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F1 2014 Season Team Preview: Ferrari - Dark horses?

Once again, it seems the team from Maranello will play catch up; nothing is written, but Alonso $ Co for sure are under pressure to deliver.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11th, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Kelloh).- Nico Rosberg summed it up. In the middle of the third and final pre-season test before everyone headed out to Melbourne for round one he reckoned he had a good handle on where his Mercedes team was on pace relative to all others. Well, all apart from one. For him, Ferrari remained a mystery. And he wasn't the only one feeling this way.

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Perhaps appropriately F1's most enigmatic team has been the enigma of 2014 pre-season testing, for the most part getting on with its business without drawing attention to itself; in Anthony Rowlinson's words performing 'a measured and consistent programme'.

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Confusing the whole issue, with Ferrari there was none of the extremes on show at either end of the spectrum from Mercedes or from Renault/Red Bull - instead the consensus is that while neither team nor engine were experiencing anything like the woes of Red Bull or Renault, and indeed were running pretty reliably at least, they weren't reaching for the stars either.

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One Ferrari 'insider' was quoted in the final test saying that the Italian power unit is ceding some 75bhp to the Merc, with the Scuderia struggling to understand how the German marque was extracting so much power from the fuel restrictions.

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Certainly, even before this year the Ferrari engine tended to be more fuel-thirsty than the rest. Equally certainly, there has been no rising-tide-lifts-all-boats experience with the Ferrari unit as there has with all of those powered by Mercedes, and if Ferrari has ceded ground then with engine homologation clawing it back won't be easy.

While the F14 T has looked a bit of a handful out on track, particularly with a loose rear end both upon acceleration (which caught Kimi Raikkonen out in Bahrain, resulting in him ending a test day slightly early after a smash) as well as more generally aerodynamically, something that has been a Ferrari trait for a while.

But nevertheless there seems a fairly strong case for optimism.

All the way through testing only the Ferrari has been a consistent presence among the Merc-powered teams at the business end of the timing screens.

At the very least, one would imagine that if the eight Mercedes-powered cars will get into Q3 at Melbourne then it will be the two Ferraris that complete the ten.

Raikkonen will inevitably fight each other for points.

In the third test the red cars started to show their hand, and the lap times were fairly impressive: not quite on the level on show from the Mercedes but seemingly enough to place it in the next group up with the likes of McLaren and Williams.

Edd Straw described the Scuderia as 'coming up the rails', while some optimists have Ferrari as the Merc's closest challenger.

Furthermore, the Ferrari design has just about the tightest cooling out there, which reflects well on the team's confidence in the engine's reliability and in how the whole package works together.

Its millstone of the past few years of wind tunnel correlation and having to use the Toyota tunnel in Cologne appears lifted too, with its own tunnel recalibrated, reopened and reportedly giving results that chime well with what is happening on track.

Add to it that the team turned up to the second Bahrain test with loads of upgrades may show a collective with its technical swagger back. While for those of you who like their history, on previous occasions wherein the rules have changed radically, in particular engine rules, Ferrari has tended to be right there right away.

And in a converse sense Ferrari's low profile is likely to bode well, as had a red car gone after a headline-grabbing low fuel glory run it would have set off alarm bells, that the team had felt the need to get the Italian press off its back - indeed one recalls that it was in 2012's pre-season that everyone really knew that the car then was struggling when it did precisely that.

But whatever is the case at the broadest level the Scuderia simply must deliver this year. It's got all of the budget and facilities in the world, its previous wind tunnel problems sorted and its simulation capacity much improved, star technical recruits such as James Allison and Dirk de Beer, and one of the strongest driver line ups that the sport has ever seen, both experienced and smart - exactly what you want with the new formula.

President Luca Montezemolo has already given his pronouncement, that he is 'sick of coming second', and you feel that Ferrari has to make a credible championship challenge - and unlike the one in 2012 one not so conspicuously based on the skills of one of its drivers - at the very least. There is nowhere to hide. It all should concentrate the mind beautifully.

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