Exclusive Q&A - Ferrari's Domenicali on tyres, tactics and targets 21 Mar 2013
This time last year things were looking bleak at Ferrari. Their new car was woefully short of pace and hopes of a genuine title challenge seemed distant. Twelve months on and there is a far broader smile on team principal Stefano Domenicalis face. The F138 may be trailing the Red Bull on ultimate qualifying speed, but when it matters most - on Sunday afternoon - it has the legs on its arch rival. Or it least it did in Australia. Its a pattern Domenicali is keen to repeat in Malaysia this weekend, though this time with a diminished qualifying deficit
Q: Stefano, how much of a relief was Melbourne, bearing in mind how the season started in 2012?
Stefano Domenicali: Ah, for sure it was important to see that from our side we delivered what we were expecting. That was a good signal that we have also seen at the tests. But, of course, at the tests you are only in comparison with your targets and dont know where the others are. At least we have seen a car that is quite reliable with a quite good pace during the race, but I have to recall our attention to the fact that at the end of the day our qualifying was not what we had expected. The gap that we have in absolute performance to Red Bull was important and a call that we have to work hard, even if it is really difficult to understand the reality of the real gap that we had as the conditions were very strange. But yes, we have seen that Red Bull is still very strong. Of the others around us, they were really where we expected them to be. So what is the conclusion to all this? That it again will be a very tight championship - and it is important that we are there.
Q: Would you have dared to go back home to Italy with a poor result? For Italy, Ferrari is more than just an F1 team - it is more like a religion
SD: I tell you I am used to that. I have worked with this kind of pressure and responsibility for a long time. I know how it feels. On one side it is a privilege, as no other team principal will have that pressure. I can guarantee that to you. But thats part of the game.
Q: You pitted Alonso early to get him away from the group headed by Sutil. That was the right move? Was that something that was decided on the spot?
SD: It was decided on the spot - the strategy you make up, seeing how the race evolves. Unfortunately in that scenario we were not able to take any positions - we were losing time - and effectively at the end of the day the best strategy was the three pit stops. We had lost a lot of time in the traffic, so we decided to get out of that little train and not be stuck doing nothing.
Q: Vettel said that Red Bull couldnt have done the same, as it would have destroyed their whole race strategy. Do you have the flexibility with the tyre management to make such decisions?
SD: Of course you have to believe that if you pit earlier that the next set of tyres will last throughout the longer stint, so I know what Sebastian is saying. If you dont know that, youd better not do it as the chances that youll pay dearly in the end are pretty high. We did it as we believed that we could afford it - that the tyres would stay with us until the very end.
Q: If you look at the real situation, Red Bull had a substantial gap in qualifying so pace-wise they are still top dog. But Ferrari seemed to deal better with the tyres over a race distance. Is more flexible tyre management your biggest asset right now?
SD: For sure it is something we need to be very prudent on. Certainly Australia - that specific situation - was very good as our car is running well when not in traffic. But then again, any prediction is much too early. Here (in Malaysia) the conditions are very different and we have to see how our car behaves. Here it is a totally different story and I guess that we will have a clearer picture of who is where after four or five races.
Q: Based on these facts, what is your plan for this weekend? Are you again banking on better tyre management, or have you brought any performance updates for the car?
SD: My plan for the weekend is simple: because we dont score points on Saturday I prefer to score points on Sunday - in bigger numbers than Red Bull! But apart from that our objectives are to do a good qualifying, as it is more difficult to start from behind. To start from a free position is what could make all the difference as you can push in any direction you want. Tyre watching - to see how the degradation develops - is the name of the game throughout the whole race. And lets see how the conditions will be.
Q: The teams - at least the big ones - seem desperate to have enough people to cover their two car programmes: 2013 and 2014. Ferrari have even brought Rory Byrne out of (F1) retirement...
SD: Just to clarify, Rory Byrne has always been with us ever since he came to us - it is not a comeback. He is working on the GT car that weve launched just now and he is basically helping our new, young talent to do a better job. There is nothing new in that.
Q: The fight for technical talent: is it payday again for top engineers?
SD: I think we will very soon see a new generation of engineers. There will be a totally new way of working together. There will be a totally new situation compare to lets say some years ago, when you had one technical whiz and everybody followed his direction. Now you have a group of people that have shown good signs in Formula One. That is the new situation that is evolving.
Q: So youd rather not put all your eggs in one basket, in other words
Q: What would be a good season for Ferrari? What would make you smile?
SD: I smile because to be sad doesnt pay off. If it did pay off I would cry every day. (laughs) But it doesnt help. Our target? It is so obvious, but if we want to achieve it, at every race we need to be consistent and reliable - and score more points than our opponents. That is what would make me smile at the end of the season.
Q: And this weekend?
SD: To go again to the podium. Thats what I want to see.
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