Australian GP - Domenicali: “Everyone is keen to get to work in Melbourne”
In a few days time, the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship will finally get underway in Melbourne. “Finally,” because by now we should have already contested the opening round at the Sakhir circuit, except that events in Bahrain made that impossible. Whether or not we return to Bahrain later in the calendar, this year will seem by far the longest in the sport’s history as the curtain does not come down until 27 November in Brazil. For those in the sport who like discovering new places, India provides the one new venue on the calendar this year, while fans of close and exciting racing will be pleased if 2011 matches 2010, even if the Scuderia’s tifosi would have preferred a different script to the one used for the finale in Abu Dhabi last November. Even if 2010 was a vintage one in terms of on-track action, the sports governing body, the FIA, in conjunction with the technical brains from the teams have come up with technical regulations aimed at promoting overtaking. The first of these is not new, as it was already used – to great effect by Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro – back in 2009 and that is the use of a Kinetic Energy Recovery System or KERS. The second major element is the use of a Drag Reduction System, or DRS, which effectively means a driver can alter the angle of the flap on the rear wing of the car to reduce drag and thus increase its own speed, facilitating an overtaking move. Both KERS and DRS are subject to specific rules as to how and when they may be used in a race.
Whatever the technological changes, fans the world over are eagerly anticipating the extinguishing of the lights to signal the start of the season on the Albert Park grid at 17h00 local time this Sunday. But don’t think this excitement is restricted to the fans, because the people who work in the sport are all enthusiasts at heart: just listen to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team principal, Stefano Domenicali. “As usual when you start a new challenge, a new season there is always the feeling that it is all about the enthusiasm that everyone at Maranello feels about going racing again, because after all, that is what Ferrari is all about, that is what we are all here for,” he says.
Excitement is not the only emotion the professionals share with the fans at this time of year, as making an accurate prediction about the relative merits of the teams is something Domenicali feels unsure of at the moment. “The atmosphere in the team is good and everyone is keen to get to work in Melbourne, to see where we are compared to the other teams,” he reveals. “So far, we have done a lot of testing through four test sessions in Spain in February and early March but this will be the chance to see where our base line puts us. There were fifteen days of winter testing in total. I am by nature very cautious so in assessing how we went during these days, I have to take into account how we worked through our programme, as well as looking at what the other teams did and because we do not know exactly what the others were doing in testing, I have to remain cautious in rating our own work.”
However, there is no doubt in Domenicali’s mind when asked to spell out the Scuderia’s objectives for 2011. “The goal is so clear I don’t need to repeat it,” he says. See if you can guess…
Having discussed two new aspects of the regulations, Domenicali raises the matter of another change that will have a decisive influence on this year’s Grands Prix, namely the change of tyre supplier. “On the technical side, the arrival of Pirelli as sole tyre supplier is very important and it will be fundamental to continue getting a good understanding of how the tyres work, in order to use them in the best possible way,” reckons Domenicali. “From what we have seen in winter testing, these tyres are very different to those we used in the past. Therefore, we have to adopt a fresh approach and clearly, from what we have seen so far, the number of pit stops required to complete a race distance competitively will be higher than before. This is significant in terms of teamwork at the races, because more pit stops means the role of team members becomes even more important in terms of deciding the final outcome of the races. A further impact of having more pit stops is that possibly qualifying and therefore grid position will be less important than in 2010. In simple terms it is more likely that a car that has not set the fastest time and taken pole position can still go on to win the race. It will be absolutely vital to have the right strategy in order to win the race.”
Different tyres, adjustable wings, new circuits – all very important but the real stars of Formula 1 as always are the drivers and Domenicali believes Alonso and Massa are raring to go. “I see both our drivers very very motivated for different reasons,” maintains the team principal. “Fernando has done a fantastic winter in terms of preparation and testing and is looking forward to getting to Melbourne, because after an incredible second half to last year, he wants to cancel out what happened at the last race in Abu Dhabi. Felipe is now very strong mentally and he is looking forward to what will be a very important season for him.”
Both Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro drivers enjoy the atmosphere in Albert Park, with Fernando having won here in 2006 and Felipe making it to the podium in third spot last year. Domenicali is also a fan of Melbourne. “With Bahrain being cancelled, Melbourne now becomes the first race of the season, something it has been well used to in its past history. Melbourne’s welcome to Formula 1 means you experience the sport in a special way here, with the focus of the entire city shifting to Albert Park for the whole event. For us at Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, it is actually a great experience to start the season here, because there is a large Italian community in the city and the fans are very supportive and knowledgeable, making us feel very welcome in Melbourne.”
And speaking of fans, Domenicali has a special word for those who cheer on the Prancing Horse around the world. “The support we receive from them is unique which is why our responsibility to them is also unique. It will be a very long season and together we will have good moments and I am sure, also some difficult ones. But Ferrari is Ferrari and we are used to that. As we prepare for the first race, I would like to single out one group of our fans and hold them close to our hearts right now and that is our fans in Japan and indeed all the people in Japan. What has happened there is more important than anything to do with our sport and serves to remind us what are the priorities in our lives.”