Ferrari and McLaren still searching for that elusive formula

Posted on May 19, 2014

By David Coulthard

David Coulthard on Ferrari and McLaren still searching for that elusive formula.

"There is only one Adrian Newey". How many times have we heard that over the last few years? And it is true. There is only one Adrian Newey; the pre-eminent chassis designer of his age, a brilliant aerodynamicist and all-round technical wizard. But one man does not a team make.

Red Bull have been successful in recent seasons because Adrian’s vision was refined and developed by a super-talented team that was expertly managed by team principal Christian Horner. Their success was the result of years of teamwork.

Now it is Mercedes GP’s turn in the sun. The Brackley team knew the change in regulations this year would give them a chance and they prepared well, investing a lot of time, money and effort into their new V6 power unit. It is clearly the class of the field and now everyone is saying it is unbeatable. But again, just as Adrian Newey was not wholly responsible for Red Bull’s success, neither is the Mercedes engine. In fact, it is (ostensibly) exactly the same as those in the McLarens and Force Indias.

The fact is, Ross Brawn amassed a very solid technical team at Brackley before he left and Mercedes have the most joined-up engine and chassis combination. With a pair of handy drivers and confidence that is growing by the week, they have discovered that elusive winning formula, like Red Bull did before them. Success is never about just one thing. It is the product of thousands of little things; planning, investment, personnel, teamwork, conviction.

This brings me to the cases of Ferrari and McLaren, the two biggest names on the Formula One grid.

Despite vast resources, neither has won a world title since 2008 and neither looks like doing so again this year. Both teams have seen their principals depart since the start of the year. Both continue to tinker with the formula. Were they the right calls? I suppose it is inevitable that the captain of the ship must go if it is flailing around on choppy waters for too long although neither Martin Whitmarsh nor Stefano Domenicali were directly responsible for building or driving their cars.

Either way, those decisions are history. It is what the two teams do now that counts.

In Ron Dennis, McLaren certainly have a leader with the courage of his convictions. Ron is not the cuddliest of characters but he has been there and done it and has self-belief by the bucket-load. I spoke to him on the grid in Barcelona and he was adamant that he would turn things around. If you repeat it enough, and you can get enough people to believe in you, you can do extraordinary things. We shall see.

Ferrari are in many respects more worrying. At least McLaren have the excuse that they are in a period of transition at the moment with the move to Honda engines next year. Ferrari built their own V6 power unit. They have a new wind tunnel, which was supposed to have eradicated the problem of a lack of correlation between what their old wind tunnel was telling them and what the car was doing on track. They signed James Allison to shore up their technical team. They have two of the best drivers on the grid (although Kimi Räikkönen is not, perhaps, a man to have with you in the trenches) having dispensed with the services of Felipe Massa who was deemed to be not strong enough.

In short, Ferrari are out of excuses. They enjoy arguably the most favourable market conditions of any team yet are failing to exploit them.

They, like McLaren, will be back. Success in sport, as in any walk of life, is cyclical. If you have talented people, invest wisely and pull in the same direction, sooner or later you are going to hit the jackpot.