- 2011 Ferrari review
Alonso saves Ferrari's blushes
Part four of ESPNF1's season review analyses how third-placed team Ferrari got on and looks ahead to what can be expected from it in 2012
Championship position: 3rd
Best finish: 1st (Silverstone)
Best qualifying: 2nd (Canada)
Silverstone may have been an anomaly in the season as the race was run to different regulations concerning the exhaust-blown diffuser, but it was one that played into Ferrari's hands.
The weekend was full of controversy as the FIA and teams went back and forth over whether off-throttle exhaust-blown diffusers would be permitted. After the FIA banned the practice, it found the ruling to be difficult to enforce because restricting the engines equally could have a detrimental effect on the reliability of some. After the governing body offered to revert to the original levels used in the previous race, Ferrari and Sauber declined and the race was run with off-throttle blowing limited to 10% of full throttle.
Having qualified a close third behind both Red Bulls, the partially wet track made the race even more of a lottery. The damp conditions didn't suit the Ferrari and Alonso dropped to fourth, but as the track dried the car came into its own and he was able to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari then took advantage of Red Bull errors to jump both cars in the pit lane and Alonso eased away at the front to take a comfortable win.
Already in a position where battling for the championship was unlikely, the result was the perfect boost for the team. Alonso stood on the car and pointed to the Ferrari logo on his steering wheel with pride as his victory ultimately prevented Ferrari's first winless season since 1993.
The Spanish Grand Prix was a humbling experience for Ferrari, and an almost embarrassing one for Fernando Alonso in front of his home fans. The team arrived in Barcelona with high hopes as it was bringing a major update to the car, but it proved ineffective and part of it was deemed illegal by the FIA.
Red Bull dominated qualifying with Alonso in fourth and almost a full second off the pace. The start of the race, however, will remain one of his highlights as a fantastic start allowed him to muscle his way in to the lead in to turn one. From that point on he struggled, although the first two stints on the softer tyre was a prime example of defensive driving as Alonso held off Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
It was when Alonso pitted for the hard tyres that things really began to unravel. He couldn't get enough heat in the tyres, and the extent of the problem was clearly highlighted by Stefano Domenicali: "On a track that favours cars that have a lot of aerodynamic downforce, ours are lacking in this area and that was glaringly obvious, especially on the new hard tyres brought here by Pirelli. We never managed to get this type of tyre to work and our pace was at least two seconds off that of the first four."
The pace difference meant that Alonso went from leading the race on lap 20 to being lapped with five laps remaining as he slipped out of podium contention and finished in fifth place. Domenicali said that the race made for painful viewing.
"There is no denying that being lapped hurts. It's even more painful after seeing a driver of Fernando's calibre putting on such a breathtaking display at the start and then fighting like a lion to keep drivers with clearly faster cars behind him for almost twenty laps."
Driver v driver race
Fernando Alonso - 8/10
There's just no end to Fernando Alonso's desire, and his never-say-die attitude makes him a threat in every race. He's clearly found his spiritual home with the team around him at Ferrari, still singing its praises despite a car that was all too often off the pace.
"I will remember it as a not bad season overall from a personal point of view and how the team approached this season, improving in areas where we were weak last year," Alonso said in Brazil. "The team has been stronger and I feel that with a competitive car next year we can be very strong and fighting for the world championship."
His victory at Silverstone was the highlight, but he came close again in Germany until the Pirelli tyres once again exposed Ferrari's weakness. Alonso only retired on one occasion - after a clumsy coming together with Jenson Button in Canada - and the only other occasions when he was beaten by his team-mate can be excused by a penalty in Malaysia and a DRS problem in China.
In the end Alonso scored more points than he did in 2010, and his tally would have been enough to give him the title in the previous season.
Felipe Massa - 4/10
While his poor season in 2010 was excusable after his horrific accident the previous year, 2011 was just a bad campaign. Alonso ended the season with more than double the points of Massa, and he can count himself lucky that he went into the season with a solid Ferrari contract for 2012.
The glaring statistic is that Massa didn't score a single podium all year. In fact, he didn't even finish a race in fourth place as a ten-point haul was the best he ever achieved. It's true that he was competitive on occasions, with his race in China a particular high point as he finished just 15 seconds behind the winner, but the car was capable of more as Alonso displayed with his victory and nine other podiums.
His on-track spat with Lewis Hamilton certainly didn't help matters, and while it cost Massa the opportunity for better results he was far from blameless. All too often it became an excuse to cover for another disappointing race.
Though cause for optimism may be hard to find based on the last season, Red Bull's dominance could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Ferrari. As early as August the team was cutting its losses and turning its full attention to what it calls an "innovative" new car and it has said it will be launched before the first test, giving it the maximum track time.
With the change in regulations preventing exhaust-blown diffusers the new car will have to work even harder to get the most out of the tyres. But Pirelli is being even more aggressive next season with generally softer compounds - which the conspiracy theorists say is a move designed to help their Italian counterparts. What's more, the car was most competitive in Silverstone with the one-off exhaust regulations that will apply at all races next year. The team will have to work under pressure, however, as another year like 2011 will not be tolerated at Maranello.
ESPN verdict - 7/10
Ferrari's pre-season testing form was encouraging and it appeared to be Red Bull's closest rival heading to Australia. It was a surprise to see it drop behind McLaren at the first race and things got worse before they got better as a wind tunnel anomaly meant the data being gathered did not translate to the circuit.
The team showed its race-winning ability with a faultless performance at the British Grand Prix, but by then the car was clearly not going to challenge for the title and Aldo Costa lost his job as technical director. Pat Fry stepped up to steady the ship and Alonso kept getting the maximum out of the car to carry the team through with numerous podiums.
Having admitted defeat early in 2011, there will be no excuses next season. In Alonso's ability to relentlessly push cars to the limit, Ferrari has a driver that will deliver if given the tools to do so. The key will be starting the season with a car capable of winning and then keeping up with Red Bull and McLaren in the development race.