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Same Old Ferrari

It seems to me that the knives are out at Ferrari already. After the Bahrain GP, technical director Mario Almondo was critical of Raikkonen’s race, suggesting that he work on starts and restarts; now Kimi has voiced doubts over the preparation of his car for qualifying.

Ron Kimi

Ron Dennis and Kimi Raikkonen

Back in October of last year, I wrote of the difficulties Kimi would experience in fitting into the Ferrari team; since then I have seen nothing to change my mind. Even before he joined, Ferrari were talking about getting their new driver to smile more often and to moderate his private life. As I pointed out at the time, this amounted to implied criticism of a guy who has nothing to prove in F1 – we all know he is one the three fastest drivers around.

And now Almondo finds reason to pick at Raikkonen’s performance in Bahrain and Kimi, stung at last to put his side of the story (very tactfully – he said “we” most of the time), hints that he may not be getting the same treatment as Massa in qualifying. It hardly speaks of a team that is together in their determination for the Finn to succeed this year.

The most telling point is that these guarded exchanges are being conducted in public. Ferrari have been quite open in their criticism of Raikkonen from the very start, while their enthusiasm for Massa has been evident, Todt springing to the Brazilian’s defense after his ham-fisted attempts to pass Hamilton in Malaysia. Kimi has held his tongue until this latest statement but the tension on his face has been plain to see – he knows he’s getting a raw deal.

I have no doubt that Kimi will struggle on through the season, working with what he is given and trying to show the team who they should be putting their major effort into. My point is really that he shouldn’t have to – Ferrari only handicap themselves by favoring one driver over another, particularly when the favorite is the slower of the two.

But that is Ferrari; they have their likes and dislikes and woe betide you if you turn up on the dislike side of the equation.

The photograph up there illustrates the difference between Ferrari and McLaren. Ron Dennis has his detractors but he is the best man manager of the lot (now that Eddie Jordan and Ken Tyrrell are no longer around). He believed in Kimi from the start and never stopped doing so, even if he wished that the Finn wouldn’t party so heartily.

Ferrari assured us that we would see Kimi smile this year – pardon me for pointing this out but it ain’t happened yet. And that looks like a huge grin on the Finn’s face in that photo above.

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Fuel to the Brawn Fire

Some people just don’t know how to go on sabbatical. Ross Brawn is obviously bored already with his round-the-world fishing holiday and has been talking to the German magazine, Auto Motor und Sport about his return to F1.

Brawn

Ross Brawn

He says very little but there are hints included that tempt me to say, “I told you so.” From being a certainty, returning to Ferrari as the boss is now just an option. And resuming as technical director won’t cut it anymore. It seems to me that Ross has realized that it may not be as easy to go back to Ferrari as he once thought.

In a year’s time, the team as now constituted will be settled and everyone jealously guarding their position. Stepping down to allow room for Brawn may not be a priority for whoever is leading the team by then. Someone is bound to come up with the idea that, just because Ross was a great technical director, it does not follow that he would make a great team boss.

Clearly, Ross is keeping his options open. He is prepared to give Ferrari first shot at a job offer but it has to be as the boss. Once honor is satisfied, he is up for grabs by any team that makes the right offer.

Most likely to want Brawn is McLaren. Mercedes is apparently a little annoyed by Ron Dennis’ sale of shares to an Arab consortium and may well be looking for ways to increase their hold on the team. Since Ron looks to be preparing for retirement anyway, Ross Brawn might appear at just the right moment to be his replacement, especially as he has already demonstrated a loyalty to his employers and a willingness to tread the company line.

Whatever happens, it is becoming apparent that Brawn’s future is not set in stone – he has options apart from Ferrari and is not averse to considering them. All that remains to be seen is whether Ferrari can continue to win, now that the Schumacher/Todt/Brawn triumvirate is broken and dispersed.

Personally, I doubt it.

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Nigel Stepney and Ferrari

Some things make no sense to me. While Kimi Raikkonen is telling us how like a happy family the Ferrari team is, technical manager Nigel Stepney reveals to Autosport that he’s dissatisfied with recent personnel changes and wants to take a break until Ross Brawn returns.

Ferrari

The family product

Ignoring the fact that this is more evidence of trouble brewing at Ferrari, it still seems a strange thing for Stepney to go public on such matters. Presumably he has told his employers how he feels but, since he talks only of wanting to take a sabbatical rather than announcing a done deal, it must be that he still awaits an answer from them. Is this Stepney’s way of getting his bosses to make a quick decision?

The whole interview is very revealing of Ferrari’s internal politics. From what Stepney says about wanting to move his career forward, it is clear that he was hoping to be promoted into a position that someone else has taken instead. To have waited until now to reveal his thoughts, weeks after the changes were made, Stepney must have tried the new arrangement and decided that he cannot work with it.

Ross Brawn’s return is held up as the solution to the problem, with Stepney expecting that he would move up to a senior role at that time. But the fact that he cannot grit his teeth and bear it for a year means that things must be very bad for him indeed. Which doesn’t sound like a happy family to me.

Perhaps he has realized that there is no guarantee that Brawn will become team principal when he returns. By the end of this year, the team will be very different from the one Brawn left and he may not be as welcome to some as everyone assumes. It’s only a guess but the changes made have a distinct “Italianization” feel to them. That must emanate from FIAT and would go with Montezemolo’s increasing interest in and influence over the team.

Even Stepney’s willingness to consider going to another team is odd if his hope is that things will improve when Brawn returns. If Stepney moves now, he can hardly expect to return to Ferrari at the end of the year; any team that employs him would want him for more than a year and it is unlikely that Ferrari would welcome him back with open arms after such a desertion.

Maybe I am reading too much into all this. Perhaps everything has already been agreed and this interview is merely preparation for an announcement. But, if so, it still looks like a weird way to go about things, you must admit.

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