Amidst a dismal season and the loss of James Allison, Ferrari turned its head towards a big name from its past.
Legendary Formula 1 designer Rory Byrne’s return to Ferrari is not a good news for the rivals. The now 72 year old was the chief designer during the dominant Michael Schumacher era and is now back to bring the Scuderia to its former glory.
Ferrari had already called in the South African last year after Allison’s departure but he was in a consultancy role, for this year, however, Byrne has been working closely with Simone Resta on Ferrari’s 2017 car codenamed the 688.
Byrne had been involved with Ferrari back in 2014 as well but that was limited to an advisory role. But the news is that his involvement for the 2017 car would be more than what had been previously. It is an aggressive approach that Ferrari has not been so keen to pursue in recent years, whereas rivals like Red Bull and Mercedes have always been keen to push things to the limit of the rules in their quest for success. One example is the way Mercedes incorporated hydraulic front suspension by exploiting regulations that were intended to help Manor run a year-old car in 2015.
But with new regulations coming next year which are expected to deliver a laptime improvement of five seconds, there is talk that newly appointed technical director Mattia Binotto’s efforts are paying off.
But how is it conceivable that a team that did not win a single race in 2016, after three victories and runner-up in the constructors’ championship the year before, can hope to become competitive without much recruitment from outside and that too after having lost a key strength in James Allison.
The answer comes from Sergio Marchionne: “We have reorganised the management in August, and I have every confidence in the work of Mattia Binotto. The structure I believe is now very good – although some change is always possible. But the key building blocks are in place.”
The restructuring that is talked about involves 14 separate working groups and a more horizontal structure that allows more input from more staff. Marchionne has laid down some ambitious targets, as he is determined for Ferrari to make the most of the opportunity given by new regulations.
In Maranello, there is said to be some optimism about progress, because the car that is emerging is in line with expectations. However, that does not mean that Ferrari is definitely on course to produce a race winning car as that will depend on what Mercedes and Red Bull do.
Inside the racing department, there is understood to be a feeling that the team must get back on top, and a quiet confidence that it is working towards that target. But can Ferrari under Binotto really churn out ideas that will be necessary to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull?
We will only know for sure during the first winter tests when the cars are unleashed in Barcelona, but there are already whispers that Ferrari under Byrne’s watchful eye has found solutions that come from clever interpretation of the rules.
If true, it means the new Ferrari should have a more aggressive approach to its 2017 design than what we saw with the SF16-H.
And if Ferrari’s recent enquiry of the legality of a suspension system is anything to go by, I’d say there’s a lot of reading in between the lines of the rulebook going on in Maranello’s mind.