As Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and the rest of the Red Bull Racing team celebrated their impressive one-two grand slam in the rain-soaked Chinese Grand Prix, so Ferrari retired to regroup and lick its wounds in the run-up to next Sunday’s Bahrain GP.
These first four races outside Europe go past in a blur like a runaway train. Chances are that if you haven’t got things right from start, you won’t get your title challenge back on track until the series returns to Europe on 10 May at Barcelona. And by then it might already be too late.
Think of 1991. Nigel Mansell was the class of the field in his Williams-Renault FW14, but his efforts in the first four races of the season were blighted by technical problems. By the time he caught his stride, Ayrton Senna was far enough ahead in the title race that the Brazilian could not be caught. Ferrari, reeling without a single world championship point after the first three races of 2009, could already be on course for similar multiple helpings of abject disappointment.
“We need to stay cool,” said Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. “There is no reason to get in a panic mode because that would be worse.” I take his point, although at the moment it’s a little difficult to imagine just how things really could be very much worse for Maranello.
However, Domenicali rejected suggestions that Ferrari might take a lead out of Ross Brawn’s and Honda’s 2008 book by effectively shelving any further development on this year’s car in exchange for a technical brainstorming effort on the 2010 machine.
"I would say to our fans that they should not give up on us, as this is a difficult moment, but the championship is still long," Massa said. "I'm very disappointed and a bit upset, but my motivation is still intact."
The team plans to use the previously shelved KERS energy retention system in Bahrain, while the forthcoming ‘double diffuser’ will be installed on the car in time for the Spanish GP. Domenicali said that the team would review the situation after the Spanish GP and “see where they are.”