Waiting for Sepang "Our championship will have to start in Malaysia," said Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver, Felipe Massa on Sunday night after what was for him a pointless race in both senses of the word. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's name does...
Waiting for Sepang
"Our championship will have to start in Malaysia," said Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver, Felipe Massa on Sunday night after what was for him a pointless race in both senses of the word.
Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's name does at least appear on the score board with his single point and if one wanted to be mathematically optimistic, one could say he is therefore only nine points behind the series leader with seventeen races remaining.
With just a few days in between these first two rounds, the Ferrari crew packed up the cars and all equipment, working late into Sunday night at Albert Park and some of the mechanics and engineers left directly for Malaysia that same evening. The rest of the crew and the two drivers travelled soon after. The team will be fully operational at the Sepang circuit on Wednesday and the post-race debrief that usually takes place on a Monday after European races will be the first meeting on the agenda. It will involve a live link-up to the factory back in Maranello, where the two engines that failed on Sunday will have been examined and analysed. Engineers already have a hypothesis as to the cause and this should be confirmed once they are inspected.
New engines are currently on their way from Italy to Malaysia and these will arrive on Friday, in order to be fitted for the competitive part of the weekend. As neither car finished the Australian GP, the engine change is penalty-free. Of course, current regulations require a freeze on the actual construction of the power units, but as this is not felt to be the cause of their failure in the first race and as the problem is not believed to be heat related, there is no reason to feel engines are a weak point in the package. Similarly, the chassis will be the same ones used last Sunday.
As team manager, Luca Baldisserri commented in Melbourne, he could not even remember the last time the Scuderia suffered two engine failures in a race. Nevertheless, it had been a bad weekend. So, there is definitely a mood of disappointment in the camp, but morale is not affected and, in any case, Ferrari has often emerged on top after facing a challenge that looked impossible and this current situation is a long way off that scenario.
In performance terms, the F2008 proved to be very competitive and, while outsiders had made Ferrari the big favourites prior to the season, within the team everyone was well aware of what stiff competition it faced. If the hot weather was a surprise last weekend, the current forecast for Sepang is "situation normal" for this part of the world: in other words, very humid with temperatures in the high thirties and the usual risk of extremely heavy tropical rain storms at some point in the day, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. While this is normal, the difference this year is that the drivers might have to tackle these conditions without the help of driver aids such as traction control. And as was seen at Albert Park, where there was a much higher rate of driver error than in the past, these cars are not easy to control on a slippery track. It means that overtaking - there was hardly any on Sunday - is a tricky proposition and therefore qualifying takes on even more significance. Having said that, at least the Sepang circuit is a "real" race track after the grand prix in the Melbourne park and so we might see a different scenario.
As for the drivers, neither Kimi nor Felipe are the sort to dwell on the past and what might have been, preferring to look to the future and both men have shown a liking for this circuit: the Finn won this race in 2003 and came third last year, while Felipe put on a great show in 2006, when following a post-Bahrain engine change, he went from the back row of the grid to fifth at the flag and earlier, in his 2002 debut season he drove from fourteenth to a sixth place finish.