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Behind the scenes of Ferrari Formula 1 car launch: A quiet confidence is clear

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Behind the scenes of Ferrari Formula 1 car launch: A quiet confidence is clear
Feb 20, 2016, 9:51 AM

Ferrari has not won the drivers' world championship since 2007 and in launching the SF16-H yesterday there was a humility about the way the team pr...

Ferrari has not won the drivers' world championship since 2007 and in launching the SF16-H yesterday there was a humility about the way the team presented itself.

But underlining that humility is a clear determination to challenge Mercedes and to live up to the exhortations of Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne to fight for the title from the first race. He is a man in a hurry and he insists that his team wins this year.

This has put pressure on the team, but observing them over two days in Maranello, preparing for the launch, it was noticeable that this is a pressure that they can handle.

And they have responded by leaving nothing to chance with the new Ferrari; technical director James Allison noted in his presentation speech that he and chief designer Simone Resta were seeing the car for the first time themselves together in one piece. It has that curated look of a piece of engineering into which have been poured thousands of man hours of detailed work.

Ferrari

Ferrari had a strong platform to build on from 2015 to 2016, unlike the previous year and that counts for a lot. Nevertheless Allison observed in his speech that to evolve the 2015 car was not enough, they needed a step change in performance and so they've made some big moves, like switching away from pull rod to push rod suspension after 4 years, they have pushed the envelope on aerodynamics to a Red Bull extent and have thrown a lot of effort at the power unit.

And it is arguably here that the key to 2016 will lie for Ferrari.

Last year Ferrari could race Mercedes, but could not match them in qualifying. So Mercedes had the advantage almost always. Provided that they managed to get ahead, as in Hungary and Singapore, Ferrari could win; Mercedes could not repass them. So the key this year is qualifying and here the dark arts of engine modes play their part.

The refined aero and suspension will surely make the car perform at, or close to, the level of the Mercedes. But to get ahead of them consistently requires a step change in qualifying pace; it was around six tenths at the end of 2015 and that is a lot to make up in one winter.

An aggressive qualifying engine mode and a balance that gets the front tyres switched on are the two key components of the qualifying pace Ferrari will need to challenge Mercedes for pole position. In Vettel they certainly have a driver with the ability to nail the qualifying lap.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 07.53.39

An imaginative launch

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to help the team launch the car as master of ceremonies. The launch event took place in the logistics building, a large hangar-like structure, next to the Fiorano test track, which is the centre for all their movements. It doubles as a studio on days like these, photography at one end and the live video stream set up at the other. The car was moved between the two like a prize race horse being gently squired around the collection ring.

Ferrari’s digital department had gone for a studio show approach for the live launch, with the centre piece an 84 inch Microsoft Surface, a kind of giant tablet.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 07.34.41

This had high-resolution images of the car on it, for the chief designer Simone Resta and director of power unit Mattia Binotto to use a special pen to highlight key areas of the new car. Rather like the SkyPad on TV, but this device has hundreds of touch points on the screen. There are only three of them in the world at the moment, the technology is that new.

Maurizio Arrivabene was keen for the launch to be aimed at the fans, but also to make a digital product that would appeak to younger audiences.

They had invited fans to submit questions at the launch, via an online initiative called “Ready Set Red”. Ten lucky fans, largely from Europe but with one from Brazil and another in Kuwait, got to ask their questions to the drivers and key personnel via Skype.

Doing the launch this way kept things relatively simple, while at the same time showing some ambition and a touch of innovation.

The most striking aspect of being behind the scenes for two days leading to the launch was to see how much of a sense of "team" there is at Ferrari today.

As 1990s Ferrari driver Jean Alesi observed, “I really believe in them because I see a real solidity and a compact group. Last year no-one thought they would be in shape to win three races. The credit for this goes to Arrivabene and Vettel. Maurizio is a guy who has been around the block in racing as a sponsor with Philip Morris and he knows how to build a team.

“It’s a bit like going to school - if you have your big brother alongside you, you feel secure.

“Vettel, meanwhile, is the best driver around in my view.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 07.31.56

The next two weeks will be the phoney war, as the teams beaver away testing their cars. We will see which cars look strong but we will not see precisely how close the battle at the front is until Melbourne and, even more so, Bahrain.

It is a very long championship with 21 races, but that provides an opportunity for the challengers to take the fight to Mercedes. It will not be easy, because Mercedes is a very strong competitor.

But they have their weaknesses and if Ferrari and Vettel can exploit those, they might win. They need to get in amongst the Mercedes and force them to make some difficult decisions, particularly ones which prove devisive between their two drivers.

Then we could see an exciting championship.

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