Despite suffering one of its worst campaigns in recent memory, Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has insisted that he retains full faith in the Scuderia to rebound in style in F1 2010 – with what he describes as 'the best' driver pairing possible in two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and the recovering Felipe Massa.
Indeed, had it not been for Kimi Raikkonen's sixth place in Bahrain, the Prancing Horse would have endured its worst start to a season on record – and as it was, the total lack of points from the opening three grands prix in Australia, Malaysia and China constituted the slimmest pickings in almost 30 years.
Worse still, there was no marked improvement until Hungary in late July, ironically a race weekend that represented both the nadir and – at that point – zenith of Ferrari's year, with Massa lucky to survive a terrifying high-speed accident during qualifying that ended the Brazilian's 2009 challenge there and then, and team-mate Raikkonen mounting the second step of the podium just over 24 hours later. As a rollercoaster ride, it was up there with the most emotional of the year.
From thereon in, however, 2007 F1 World Champion Raikkonen picked up the mantle of de facto team leader with aplomb, as the Finn impressively strung together four successive rostrum finishes – including the season's sole victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps – and single-handedly sought to do battle with McLaren-Mercedes for third spot in the constructors' standings, a battle Ferrari was destined to lose.
That effort, of course, was scarcely aided by the inability of Massa's replacements – loyal, long-time test and reserve driver Luca Badoer and Force India F1 veteran Giancarlo Fisichella – to get to grips with the intricacies of the troublesome F60 and haul it into the points. All-in-all, di Montezemolo reflects, not a vintage year – but 2010, the Italian assures, will witness a return to form for the most successful and long-standing team in F1 history.
“2009 was bad,” acknowledged the Maranello-based outfit's figurehead and leader, “but I am confident that for next season, we can return to our winning ways. From 1997 up until now, we have nearly always been in the fight for the title – winning it many times, or losing out at the final race. The only two exceptions have been 2005 and this season just gone.
“There are reasons for the drop in performance, especially the grey areas in the regulations, which led to different interpretations and the way in which decisions relating to these were taken. Then, we also have to consider that, in 2008, we fought right to the bitter end trying to win the title, just as a major rule change was on the horizon.
“Furthermore, especially at the start of the season, we made mistakes and there were problems with reliability which cost us dear. Then, we reacted. [Stefano] Domenicali worked on the team which, in the second part of the season, worked perfectly. The team also worked on the car, but unfortunately there was no way to alter its basic design philosophy. We introduced the new diffuser, but that alone was not enough – it was like when we were young and tried to fit a radio to a car not designed to accommodate one. In fact, at the end of July we decided in any case to cease development of the F60, in order to concentrate on the design of the new car.
“Unfortunately, just as we began to rack up a few good results, Felipe had his terrible accident. We were very concerned for him, first of all as a person and then in terms of his future as a driver. The rest is history. Thanks to Kimi, we managed at least one win, but then we became ever-more uncompetitive, partly because so many others were still pushing hard on the development front. Neither Fisichella nor the fearless Badoer managed to get a result with a difficult car, and so we ended up fourth.
“Now, it is time to turn the page and get Ferrari back to its rightful place. I have a lot of faith in this team which, let us not forget, has won three titles in three years and lost a fourth in a manner that everyone remembers. I recall there were many who said we would not know how to win after the [Michael] Schumacher and [Ross] Brawn era, but that was not the case.
“For 2010, we have a great driver pairing – the best for a team like ours – and there are no major changes to the team structure. We have consolidated certain changes made during the course of the season, such as Chris Dyer in the role of head of race engineering. The most important change concerns the engine and electronics department, which since October has been run by Luca Marmorini, a very experienced engineer who knows Ferrari well, having cut his teeth here before moving on to tackle another challenge. Contrary to what has been written, there is no influx of engineers following (Alonso), because we have a highly-rated group of people here, who have shown they know how to win.”