Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Why the Ferrari Furore is Good for Racing

I have discovered a sure-fire way of earning a small fortune to pursue my own very modest racing ambitions. I will relocate to northern Italy and open a bottling plant near Maranello. A swish factory there is oozing so much confidence, it would be criminal not to exploit it.

As the circus makes the 600 mile trip from Germany to Hungary for this weekend's grand prix, the fall-out from the team orders controversy will follow too. Far from feeling contrite, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro is charging towards the Hungaroring with all guns blazing.

President Luca Di Montezemolo has dismissed last weekend's punch-up as "polemics" and "hypocrisy" (it will be interesting to see if those words are used before the World Motor Sport Council in September). Fernando Alonso yesterday spoke of his "great feeling" at a win which caused consternation around the world.

But the Scuderia is riding high. It now has a car which is doing very well. Its blown diffuser and new front wing -- the latter fitted last weekend -- has helped it slot in between Red Bull and McLaren performance-wise. F1 is all about momentum and if as a team you are unaffected by the sport's prickly politics and can maintain that thrust of success, then more success will follow.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton spoke with some disappointment about his car's performance last weekend, confirming his belief that it was the number three team on the grid. Their blown diffuser, where exhaust gases are shunted low across the rear bodywork to generate greater down force, hasn't worked quite as expected. Red Bull's innovation at the start of the season is proving tricky even for one of the best-resourced teams on the planet.

There are, however, reasons to be cheerful if you are a McLaren fan. This weekend should see it perform well as the high down force characteristics of the Hungaroring particularly suits its design. It's won four of the last five races here -- the last three were consecutive wins. And McLaren is the constructor with the most number of wins in Hungary. Hamilton loves the track with its twisting, technical aspect ... perhaps reminding him of his karting days.

McLaren is leading both the Constructors Championship (by 28 points) and the Drivers' Championship (21 points ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel). This year's points system though means the lead can swap a lot more than previously. With Red Bull snapping at the Woking team's heels, McLaren has to keep a very careful eye on its challengers.

It means one of the unintended consequences of the team orders row is that McLaren gets a benefit in the races ahead. Ferrari is nearly 100 points behind McLaren in the Constructors, so at the moment does not pose too much of a risk. Its performance advantage now -- if continually translated to race successes -- threatens Red Bull more than it does McLaren. And Red Bull remain's McLaren's greatest threat. So Ferrari taking points off Red Bull helps McLaren. Also remember that two drivers in the same team racing hard against each other seriously risks a major loss of points for the team, as Red Bull know all too well from Turkey when their drivers collided.

McLaren believe that once the blown diffuser is working correctly with other new parts on the car, it should deliver another three quarters of a second per lap. That is like adding Wayne Rooney to Bournemouth's starting line-up. Of course all the other teams will be pushing development hard too. But McLaren's rate of development is probably the greatest in the paddock and once focused can turn a dog of a car into a race winning machine, as we all saw last season.

So the team orders controversy is good for racing because it makes at least one championship -- the drivers -- a three horse race towards the end of the season. Fernando Alonso is the annointed star of Maranello. Stefano Domenicali's task will be to ensure he is best placed to achieve maximum points and deliver the Scuderia at least one world title. That task will inevitably take points from Red Bull and McLaren, and the former has more to lose to the benefit of the latter.

But as Murray Walker once commented, anything can happen in motor racing -- and it usually does.

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