication with the engine design lot, with data sent back and forth since long before the first iteration of the 2014 power plant got within 100 metres of the dyno.
But despite all of these attributes in their favour, the Scuderia could be in for a tough time of it next year. After all, how many of their rivals will be starting the season with two drivers suffering back trouble?
Kimi Raikkonen underwent back surgery in Strasbourg last week, and while the Finn is currently recovering from what was said to be a successful operation, backs are funny things. Raikkonen's surgery was the result of recent pains that stemmed from a 2001 shunt. Infrequent discomfort turned into constant agony in Singapore, making the surgery essential.
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, jarred his back when he ran off track in Abu Dhabi, leading to a trip to the circuit medical centre and a later hospital visit. Ferrari arrived in Austin unsure whether their star driver would be declared fit to race.
Alonso's incident illustrates perfectly the way in which back problems can take time to rear their heads. Immediately after the Yas Marina race, the Spanish driver fulfilled all of his usual media commitments without complaining of any pain. He was seen joking around with friends in the paddock, and it was only later on that evening that a trip to the medical centre was deemed necessary.
Raikkonen's in-season surgery gives the Finn maximum recovery time before winter testing kicks off, and the fitness required of an F1 driver (or any professional athlete) makes their recovery time better than that of a mere mortal. But mortals they remain, and old injuries are susceptible to flare-ups in the event of a shunt.
Two drivers recovering from damaged backs is not the best way to start a season, even if both of the men concerned are champions who make up two of the four most talented men currently in the sport.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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