Ferrari merchandise producers will not be happy after what was an abysmal weekend's racing. The much vaulted car and driver combination that had proved so competitive during the winter testing period faced serious troubles throughout the weekend. Merchandise producers and sponsors will hope this is a singular occurrence and will not set a trend for the rest of the 2008 season. Ferrari will have to up their game to compete with rival Formula 1 team, McLaren.
The Melbourne race weekend saw a sublime performance from Lewis Hamilton in both qualifying and the grand prix. Ferrari however will be worried by mechanical difficulties and poor driver performances from both the reigning champion Raikkonen and Massa. Merchandise producers and sponsors will be unhappy with what was a mediocre performance at best. Before the weekend had begun, Ferrari had found themselves strong favourites to dominate the entire weekend like they had done in the previous season. They do however leave Melbourne with a solitary driver's championship point and one constructor's point.
The nightmare for Ferrari began with engine difficulties for Kimi Raikkonen during qualifying meaning he started the race in a lowly fifteenth. Massa did little better, only managing fourth on the grid despite having no engineering problems until the race had begun. Merchandise companies and sponsors will be piling on the pressure to Ferrari management to ensure the problems are recognised and dealt with quickly and efficiently.
The difficulties first became apparent during Saturday's qualifying session when Raikkonen's Ferrari experienced a fuel pump problem that hampered his lap time. Strangely Massa faced stiff competition not just from both McLaren's but also from the BMW of Robert Kubica. Massa's fourth should have been enough as at times the pace of the Ferrari F1 '08 was clearly fast enough to cut through the pack. Unfortunately for Massa his fourth didn't convert into a podium position because of yet more engine difficulties and a spin in the first corner resulting in a replacement nose cone.
Raikkonen was close to achieving some points as he quickly scythed his way through the pack, the new traction control legislation however gave the Finn some difficulties as he span off twice due to driver errors when attempting to overtake. This will worry merchandise companies and sponsors greatly as the former champion buckled under the pressure and could not find consistency in the Ferrari car; if he cannot race more smoothly this season could prove extremely difficult for the Finn who is vying to keep his driver's championship.
As well as driver difficulties for Raikkonen, close to the end of the race he had to retire with yet more problems with the Ferrari F1 '08. The team would not have achieved a single point if it hadn't been for the disqualification of Ruben's Barrichello for illegal use of the pit lane under safety car provisions. This lucky break is clearly the only thing Ferrari management, sponsors and merchandise producers will be able to salvage from a disastrous weekend.
Both the Ferrari F1 cars will be sent back to the Maranello plant in order to diagnose the problems that caused so much stress this weekend. They will hope the diagnosis will be speedy as the team only have a few days until testing starts for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The general director of Ferrari was quick to dispel the fears of merchandise companies, sponsors and fans by stating that this was purely a blip in the season for the team. Winter testing had put the team miles ahead of the rest of the pack and the pace of both cars was evident, at least during periods of the race. Ferrari will have to find this pace consistently to achieve the podiums they so strongly desire.
With rivals McLaren already thirteen points ahead of the Italian team after one race weekend thanks to a race win and a fifth from Heikki Kovalainen, Ferrari are already lagging behind. In a race that only saw seven of the competitors finish, the carnage brought about by the new regulations was apparent, although rustiness on behalf of the teams and drivers may have something to do with many poor results. Ferrari will be hoping that they can expel the gremlins from both their cars in time for Malaysia and lay down a strong performance to counter the brilliant start their rivals McLaren experienced.
Motor sport expert Thomas Pretty follows the Formula 1 season avidly and has purchased much of the Ferrari merchandise range for the new season.