Armed with a competitive car in 2013, Ferrari have made some fundamental blunders over the first four races. But is it something more than high-end technical gaffes that are to blame?
The relationship between anxiety and performance is a thin black art reserved for professionals well-versed in the area of sports psychology, but there are some fundamental ‘truths’ that appear to dictate a sportsman’s effectiveness in the heat of battle.
For years, Giancarlo Fisichella was the master of wringing the neck of a mediocre F1 car and lifting it up the grid. You only have to look at his (albeit posthumous) 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix win for Jordan to see his underlying talent. Yet, when presented with a championship-winning car in 2005 and 2006, Fisichella was only able to manage two wins to his team-mate’s (Alonso’s) two World Championships- hardly earth-shattering progress.
So what was the issue? A gearbox issue in Canada and a few mishaps aside, Fisichella should’ve performed far better given the machinery at his disposal. In contrast, his former Renault team-mate has maximized every opportunity with the equipment beneath him. Alonso’s tenure at Renault, McLaren and Ferrari has yielded championships or vice-championships with almost metronomic precision; none better than his 2012 championship assault with the recalcitrant F2012. And there lies the rub. Knowing they were behind the eight-ball in Melbourne, Alonso and Ferrari dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’ in the event their opposition would falter. Falter they did. This mixed with opportunistic wins in Malaysia and Valencia placed the Maranello outfit into preposterously fortunate title contention.
However this year, with a car whose long run pace is up there, if not superior to its immediate adversaries, Ferrari have begun to make mistakes. The ruthless attention to detail has been replaced by reliability oversights (a DRS component failure in Bahrain) and abominably wretched strategy calls (leaving Fernando out with a broken front wing in Malaysia). Two incidents do not make a terrible season, but they don’t amount to a brilliant one either. Either Ferrari are placing too much faith is Alonso’s sublime talent or expectation (either from Luca Montezemolo or externally) has started to get the better of them.
It’s not the first time a competitive team has stumbled amidst a halcyon season. Ferrari reliance on a (then revolutionary) traffic-light system over a lollipop man in Singapore 2008 saw Felipe Massa leave his pit-bay with the fuel hose still in place – an error that undoubtedly cost him that year’s championship. Similarly, McLaren made a meal of Lewis Hamilton’s very promising 2007 championship bid by leaving him out too long on ageing intermediates in the penultimate race in China – resulting in the Brit sliding off the edge of pit-lane entry and into the gravel trap.
Likewise, with an ultra-competitive FW14 at their disposal, Williams still succumbed to the occasional wobble; most notably in Portugal when a right rear wheel-nut wasn’t properly sealed. Adding insult to injury, Mansell cruised down pit-lane, but was disqualified from the results after the team re-fitted the wheel in the middle of pit-lane – providing his title protagonist Senna with some much needed breathing space. The 1991 Canadian Grand Prix was also no exception. On the last lap, Mansell who was waving to the crowd let his revs too low and stalled the engine.
Call it ‘choking’ or ‘over-confidence’. Either way, inner our external expectations have an effect on performance. Amidst the backdrop of a sport built on technology, Formula One’s core is still rooted in human endeavor. Golf superstar, Rory McLlroy has been said he could succeed “using a shovel” and yet having signed a multi-million dollar deal with Nike, his performances have dropped to near-amateur levels. Formerly a Titleist man, could it be the switch to a different brand or the money that’s affected McLlroy’s game? Nike’s club technology might allow players to adjust launch angles and spin rates, but one thing boffins haven’t been able to control is performance anxiety. Perhaps that will be the next thing on the agenda.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Sutton Images