Chastened by the disappointments of 2011, Ferrari promised an “aggressive” approach to the design of their new Formula 1 car and they have not disappointed.
The new F2012, unveiled via the internet on Friday because of unusually heavy snow at the team’s base in Maranello, is the most radical of the four new cars that have broken cover so far this season.
Many will also regard it as the most unattractive, featuring as it does a pronounced ‘step’ on the upper nose that even Ferrari themselves have described as “not aesthetically pleasing”.
Fernando Alonso, the man on whose shoulders rest Ferrari’s huge expectations, paused when asked for his impressions of the car and said, politely, that it “looks very different”.
It is a design that will feature, to a greater or lesser extent, on most of the F1 cars this season – with the notable exception of the McLaren which was unveiled on Wednesday.
The McLaren is undoubtedly more beautiful than the Ferrari but it also appeared a little conservative – a charge vigorously denied by the team. In fact, that is a charge Ferrari have levelled at their own recent efforts, and the Italian team’s new car is certainly anything but.
There is no doubting Ferrari’s ambition. “We want to go back to the top level,” said the company’s flamboyant president, Luca di Montezemolo. “We want to win. We don’t want to lose the world championship at the very last race [as they did in 2010]. We have all the ingredients for a perfect recipe.”
That remains to be seen. Certainly this season could not be more critical for the sport’s most famous team.
The fact is that since a major set of new regulations were introduced into F1 in 2009, Ferrari have not produced a car that was right on the pace.
The 2009 car was uncompetitive – taking only a single win in Kimi Raikkonen’s hands. The 2010 was their best stab yet, but even though Alonso took it to the brink of the world title, he was only able to do so because Red Bull, who had a faster car, made so many errors between the team and drivers.
Last year was not quite as bad as 2009, but still Alonso, a man regarded widely as the most complete racing driver in the world, was able to take only one win, despite producing what he said himself was his best season in F1.
It’s not hard to see where Ferrari may have created a problem for themselves.
Having put such emphasis on the need to be competitive this year, on the need to rid their design department of what they described as its conservatism, what happens if this year’s car does not live up to their expectations?
They have already dismissed one technical director. Aldo Costa – who was at the team through the glory years with Michael Schumacher – was pushed aside and replaced by ex-McLaren engineer Pat Fry.
Equally, Alonso has effectively committed his career to them. This is, as team boss Stefano Domenicali has said, a huge benefit – he is a gold standard and no failure of pace can be laid at his door. But that is a double-edged sword. If the car is not winning, it is clearly Ferrari’s fault, not his.
“Fernando did an incredible, extraordinary season [in 2011],” Domenicali said on Friday. “He has extended his relationship with us for many years and that is a sign of the responsibility we feel – we have to offer you a competitive high-performing car. I’m sure it will be winning from the very beginning.”
Ferrari’s F2012: Is this the car that will complement the exceptional talents of driver Fernando Alonso?
A lot rests, then, on the performance of the F2012. Whether its stepped nose, pull-rod front suspension and exhaust exits angled low down will make it competitive remains to be seen, but it is at least clear what Ferrari are trying to do.
The ugly step on the nose will undoubtedly cause more airflow disruption on the top of the car than any other seen so far, but it also means that Ferrari can get the much more important bottom part of the chassis higher across its entire width.
In theory, that means more airflow under the car, and therefore increased downforce, the holy grail for all F1 designers.
However, according to BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson – a man with 20 years’ experience of designing grand prix cars – the curved chassis underside that will result from the ‘eye-let’ design on the Force India is actually advantageous in terms of directing the air where it needs to go – under the floor.
The pull-rod front suspension – where the rocker arms run from the top of the wheel to the bottom of the chassis rather than the other way around – has advantages in that it gets the weight of the suspension lower down in the car, and Ferrari claim there is an aerodynamic benefit, too.
And it remains to be seen whether Ferrari’s solution on exhaust exits – which look like remaining a key issue this year, despite the ban on exhaust-blown diffusers - is as effective as that of their rivals.
“I really believe in the skills we have here in Ferrari,” Alonso said. “We have to be optimistic. We have two months to get ready for the first race in Australia. We have to fight for this title.”
Alonso, Ferrari say, works more closely with the team than even Schumacher did. But he is a very demanding man, who expects the absolute best from those around him, just as he delivers it on the track.
If the F2012 does not go better than it looks, things will get very uncomfortable at Maranello.