Formula One - On and Off Track week 21

Formula One - On and Off Track week 21

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Aldo Costa relinquishes his position
  • DRS banned from Monaco tunnel
  • Ecclestone desperate to keep Bahrain GP

Aldo Costa ‘relinquishes’ his position at Ferrari

Ferrari Technical Director Aldo Costa has according to a short Ferrari statement ‘relinquished’ his position at the Maranello-based squad to ‘take on new responsibilities within the company’. Although Ferrari earlier this year denied the poor 2011 results would not have an effect on the technical staff and design department, it now seems Costa is the first casualty of Ferrari’s attempts to get on top of their current problems.

Also Costa no longer Ferrari’s Technical Director
Also Costa no longer Ferrari’s Technical Director

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That fact that both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were lapped by the leading teams McLaren and Red Bull was probably the last drop, and resulted in the restructure of the technical staff. The statement further read: “At the same time, the technical activity has been restructured in three areas: Director for the Chassis side is Pat Fry, Production is in the hands of Corrado Lanzone, while Engine and Electronics continues with Luca Marmorini. All three report directly to the Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali.”

However, the problems for Costa and Ferrari already started in November last year. Costa himself denied in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica ‘heads would roll’ as a consequence of the disastrous race in Abu Dhabi, when a completely wrong strategy had cost Spanish driver Alonso and Ferrari the world title. “I’m not for the automatic ‘error-guilt-punishment’ approach,” he said at the time. “I prefer a more rational response, where we understand what happened and what went wrong, and then we act,” the Italian said.

In the interview he was also reluctant to point a finger at just one man, “We must make sure that certain decisions are shared, with responsibility not resting on one set of shoulders.” But Costa has been critical about Ferrari as well, something that is not always appreciated by the powers that be at the scarlet red squad. “We didn’t lose the championship because of the strategy in Abu Dhabi, but because our car was not as fast as the others,” he said after the Abu Dhabi event.

In January Ferrari announced Pat Fry, who joined Ferrari in June 2010 after a 17-year long stint at McLaren as chief engineer, would take over the duties of Chris Dyer, the man who was responsible for the race strategy in Abu Dhabi. Also in January it was announced Neil Martin, who previously worked for Red Bull, would take on the role of heading up the new Operations Research department.

I’m not for the automatic ‘error-guilt-punishment’

Also Costa

After the first two races of the season it became apparent Ferrari’s F150° Italia was lacking the necessary speed to compete with the front runners, which was again a reason to do some ‘soul-searching’ as Domenicali put it. There were emergency meetings in Maranello, the wind tunnel was recalibrated, and they also reviewed their design process. Ferrari announced they would take a more aggressive approach for the rest of the season. But to no avail, the results remained poor, and especially the qualifying pace of the red F150° still is worrying.

In April Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo did voice his concerns about the current state of his beloved team. “I want Ferrari to be at the level that both we and our fans demand it should be,” said Montezemolo. “It’s a very delicate moment. I expect our engineers to act with determination and know-how, unleashing the maximum of their capacity to improve the performance of the car in a short time.”

Ferrari’s rear wing was deemed illegal in Barcelona
Ferrari’s rear wing was deemed illegal in Barcelona

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The race in Spain last weekend became a disaster, the new rear wing the team had brought to Barcelona was deemed illegal by the FIA scrutineers, and Ferrari was forced to use an older type, one that was not suitable for the Catalunya circuit. After this for Ferrari very painful race Montezemolo now has reacted by reshuffling the technical staff, but a former Ferrari employee Spaniard Joan Villadelprat, labeled Ferrari’s reaction as a ‘panic reaction’.

“The pressure on Ferrari at the moment is brutal, things must change, that’s obvious. But they must avoid at all costs the rolling of heads, a typical reaction at Ferrari when things are not going as planned. Rather, they need to consolidate the technical team and give them confidence to keep doing their job. They are back moving in the right direction but they need more time,” Villadelprat wrote in his weekly El Pais column. “Without doubt, going on now without Costa is a counter productive measure because he is the same man who last year produced a fantastic car for Ferrari,” he wrote.

The statement Ferrari issued yesterday did not indicate Costa will be replaced by another member of the Ferrari staff, and rumors have emerged others will soon also lose their job. Also remarkable is the fact that chief designer Nikolas Tombazis wasn’t even mentioned in the statement. If anyone would be responsible for the poor results, it would be the chief designer and his staff.

Only time will tell whether Ferrari’s ‘panic reaction’ will lead to better results, for now Ferrari is heading for Monaco, where they hope to improve their performance with a new aerodynamic package specially designed for the narrows streets of Monte Carlo

DRS banned from Monaco tunnel

After a real tug of war between the Formula One drivers, united in the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) presided by Rubens Barrichello, and the FIA, it was finally agreed to ban the use of the movable rear wing in the tunnel of the Monte Carlo street circuit. Last Sunday, FIA race director Charlie Whiting was still in favor of using the device, “There is no evidence to support the theory it [DRS] is going to be dangerous. It was introduced as an overtaking aid, it would be somewhat perverse to not allow it in the place where you need overtaking [assistance] the most. As far as we’re concerned it’s a device that’s open to anyone to use legally at any race. That’s what it’s there for.”

