Slow starters

April 22, 2009

There has been much discussion in the press, on the broadcast media and online about the dismal start to the Grand Prix season being endured by Ferrari.  This reaction is understandable given their almost monotonous level of success over the past decade, where they have won all but two Constructors’ Championship titles.  However, Ferrari are no real strangers to adversity, as you might expect from any team of a 59-year pedigree.  Previous fallow periods include the early 1990s – when the team went for nearly 4 full seasons without a race win – the early 1980s and the early 1970s, which culminated in a season of such lacklustreness in 1973 that the team often ran just one car for Jacky Ickx and didn’t even bother entering four of the the last six events.

The common uniting thread in all this, however, is that competitiveness has always returned.  In 1974, under new management with a new car and new drivers, Ferrari began a 6-year spell which yielded 3 drivers’ and 4 constructors’ championship titles.  The early 1980s saw a pair of dismal years immediately followed by two title-winning efforts for the team.  And the 1990s slump led to the construction of the Todt-Brawn-Byrne-Martinelli-Schumacher superteam who swept all before it in unprecedented style.

Ferrari’s problems this year seem to be related to grip, which a new aerodynamic package will be looking to address.  More of a concern must be their lack of reliability.  Previously bulletproof, Ferrari will be mindful of the old motor racing truism that it is easier to make a reliable car fast than it is to make a fast car reliable.  I think it’s fair inconceivable that the team will be in the doldrums for the whole of the 2009 season.  Felipe Massa particularly has demonstrated good speed in the races, only to be let down by his machinery, and their technical team is second to none.  The fact, however, remains that the team go into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix knowing that a failure to score any points for the fourth successive race at the start of a season will be a new low tidemark.

In the spirit of Toto Roche’s Flag, I have decided to take a look through the history books (literally, in this case), to look at Ferrari’s other bad starts to a Grand Prix season.

1993 After 3 events: 1 point (@ 0.167 points-per-start)

Ferrari were really in a hole in the early 1990s.  Their drivers – Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger – managed just a finish apiece in the first 3 races of 1993, with Berger taking the only point at the season opener at Kyalami.  In the July of this year, Jean Todt was brought in as team manager after a success in a similar role at Peugeot motorsport. 

What happened next: Fortunes picked up slightly as the season wore on, but the team only managed a final total of 28 points, good enough for 4th place.  The high point were three podium finishes – two for Alesi and one for Berger – with a best of 2nd in Italy.

1992 After 3 events: 5 points (0.833)

At the end of a disappointing 1991 season, where the team failed to win a race a season after fighting for the drivers’ championship, lead driver Alain Prost was made the scapegoat and sacked for unflattering comments about his car’s handling in the press.  Lacking any real experience or direction, Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli struggled on as best they could with an unreliable and slow car.  Their haul of points all came at the third round in Brazil as the cars finished 4th and 5th, after retirements for both drivers in the first two races. 

What happened next: The team again finished 4th, with just 21 points to their name.  Alesi managed two podium finishes again – including one in the fourth race.  Capelli, however, struggled badly and was dropped for the last two races, replaced by the none-more-successful Nicola Larini.

1986 After 3 rounds: 3 points (0.500)

Again, Ferrari made a meal of things a year after a season where their lead driver challenged for the world crown.  In this instance, their points came from Stefan Johansson’s 4th place at the season’s 3rd round in Imola.  The problems were again twofold, with a slow and unreliable car. 

What happened next: Ferrari finished 4th with 33 points, Stefan Johansson’s four 3rd places and Michele Alboreto’s second in Austria the highlights.  Behind the scenes, major changes were afoot.  For 1987, Ferrari signed McLaren designer John Barnard, whose Guildford Technical Office built a car which won the final two races of the 1987 season in the hands of Gerhard Berger.

1981 After 3 rounds: 0 points

1980 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari began the 1980s in a terrible state.  Their 1980 season was a disaster, with defending World Champion Jody Scheckter scoring only 2 points all year and failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix.  In his teammate Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari had the generation’s outstanding driver, but even he was unable to wring anything out of the dire 312T5, a best of two fifths and two sixths.  He faired a little better in 1981, now alongside Didier Pironi in place of the retired Scheckter.  The season started even more woefully, though.  In 1980, the team at least managed a 16th place finish in the first 3 rounds.  In 1981 the first 6 starts yielded not a single finish. 

What happened next: Thanks in the most part to the brilliance of Villeneuve, Ferrari won two races in 1981, both of them masterpieces of the art.  Villeneuve won the Monaco Grand Prix in the worst handling car in the field when his exceptional teammate Pironi struggled to even qualify the car.  He followed this up with his famous Spanish Grand Prix win at Jarama, where he successfully used his car’s one major façet – it’s straighline speed – to defend against attack from a queue of four faster cars.  Ferrari went on to win the Constructors’ Cup in 1982 and 1983, but it was not without a cost.  Villeneuve died in a qualifying crash early in the 1982 season, whilst Pironi’s season was ended prematurely – with the Frenchman leading the championship – after a terrifying leg-breaking shunt in practice for the German Grand Prix.  1980’s tally was 8 points and 10th place, with an improvement to 34 and 5th in 1981.

1970 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari were all out of sorts at the beginning of the 1970s, as the new Cosworth DFV engine was adopted by the majority of their rivals, leaving Ferrari’s V12 hopelessly heavy and antiquated.  Behind also in chassis development, the team cut their losses and only entered a single car for Jacky Ickx in the early rounds, but it failed to finish a single one. 

What happened next: Ferrari’s fortunes picked up hugely from mid-season, the team eventually finishing second with 52 points.  Drivers Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni racked up 4 wins, 5 pole positions and 8 fastest laps.  Their form was not sustained, however, as the introduction of Tyrrell’s first self-made car took all the honours for 1971.  By 1973 the team were in turmoil, leading to wholesale management changes and the appointment of Niki Lauda as lead driver.

1969 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Similarly to their 1970 season, Ferrari’s main problem in 1969 was the new DFV engine.  Their sole entrant, Chris Amon, failed to finish in any of the first 3 races.  What happened next: Ferrari scored just 7 points in1969, finishing equal bottom of the standings.  The highlight of their year was Amon’s 3rd place in the Dutch Grand Prix.

1964 After 3 rounds: 6 points

A slow start to the season, their sole points score coming from John Surtees’ 2nd place in round two. 

What happened next: After a slow first 4 rounds, Ferrari burst into life in the final 6 races of the season.  Finishing with at least one car on the podium of each of them, John Surtees 5 such finishes were enough to give him the drivers’ crown after the final race decider in Mexico.  Teammate Lorenzo Bandini also won a Grand Prix, at Austria, to go alongside Surtees’ two victories.  With a further 3 third places from Bandini, Ferrari also won their first Constructors’ Cup since 1961.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: