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Domenicali: Qualifying won't be as critical in F1 2011
12 January 2011
Stefano Domenicali has predicted that the advent of Pirelli tyres to replace departing supplier Bridgestone will make F1 more unpredictable in 2011 and reduce the significance of beginning grands prix from right at the front of the grid – but he nonetheless sought to stress the importance of Ferrari getting off to a flying start in its title challenge.
The Scuderia claimed a one-two finish in the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser last March, but that masked a performance that was not quite as dominant as on paper it might have appeared, as it was apparent that reliability issues notwithstanding, Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing RB6 was the fastest thing on four wheels in the early stages of the campaign – and whilst rivals seemed to catch up towards the end, none truly came close enough to threaten RBR's superiority, and the young German duly lifted the laurels.
Brushing aside persistent questions about the disastrously misguided Abu Dhabi strategy call that arguably cost Fernando Alonso the drivers' crown in F1 2010, Domenicali told journalists at the traditional joint Ferrari/Ducati 'Wrooom' media launch at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort in the Italian Dolomites this week that it is imperative to look forwards not back, and that rather than soul-searching or dwelling on errors of the past, the key objective must be to hit the ground running and in 'perfect' shape come the desert showdown in Sakhir in two months' time and really make the most of the early points available.
“You have to be rational,” urged the Maranello-based outfit's team principal. “Leaving aside Abu Dhabi, we lost the championship because we didn't get key points in the first half of the season – and that resulted in us entering the end of the season in that situation. What we have to avoid this season is failing to pick up the important points in the first half. We have to start this year competitive right away, because if you don't it becomes very tough. Our goal this season has got to be both titles.”
That is something that Ferrari has not accomplished since 2007, and indeed there have been no titles at all since the constructors' trophy of 2008 – and the Italian well recognises that in order to remedy that statistic, both drivers need to perform to the maximum of their ability.
Alonso is currently nursing a minor muscle lesion in his right leg that prevented him from joining in the skiing at Madonna di Campiglio and that will require some recuperation time prior to the beginning of the campaign – but with the Spaniard now fully established inside the team following his initial settling-in period during the first half of last year and a rejuvenated Felipe Massa ready to step back up to the plate after a poor 2010 that has left him under pressure, Domenicali is confident he will not be disappointed.
“Certainly Fernando starts from an extraordinary baseline after a second half of the season that was almost perfect,” he contended. “Felipe had a difficult season, but I'm convinced he will react positively and I'm sure he can bounce back. To win the constructors' title, you need two strong drivers.
“I'm expecting, because Felipe is very strong, for him to be closer to Fernando or even better. I'm sure that the technical problems Felipe suffered last year will be solved. I saw him already on the first day of the Pirelli test with a different face. He's a great driver and he has grown up with us, and he knows he has the full support of the team.”
In response to the fall-out from Abu Dhabi, Chris Dyer was demoted from his role of head of race track engineering after being blamed by the famously merciless Italian media for the erroneous pit-stop call, replaced by Neil Martin from arch-rivals Red Bull. With the arrival of former McLaren designer Pat Fry inside the team, too, Domenicali is 'absolutely convinced' that all the right people are now in all the right places in what he insists is a better-flowing engineering and technical structure.
The 45-year-old expressed his hopes, finally, for a greater degree of overtaking in F1 2011, thanks to the return following two decades away of Pirelli and the softer, less durable tyres the Italian manufacturer is planning to bring compared to its predecessor Bridgestone. Forecasting a substantial impact upon the racing, Domenicali also predicted an impact from the new adjustable rear wing – although whether that impact will be a positive or negative one, he is less sure.
“On the rear tyres there are still some steps to be done,” he acknowledged, pointing to the relative dearth of pre-season testing time to perfect them and admitting that he hopes for some vital wet running before the in-season ban kicks in, “but this year, qualifying should not be as important as it was last season. Last season was very interesting and competitive, but there wasn't a lot of overtaking. This is a fundamental aspect which must be worked on.
“The driver running behind another one will be able to activate [the rear wing] to get in the slipstream only at determined points around the track, and only if the gap between himself and his rival is very tight. It will be up to race direction to signal the possibility with a light in the cockpit.
“However, I wonder – besides helping overtaking, will this system make the duels more spectacular or too predictable? At the moment I'm a bit sceptical, but I hope to be wrong. I also hope that the TVs find a way to make people understand on-screen who has activated the mechanism and who hasn't, otherwise you won't understand a thing anymore...”