Little more than six months has passed since the Italian giants finished the 2008 season as world champion constructors having narrowly missed the drivers' title with Felipe Massa. Now, four races into 2009, they are on the brink of writing off their season already.
Having failed to score a point in the first three races, Kimi Raikkonen removed some embarrassment by finishing sixth to claim three points in Bahrain — but while on points that meant Ferrari had avoided their worst ever start, on finishing position, it did not, as Jody Scheckter and Didier Pironi finished fifth in the fourth race of their previous worst ever season starts, in 1980 and 1981 respectively.
So, on finishing position, this is Ferrari's worst ever start.
There seems a confidence that this is just a blip and that Ferrari will come back quickly from this drop in form, but is that confidence with foundation?
When they posted that disastrous start in 1980, they had won the constructors' and drivers' titles the previous year but were caught off guard when they tried to develop a turbo engine rather than concentrate on ground effect aerodynamics. They finished the year with eight points — and they didn't win a title again until 1999.
This year, while unlikely to have anywhere near a similar effect as the downforce failings in 1980, Ferrari may have missed a trick with their aerodynamics while concentrating too hard on the new KERS system. But this time, more than engineering fundamentals, it is the state of the team's core that offers them the greatest concern.
Jean Todt masterminded the Ferrari revolution through a very carefully structured building process, bringing in key people at key stages to create the Schumacher Superteam of the early 2000s. After Schumacher retired, technical chief Ross Brawn left and designer Rory Byrne stepped into a consultancy role, Todt put in place the people he believed would carry the team forward into the future and stepped down last year, with the team still on a high.
He moved up into the Ferrari board and was expected to watch over the team but, in what is as a quite significant move for those remaining, Todt cut all ties with Ferrari in March.
It was his stable guidance that helped steer the Ferrari ship and now questions are being asked as to whether current boss Stefano Domenicali (pictured) can re-assemble his battered troops to launch a new attack.
This weekend sees the arrival of some significant upgrades - including a double decker diffuser and a lighter bodywork — in a bid to help Massa and Raikkonen, whose last race victory came at Barcelona this time last year, recover some form.
So the technical comeback starts now, but the question remains whether this team of people can regroup to steer Ferrari into the next era of success or whether they will replicate history and fail to win a championship for another 20 years...
DATE PUBLISHED ON: 8 MAY 2009