F1: Ferrari ready to come out fighting in India
LET down by a faulty wind tunnel, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso must now throw caution to the wind in Sunday's Indian Grand Prix after falling behind in the Formula One championship battle.
Alonso lost the lead to Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel in South Korea 10 days ago but the gap between the two is a mere six points with four high-stakes races remaining.
The tables could turn again on Sunday but the odds favour Vettel, the 25-year-old German who won the inaugural Indian race last year and can chalk up a fourth consecutive victory in one season for the first time in his Formula One career.
Over in the red corner, Ferrari are determined to show they are still very much in the fight while also knowing that any retirement now could be a knockout blow.
“Because we don't currently enjoy an advantage, either in terms of performance or as far as the points situation is concerned, we cannot defend, we must attack and adopt an aggressive approach to car development,” the Italian outfit's chief designer Nick Tombazis told the team website.
That means bringing updates to every race from now on.
Ferrari started the season with a car that, apart from being decried as ugly, was also some way off the leaders. A period of intense development narrowed the gap but Red Bull have again taken the initiative.
“In the last few races, our progress has not matched our expectations and various components which we expected would make our car more competitive did not do so,” Tombazis said.
“One element that slowed our progress was the difficulty we encountered in the correlation with data from the wind tunnel and that from the track,” added the designer.
“We had some unpleasant surprises from some of the updates we brought to the last couple of races.”
Ferrari did an aerodynamics test on the updates in the week between South Korea and India and feel they now have a better understanding of what went wrong and are in a position to make up lost ground.
“We need to score seven points more than Sebastian, that will be extremely tough but we believe we can do it,” said Alonso, who was third in India last year, after Korea.
Red Bull introduced their new rear wing 'Double DRS' system in Singapore, the start of Vettel's winning run, that provides extra straight line speed and they will not have been standing still either.
Vettel, a natural fan of the Buddh circuit after winning from pole and setting the fastest lap last year, has little time for talk of any psychological advantage he may enjoy over Alonso.
The Spaniard, also a double world champion, is in any case as adept at mind games as anyone.
“I think we can take nothing for granted, we have to look after ourselves,” said Vettel. “Whether we have a mental advantage or not, psychological advantage or not I don't really care. I'm not into those kind of things.”
Red Bull principal Christian Horner has ruled out imposing so-called 'team orders' until Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber, currently 63 points adrift, is mathematically out of the running.
The title may be a duel between Vettel and Alonso but they will not have it all their own way at the dusty track south of Delhi where the moneyed world of Formula One contrasts with a backdrop of rural poverty, bullock carts and bicycles.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, runner-up in India last time round, have all their focus on race wins and the constructors' championship now that their individual title hopes have effectively ended.
Kimi Raikkonen, third overall with Lotus, must also be reckoned with even if he has yet to drive the circuit because of his absence to rallying in the last two years. The 2007 champion is 48 points behind Vettel.
India's sole driver Narain Karthikeyan, with backmarkers HRT, will be hoping to get to the finish again in front of his home crowd after ending 17th last year.
Local interest also extends to the Force India team, whose flamboyant co-owner Vijay Mallya has been keeping a low profile since the recent grounding of his loss-making Kingfisher Airlines, and Swiss-based Sauber with their Indian-born principal Monisha Kaltenborn.