Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix saw confirmation that Ferrari are back in business. Kimi Raikkonen qualified within hundredths of a second of Jenson Button with only two laps less fuel on board and in the race the Scuderia got its first double points haul of the season, with Raikkonen third and Felipe Massa fourth.
On top of that, Massa set the fastest race lap, with 1min 15.154, four hundredths of a second faster than Jenson Button’s fastest lap in the Brawn and two tenths faster than the Red Bull of Mark Webber.
It is tempting to say that Ferrari has now moved into position as the second best car in the field, ahead of the Red Bull, but I’m not sure that will be the case everywhere, particularly the next two races in Turkey and Silverstone where the Red Bull will stretch its legs on the long fast corners.
But there is no doubt that Ferrari has made the most progress of any team since the start of the season. They have also got on top of the reliability issues which cost them at the start of the season. It is too early to say whether they have completely fixed their operational problems, because it was only the last race in Spain where they misjudged qualifying with Raikkonen’s car.
But the management changes they made after the first couple of races, where Luca Baldisseri was moved back to a factory based position, to improve the links between the R&D and manufacturing departments at base and the race team on the road, seem to be working.
It looks like it is too late to have any effect on the world championship, with both Ferrari drivers over 40 points behind Jenson Button. But it will certainly put more than a veneer of respectability on their 2009 campaign.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali was moderately pleased with progress, “At least two cars scored points, that was a very important step. For me the most important thing is that we show that the people at home the team is totally committed to the job. It is not easy at this moment when you hear all around that to cut dramatically and that we can lose hundreds of places of work. So that is why it is important to thank the people at home that have worked flat out to recover the performance. We have showed in Spain and again here that what we are doing is going in the right direction. We need to stay focussed on our job and that in Turkey we need to improve again.”
Stefano’s point about the motivation of the staff at the factory is a good one. It’s a bit like the people at Honda over the winter, working flat out with deep concerns that they were perhaps a day away from being made redundant. Not being forced into a dramatic cull of staff in one go is one point on which all the teams are agreed.
Asked where the Ferrari is still lacking speed Stefano said, “I think downforce is the most important thing that we need to recover. This will help a lot in high speed corners. In Turkey we will have another step. We are pretty sure that our competitors will do a step again.”
Felipe Massa agreed with his boss’ assessment, “I think we are still missing a little bit of downforce. So we are still missing slightly a little bit of grip on the car. So, for me they have a little bit more grip than us, and they can work a little bit better on the tyres, so they can work a little bit better on the qualifying to prepare the car in the right way.
“Sometimes in the race we show a great pace, in the conditions you fight, but we are still missing a little bit more downforce and a bit of grip. We need to use better the tyres, especially in qualifying, and also when it is necessary.
“I think maybe we need a couple of races to be sure that we are the second strongest team. For the moment I think it is too early to say – Red Bull sometimes they are very, very strong and sometimes they are a little bit less.”