Ferrari, McLaren have tough road ahead

Ferrari and McLaren, historically Formula One`s two most successful teams, have had little to cheer about on the track of late and it could be some time before things get much better.

Ferrari, McLaren have tough road ahead

London: Ferrari and McLaren, historically Formula One`s two most successful teams, have had little to cheer about on the track of late and it could be some time before things get much better.

If there is less evident concern at Woking than in Maranello, that is because McLaren feel they now have the main pieces of the puzzle in place whereas Ferrari have plenty of uncertainty ahead of them.

"Watch this space," McLaren Group head Ron Dennis, the former principal who regained control of the team from the ousted Martin Whitmarsh in January, said at last weekend`s Italian Grand Prix.

"All of the people who were joining or were going to join McLaren are now integrated...and we are now a much more dynamic and focused organisation.

"Don`t expect it (success) today, maybe not even during the course of this year but I can absolutely and categorically assure you we are back," Dennis told reporters.

McLaren, winners of eight constructors` championships and 12 drivers` titles, are second only to Ferrari in the number of grands prix won over the decades - 182 for the British team compared to 221 for the Italians.

Ferrari, the sport`s most glamorous and oldest competitors, have won 16 constructors` titles and 15 drivers` - many of them coming during the `dream team` era of seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.

But neither team has won a championship since 2008 when Ferrari were the winning constructor and Lewis Hamilton took the drivers` title for McLaren.

Wins have also grown scarce. Ferrari have not enjoyed a grand prix triumph since May last year and no McLaren driver has stood on top of the podium since 2012.

Both are successful sportscar makers, with Ferrari reporting record revenues in 2013 and McLaren Group this month announcing an 18.8 million pound ($30.30 million) pre-tax profit from increased revenues of 268 million ($431.99 million).

But success on the racetrack is fundamental and, after four years of Red Bull domination, it is Mercedes who have won 10 of the 13 races so far this year and are on course to win both championships. 

McLaren hope 2015, and the start of a new partnership with Honda, will restore their fortunes. The Japanese manufacturer powered them to multiple titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s turbo era with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

Honda have already said they expect to win races next year and the mood at the team is improving.

"The last couple of races have been good in terms of atmosphere in the team, not just with Ron and the drivers but the rest of the management and the way the team is going," said Jenson Button, who hopes to drive on next year.

"There is more direction in terms of understanding and who is in charge, it gives everyone in the team a little more confidence in the future."

Ferrari, whose engine has been outperformed by Mercedes, must hope the rules will be relaxed to allow them to close the performance gap but it will still take time and meanwhile rivals are working just as hard.

They too have made changes in personnel and procedures but Monza showed how far they have to go, with Fernando Alonso suffering his first mechanical retirement in 86 races and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen finishing ninth.

It was the first time since 2008 without a Ferrari driver for the tifosi to cheer on the home podium.

Ferrari also sank to fourth overall behind resurgent former champions Williams, whose years in the doldrums serve as a potent warning of the fate that can befall even the most dominant teams. McLaren are currently fifth.

Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo, one of Formula One`s leading powerbrokers over the years, paid a brief visit to Monza on the Saturday and there were many watching the media circus around him who saw it also as a farewell.

Two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Monday that the 67-year-old was likely to step down by the end of the year, if not sooner, due to clashes over strategy with Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of parent group Fiat.

That would be a big break with the past, with Montezemolo appointed president in 1991 after a previous stint in the 1970s as team manager under late founder Enzo.

Much was made of Marchionne saying on Sunday that "no one is indispensable", the Fiat boss also declaring Ferrari`s form `unacceptable` and adding it was "absolutely non-negotiable" that they should be winning races.

That has always been the case, with Ferrari enjoying a special status in Formula One that gives them a bigger share of the revenues and more say in the way the championship is run.

Ferrari changed their team principal in April when Stefano Domenicali - who was close to Montezemolo - was replaced with the little known Marco Mattiacci.

The former president of Ferrari`s North American operations was tasked with turning the team around and set about it vigorously, with engine head Luca Marmorini leaving soon after.

How long Mattiacci himself stays remains an open question, however, with talk of the possible return of former technical head Ross Brawn - should the 59-year-old Briton be up for exchanging a quiet life for one in a pressure cooker.

"Ross Brawn is an iconic figure at Maranello," Mattiacci told CNN television before Monza. "Everyone would like to have Ross or would like to see Ross back at Ferrari.

"At the moment I am the number one on the team," he added.

"We are building a very strong team with a medium, long-term plan. My role is to shorten as much as I can this plan to make it effective as soon as possible. We are building the foundation for a very successful story."

Formula One needs a strong Ferrari. But, as with McLaren, how soon that comes remains to be seen.

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