Partial DRS ban for Monaco
Partial DRS ban for Monaco

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While Whiting is absolutely right to say the device would be useful on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, this at the same time means it is also difficult, if not impossible, to deploy the system. There are only two overtaking opportunities in Monaco: the start/finish straight and the tunnel, which is in fact not a straight, but one long high speed corner. Without DRS drivers have already enough problems to find the right breaking point, and with the extra speed of DRS it will become even more difficult. The nature of the circuit also means drivers need both arms and legs to keep their car under control, and pushing buttons for KERS and DRS will make it even more difficult for them.

Drivers insisted the device would be dangerous to use and initially wanted a complete ban, but the FIA has decided DRS can be used next weekend, but not in the tunnel. Whiting wrote a letter to the GPDA in which he agreed with their point of view, but decided to ban DRS from the tunnel area only, which is between the 1350 meter and 2020 meter points, and drivers are free to use it elsewhere during practice and qualifying. During the race the DRS zone will be on the 300m zone of the start/finish straight, where drivers at least have a run-off area at Sainte Devote if they miss their breaking point.

Whiting about the decision, “We were made aware of drivers' concerns about using it and I've spoken to the drivers a few times about it, and it was quite clear the majority of them would prefer to not use it in Monaco”. Barrichello last week mentioned he would love to see one of the FIA stewards behind the steering wheel in the tunnel, “I would love the people at the top to sit in the car and try to do the tunnel with the DRS open”.

I would love the people at the top to sit in the car and try to do the tunnel with the DRS open

Rubens Barrichello

However, not everyone agrees DRS would be dangerous in Monaco. Eric Boullier, Lotus Renault team principal, thinks it should be up to the drivers to decide they want to use it or not. “My own view is that the drivers will build up their confidence gradually during free practice and by the time qualifying arrives they will know in how much of the tunnel they can safely use the DRS wing,” the Frenchman said in an interview with the UK Mail Online.

Ex-Formula One driver and now DTM driver and BBC commentator David Coulthard thinks the partial ban is the right solution. “That seems like a sensible compromise. With the marbles that these tyres are producing, to venture off the racing line in that confined space could prove catastrophic. Better not to have the temptation,” the Scot said.

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has no problems using DRS, but thinks it will not be effective in Monaco. “I think the aerodynamics [of the DRS] will only really start working properly once we’ve reached the braking zone for Sainte Devote, so I don’t think we’ll see too many DRS-assisted overtaking moves next weekend,” the Briton said. Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes GP team is also in favor of using DRS, “This year, the race has the potential to be more exciting than ever. If KERS and the DRS do make overtaking possible, it will be great for the fans.”

Ecclestone desperate to keep Bahrain GP

FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone has not given up his plans to reschedule the Bahrain GP after the cancellation of the event in March due to the civil unrest in the tiny Gulf state which cost the lives of many Bahraini protestors.. He seems to become more and more desperate, and now is also prepared to reschedule other venues so that his beloved Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa still can stage the race on the Bahrain International Circuit.

The deadline was already postponed from May 1 to June 3, but it seems very unlikely major changes will take place within the 9 days that still remain until June 3. But as always Ecclestone has resorted to Plan B, which in this case involves the extension of the Formula One 2011 calendar into early December. He wants the Indian GP to be moved to December 4, and the Bahrain GP could then take place on October 30.

Bahrain International Circuit
Bahrain International Circuit

Indian motor racing official Vicky Chandhok, the father of F1 driver Karun, admitted the Delhi venue could be moved to December 4. “We will have the race and then the sixth of December is the FIA World Council meeting in Delhi and on the seventh is the annual [FIA] awards and the eighth is the [FIA]general assembly,” he said.

But there seems to be little support to stretch this year’s season to early December, as teams already have a busy schedule. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, “I think as a team principal who works and has to look after the group of people we have, you have to remember they have been going since the end of January.”

Lotus Renault team principle Eric Boullier also has problems with such a long season, but also questions whether it would be the right decision, “The next question would be in the political context: do we have to race there? Does Formula One have to go there?" he said. "It is maybe too early to go there after the dramas."

The Financial Times suggested in a report they published this week there is little support for the race as only the followers of the current Sunni regime are in favor of rescheduling the venue. The newspaper also reported staff members of the Bahrain International Circuit have been sacked or suspended, “About a quarter of its staff --all Shia -- were arrested in early April and most have since been suspended or sacked, according to one of those detained who declined to be named for fear of retribution.”

The protests against the current regime started in early February, and have dragged on until today, many innocent people have been killed, foreign reporters have been expelled, and internet and social media have been blocked in an attempt to stop the protests. Ecclestone is mainly concerned about the estimated $100 million loss FOM would suffer if the event was to be definitively cancelled for this season. Since one only can Ecclestone also reads newspapers, it is a mystery as to why he didn’t (or doesn’t want to see?) see the latest headlines about the current situation in Bahrain.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 19

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Fernando Alonso , Luca di Montezemolo , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nico Rosberg , Bernie Ecclestone
Tags bahrain, costa, ferrai, monaco