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Ferrari: uneasy championship leaders

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Ferrari: uneasy championship leaders
Apr 7, 2010, 8:40 AM

Ferrari lead both the drivers' and constructor's championships after the first three races of the season and have shown that their pace is closest ...

Ferrari lead both the drivers' and constructor's championships after the first three races of the season and have shown that their pace is closest to the Red Bulls, but there is an uneasiness about their position at the moment, particularly in light of the operational and reliability problems they encountered in Malaysia.

The engine which let Fernando Alonso down on Sunday will arrive back at the Ferrari engine department today for examination, while yesterday's debrief at Maranello focussed on the wider reliability problems, with both Saubers' Ferrari engines breaking and the mistakes made in qualifying which led to Alonso and Massa failing to make it through into the second part of qualifying.

'We made a bad evaluation mistake in the qualifying and we paid for it in the race, where we also had reliability problems, " said Alonso on the Ferrari website. "Something like this can happen to anyone and we have to learn our lesson so we don't repeat certain mistakes.

"I'm not worried about the reliability. I think that what provoked the engine failure was a one-off and the team told me that there is no connection to the problems Sauber had and none to the anomalies we had before we changed the engines on Sunday in Bahrain."

Ferrari have confirmed that the Sauber engine problems were both due to a failure on the electronic engine management system, which was not responsible for Alonso's problem. The exact cause will be established today. As in the other hot race in Bahrain, where both Ferrari engines were changed in parc ferme before the race, Ferrari made some changes to the engines before the off on Sunday. Clearly they are quite on the edge on cooling, like all the fast cars out there.

It is also quite possible that Sunday's problem was linked to the gearbox issues Alonso was suffering from the start of the race. He was clearly in difficulty on downshifts and it is amazing that he didn't lose more time as a result. But the uneveness of the shifts may have damaged the engine.

Alonso lost two points when he dropped out of ninth place on Sunday. As he said at the time, it could have been much worse, if he had been leading or heading for a podium.

The team comes away from the first three races with a positive balance sheet; one win, two other podiums and the lead in both championships, but they know it is only the unreliability of Red Bull which makes the picture look that way.

Red Bull has dominated every race weekend so far with pole at all three events and most laps led. Without his reliability problems in Bahrain and Australia, Vettel would have 75 points, with Massa on 33 and Alonso on 28 - a very different picture. The new points system looks great if the wins are shared around, but if you get a dominant car and driver package then it starts to look very lobsided.

But if you look more closely, Ferrari have had good performance relative to the Red Bull; in Australia, Alonso was only 16/100ths off the pole in qualifying, while in Sepang his fastest race lap was only 0.177s off Webber's despite his obvious gearbox problem and what's more it was set on lap 41, when the car had been struggling with the problem for well over an hour.

So the speed is clearly there.

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