If Only They Sounded Like Enzos

Saturday 12-April-2014 18:29

It's not every day that a Ferrari Enzo pulls up outside your next-door neighbour's house. But when your next door neighbour is best friends with a Ferrari engineer (calling Aldo a mechanic would be like calling Michaelangelo a painter and decorator) there's always that likelihood, especially when his workshop is just round the corner and he has to road test them somewhere.

Close up, an Enzo looks superb and the low, aggressive, rumbling exhaust noise it makes would certainly please both Bernie and, of course, Ferrari chief Luca Montezemolo. The road we live in is perhaps the longest, widest and straightest in south-west London, perfect for a blast up through the gears. The only inhibition for a car that can match F1 top speeds is that there are many learner drivers. Sometimes as many as seven. So I was slightly fearful of the outcome of two men of Italian heritage, fuelled on Lavazza, getting into a million pound motor and being able to get to 100mph before a Fiesta could even think about 'mirror, signal, manouevre'.

The lack of such a heavenly exhaust note in Formula1 was very much on Luca Montezemolo's mind as he arrived in Bahrain intent on destabilising the new technical rules after just two races - neither a typical grand prix; Melbourne being a fuel-heavy street circuit and Sepang a tyre shredding sauna.

Montezemolo's agenda was to get rid of "taxi cab racing" but it was clear after the teams met up that many of the things discussed were to help cars with fuel inefficient engines.

It was suggested there should be an increased fuel allowance in 2015 and that teams should have 110kg of fuel, irrespective of the fact that most teams couldn't fit that amount in the current cars. Mercedes Paddy Lowe was, understandably scathing of the suggestions.

"I would say 100kg for the race and the 100kg/h are perfectly judged numbers. Because if the team that wins the race is racing on those limits, and not having to do unusual amounts of fuel saving, then that is a perfect judgement. So to back out of it next year is absurd. If anything, the point of F1 would be to stretch it further - and maybe next year it should be 95kg for the race. This was the original concept."

Having done a brilliant job of developing a fuel efficient engine, Mercedes believe they have every right to stick to the rules that they've spent millions adhering to and Lowe thinks changing the rules now... "would be like we decided that athletes are not fit enough these days, so the marathon is only going to be 25 miles rather than 26 miles."

"The degree of fuel saving we had to run in Bahrain, despite the fact these guys were racing from beginning to end, was a completely normal level of fuel saving. Racing here last year we had a strategy last year that involved some fuel saving in the race because that is optimal. It was pretty much the same this time."

Certainly there was fuel saving last year from many of the teams who chose to run close to the limits because it gave them a weight advantage and hence a speed advantage.

Montezemolo is upset because he knows it's the three factory teams who should be taking the most advantage of the new rules changes right now. The factory teams have had longer to integrate the engine and energy-recovery systems into the chassis; so it is Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari who should be scrapping for the top three places in the Constructors' table. Sky analyst Mark Hughes has pointed out that it is this time factor that accounts for the difference between Mercedes and the Mercedes customer teams.

Red Bull are elbowing their way to the front of the Mercedes pursuers, with Daniel Ricciardo qualifying P2 in Melbourne and P3 in Bahrain, but Ferrari are so far off the pace that the three Mercedes customers - Force India, Williams and McLaren - are beating them. And the Ferrari-engined Saubers are struggling at the time of the season when they are normally strongest, i.e. before they get outspent in the development race.

For years Luca decried the idea that Formula 1 was an aero formula, pointing out the ridiculous amount of money spent on front wings, winglets and barge boards that have no application to the road car industry. Which is true and eminently sensible. When Adrian Newey says fairly ruefully that F1 is now an engine formula it gladdens the heart. But now Luca's got what he wants he's still not happy.

And the nadir of his unhappiness must have been Sunday April 6th. The day after he pronounced that the new technical rules were killing F1 as a spectacle we had one of the most exhilarating races in the history of the sport. Not only was he proved wrong about the new technical rules failing to produce great racing, his cars did badly and one of the central tenets of Ferrari philosophy was undermined.

Go back to the 2002 season - the most boring of all time (you could argue 1992, but at least the Williams were allowed to race) when the combination of Schumacher, Brawn, Todt and Byrne conspired to win the championship by the 11th race of the season with the peerlessly brilliant F2002. Despite an overwhelming technical advantage Ferrari were prepared to invoke team orders, or leave the racing till the final pit-stop after the Austrian GP outcry.

This year Mercedes are enjoying a similar advantage but letting their drivers race. While it lasts without tears, the fans are the beneficiaries, along with the coronary heartcare specialists advising the Mercedes team.

Montezemolo knows that Fernando Alonso will not want to hang around at the Scuderia to finish 4th in the Championship and it will be a long road to get them in contention with Mercedes. If Alonso goes, how long will Santander hang around as a sponsor? McLaren have a Honda factory engine next year and currently don't have a title sponsor...

Watching the Bahrain GP on Italian TV the coverage cut away to their pitlane reporter who was pursuing Luca Montezemolo through the paddock as he left the race early en route to the airport. It seemed like a brave thing to do considering this was RAI and is dependent on good Ferrari media relations. Luca didn't look best pleased to be doorstepped this way and kept walking. It certainly hadn't been a weekend to remember.

That couldn't be said for my next-door neighbour who returned from his short test-run in the Enzo with the widest grin. Thankfully the car had skilfully negotiated its way through the combined fleets of Bill Plant, AA, Red, BSM and was running as it should. I didn't ask Aldo if he was looking forward to working on 1.6 -itre V6 Ferrari road cars in the near future. I suspect I know what his answer would be.

Frank Hopkinson

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