Will Gray

Team by team previews: Ferrari

Ferrari's prospects have been sliding downhill since unveiling their radical new car.14032012Ferrari

The most radical Ferrari F1 car in recent years was rolled out in the snow last month as the team pushed to make a major step forward in 2012 — but their prospects have been sliding downhill ever since.

Before the season has even started, new technical chief Pat Fry is under immense pressure to perform after admitting he does not believe he and his team have been able to deliver a car that can get either of its drivers on the podium in Australia.

Some say it's even worse than that — but comments on the team's current situation range from "a disaster" to "not that bad" depending on who you speak to and what time of day it is. Suffice to say, it's not looking good — but how not good?

UNPREDICTABLE CAR

Ferrari went radical for this year from the ground up, replacing Aldo Costa with former McLaren man Fry and taking an aggressive approach to the design, which resulted in the 2012 car being very different to its previous family line.

A unique pullrod front suspension (not used in F1 for a decade) and also new pullrod rear suspension, forward-pointing sidepods and giant pylons down to the wing in front of the stepped nose quickly saw it singled out as the ugliest Ferrari ever — leading its designers to defend its looks by insisting an ugly car is not one that is not attractive, it's one that does not win.

Which is a problem — because, as of now, Ferrari has a car that is ugly in both ways. Track tests have shown it to be unpredictable, with flashes of form quickly quenched by a lack of a strong turn-in and a balance that apparently comes in and out as it pleases during long runs.

The scalloped dipped top on the sidepods, a more curvaceous nod to McLaren's approach in 2012, has taken Ferrari in one direction as their British rivals go away from it.

Ferrari's decision to go with that approach was based on the concept of using the top flow to combine with the new top-blown exhaust concept, but other solutions on their rivals' cars appear to have been more successful and Ferrari have already revised their exhaust concept.

And while they insist the original concept could still be re-visited, re-designing and getting the alternative Australia-spec version up to speed has required a lot of work, taking time and resources away from developing the initial design.

TYRES

The biggest issue Ferrari appears to have, however, is that its in-out balance issues are not kind on tyres.

Pirelli has deliberately gone aggressive with their new compounds, so a car that is traditionally well balanced and kind on its tyres will benefit more from the new rubber.

Ironically, the Ferrari was good in this area last year — indeed, the team found it difficult to get the tyres working over a single lap. Now, however, the radical new suspension design and overall car set-up appears to have pushed it in the opposite direction.

One positive on this front, however, is the team's decision to hire Hirohide Hamashima from Bridgestone, an expert in tyres who has spent his entire career focused on understanding their behaviour.

The question is whether the behaviour displayed by the Pirellis follows similar trends to that experienced by Hamashima with his old employer — but if they do, then Ferrari could be quicker than most to get a handle on the new tyres and that could be an important swing in their favour.

PRESSURE

The chiefs at Ferrari get enough pressure as it is, but all this has put them under intense scrutiny right at a time where they should be simply going through the standard procedure of bedding in the new machine.

Fernando Alonso of Ferrari14032012Alonso

Fernando Alonso called for 100 laps per day from the team's test runs after getting lower mileage in the opening three days and they did finish with an impressive amount of laps on the clock — more, in fact, than any of the other lead runners (although Mercedes had a better average per day, but they missed one of the tests).

In terms of pace, in the final test Massa's fastest time on the Saturday was 0.4s off the pace, although that pace was set by a Sauber, probably on a bit of a glory run. Compared to the usual front-runners, the Brazilian was just 0.3s off Jenson Button's McLaren. On the Sunday, Kimi Raikkonen's Renault topped the times and Alonso was 0.25s back.

It's the long runs, however, where the secrets are revealed, and it is possible, from analysis done in Barcelona, that Ferrari has even slipped behind Mercedes and Lotus in the pecking order and if that's the case even collecting points could be tough in Australia.

Ferrari's issues, it appears, are not just negative press and right now all they can hope is that it is just a problem with their understanding of the new machine and not a fundamental flaw in the design.

Speaking to the Maranello staff before flying to Australia, Alonso acknowledged the team was not where they wanted to be but added: "I just want to remind you of an episode two years ago: at the last test in Barcelona we were fifth behind Red Bull, McLaren, Sauber and Force India and two weeks later we gained a one-two win in Bahrain."

True, but the general feeling from everyone at the team is that this will not happen this time around — and boss Stefano Domenicali has already been talking about a "late surge" required to recover.

They cancelled all media sessions with drivers during the Barcelona test, but there will be no hiding in Australia — and how the team deals with not only the car but the pressure the situation puts them under will be crucial to their season...