Ferrari aim to match Merc by end of 2015
Having replaced most senior staff, Ferrari are confident they can reverse their decline
Ferrari have undergone a shake-up as the team’s new bosses seek to stop the slump in performance that convinced Fernando Alonso he had to leave at the end of 2014.
Following on from their replacement of president Luca Di Montezemolo and two team principals last season, Ferrari also sacked three senior technical figures.
Shortly before Christmas, they announced that engineering director Pat Fry and chief designer Nikolas Tombazis were leaving – and less than 24 hours later came another release announcing the departure of tyre analysis chief Hirohide Hamashima.
Tombazis’s former number two, Simone Resta, has moved into his ex-boss’s role. Fry’s position heading up trackside engineering will now be fulfilled by technical director James Allison until the arrival of Jock Clear, who has been recruited from Mercedes, where he was Lewis Hamilton’s senior performance engineer.
Clear resigned after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but has to work a 12-month notice period, which Ferrari are hoping they will be able to reduce following negotiations.
Former Ferrari engine boss Luca Marmorini departed last summer after it emerged that Ferrari had built the least competitive of the
three turbo hybrid engines used in 2014. With the exception of Allison, this means that the entire top tier of Ferrari’s design and engineering team were sacked in 2014.
Fry and Tombazis have paid the price for years of sub-standard cars – Tombazis headed up design during the team’s decline over recent years. Fry, too, was held responsible. Hired from McLaren in 2010, he became technical director (chassis) after Aldo Costa was sacked in 2011.
But the cars produced under his leadership – in 2012, 2013 and, to a large part, 2014 because new technical director James Allison did not start at Ferrari until September 2013 – did not live up to expectations.
There was more to Fry’s exit than this alone. Ferrari felt that he had not integrated into the team effectively – failing to learn Italian did him no favours – and did not become a good leader of an engineering team comprising a mix of many nationalities. Insiders have spoken of personality clashes and unhappy people within the technical department as a result of his leadership style.
Further hints of the dissatisfaction at the heart of Ferrari’s management came from new president Sergio Marchionne at the team’s traditional Christmas media lunch. “We started late with the 2015 car, certain choices and strategies that were made by others and that, in retrospect, I don’t necessarily share,” said Marchionne. “So 2015 will be a difficult year that will put the team to a real test.”
Further changes at Ferrari include the hiring of a new test driver roster. Former Sauber driver Esteban Gutiérrez has been taken on as a reserve driver, thanks in large part to the substantial sponsorship he brings from Mexico, while Toro Rosso outcast Jean-Eric Vergne becomes test driver in the simulator. Vergne replaces former development driver Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard, who was close to compatriot Fernando Alonso, has left Ferrari altogether.
Ferrari said in a statement that the restructure was the work of new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and had resulted in “a flatter structure and clear assignment of responsibilities”. Yet the structure looks pretty much identical to what was there before, except with different personalities in almost every senior role.
Marchionne was insistent that Sebastian Vettel, the driver Ferrari signed once Alonso had made clear his desire to leave, was on board with the changes. “Vettel is not naive; he knows what is happening at Ferrari,” Marchionne said. “He is making a big gamble; we have to move quickly to reconstruct.”
But Marchionne, who is also Fiat chief executive officer, insisted that by the end of 2015 he and Arrivabene will have turned things around to the extent that Ferrari could be in a position to challenge Mercedes. “I think 2015 is going to be a reconstitution year,” he said. “It will be Maurizio’s first full year with the team.
“Hopefully within the next 12 months we will remove all the baggage of uncertainty that is going to plague at least the initial phase of 2015.
“Not to underestimate the significance or the magnitude of the task, I think Ferrari can probably get to the same place [as Mercedes] by the end of 2015. Some work has already started. We need to be able to emulate their success.”
After Alonso and Räikkönen were unable to pull the team any higher than fourth in the standings in 2014, Ferrari made drastic staff changes