Ferrari hasn't won a drivers title since 2007 and a constructors title since 2008. Over the last few years, they've been easily beaten by Red Bull and McLaren in terms of sheer pace. In order to overtake their rivals, Ferrari tried to bring a revolutionised design of their car in 2012. The biggest change came in form of a radical exhaust which tried to produce a similar effect to blown diffusers, a system banned at the start of the 2012 season. However, the new exhaust didn't work as planned and overheated their tyres. Ferrari eventually had to make major changes to the exhaust of their car. The time lost in developing this radical exhuast and making changes to this came at the expense of development of general aerodynamics of the car.
McLaren's poor start to their 2013 car was also because of a similar reason. They had the fastest car at the end of the 2012 season, and with minor rule changes between 2012 and 2013, they could have easily been ahead of the grid with an 'evolutionary' car. But instead, Martin Whitmarsh and other team memebers argued that with an evolutionary car they might reach a point in the season where no further development is possible. So instead McLaren brought out a 'revolutionary' MP4-28 with pull rod front suspension and increased ride height. However, they encountered fundamental problems with their car particularly those relating with ride height. McLaren found themselves a second off the pace when the F1 season began in Australia. The start of the European season will surely help the Woking team but the damage has already been done. McLaren have only managed to score 23 points in first four races this season as compared to 92 in 2012.
Ferrari were a second off the pace of the leaders at the start of the 2012 season. That was clear in Australia where their drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa qualified in 12th and 15th place respectively. In the race, however, Alonso put on a spectacular show to finish in 5th place. Damage limitation at its best!
At the following race in Malaysia, Alonso made most of the changing conditions and McLaren's errors to take a surprise victory from 8th place on the grid. These 25 points were going to prove crucial as it was expected that the Prancing Horse will eventually fight their way back to top of the grid.
However, In the next two races, there was nothing spectacular from Alonso as he failed to finish in the top 5.
Another major problem for Ferrari at the start of the 2012 season was Felipe Massa's poor form.The Brazilian who almost won his maiden title in 2008, has been out of form since his near-fatal crash in Hungary 2009. In the first four races of 2012, he only managed to score 2 points.
Ferrari brought made major updates during the European leg of the season that helped them move closer to the top of the field. In fact, at Britain and Germany, they had the fastest car on the grid! So, in 9 races or about three-and-a-half months, they were able to transform a car which was only fifth fastest and a second off the pace to one which can win races on merit!
In 9 races or about three-and-a-half months, Ferrari were able to transform a car which was only fifth fastest and a second off the pace to one which can win races on merit!
In the second half of the season, while Ferrari had at least the third fastest car on the grid and Alonso managed to finish on the podium in all but two races where he retired from, the Spaniard lost the championship by 3 points. That was bound to happen as it is not always easy to win a title in an inferior car. Further, Red Bull brought major updates in the second half of the season and Vettel took four consecutive victories between Singapore and India.
McLaren, like Ferrari were a second off the pace of the top runners at the start of the season. However, a good show from Jenson Button saw him take McLaren to final round of qualifying as he lined up for the grid in 10th place. He finished a place higher during the race on Sunday.
Despite bringing some decent updates over the next three races, McLaren's best result was a fifth place finish in China where Jenson Button managed his tyre beautifully to finish just behind the other 4 world champions on the grid.
Like, Ferrari, one McLaren driver failed to meet the expectations - Sergio Perez. People have been questioning McLaren's decision to choose Mexican as their main driver alongside Jenson Button since the deal was finalised. The prime reason for this was the decline in his performance in the latter half of 2012. In fact, Perez failed to score a single point in last 6 races of the 2012 season. Luckily for McLaren, he bounced back in fashion, banging wheels with his veteran teammate(albeit not in best fashion) and finishing in a strong 6th place in Bahrain.
Spain and thereafter - How start of the European season can help McLaren to keep their Title hopes alive
Can McLaren fight their way back to top of the field and win the championship? In one word the answer is 'yes'. McLaren posses huge financial and technical resources which can help the team to significantly decrease the performance deficit they currently have to the top field. For instance in 2009, they were relegated to the midfield after they developed their car till the very end of previous season in a bid to stay ahead of Ferrari in the drivers championship. McLaren came out successfully on top of this situation by mid season with Lewis Hamilton winning the Hungarian Grand Prix, the 10th race of the season. Ferrari's ladder to top of the field in 2012 will give them further hope.
They won't be able to fix the car overnight, but the start of the European leg and thus decreased gap between Grand Prix venues and factories will certainly help.
Ferrari's poor start in 2012(first 4 races)
Australia - 5th and DNF
Malaysia - 1st and 16th
China - 9th and 13th
Bahrain - 7th and 9th
Total Points - 45
McLaren's poor start in 2013(first 4 races)
Australia - 9th and 11th
Malaysia - 9th and 17th
China - 5th and 11th
Bahrain - 6th and 10th
Total points - 23