Ferrari drivers: Cars have become too complicated

By ANDREW DAMPF AP Sports Writer

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, Italy (AP)—Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are worried they’ll have too many buttons to press on their steering wheels following the latest Formula One rule changes.

Speaking at Ferrari’s annual winter retreat in the Italian Dolomites on Thursday, the drivers addressed the admission of adjustable rear wings, the return of the KERS power boost system, plus the switch to Pirelli tires, all combined with extensive testing limits.

“Without realizing it, we’re losing the focus on driving,” Alonso said, adding that “the cars become tougher to drive when you have to make all these changes from one turn to the next.”

The rear wings are perhaps the biggest novelty. While designed to facilitate more passing and appease fans, nobody is quite sure what effect they will have.

Drivers will be able to adjust the wings from the cockpit once they are two laps into a race, but the system’s availability will be electronically controlled and it will only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another at predetermined points on the track, then deactivated once the driver brakes.

“If you make the wrong choice and you have three cars behind you, you could fall from first to fourth in an instant,” Massa said. “We have so many things to do on the steering wheel but we still need to drive the car. We can do it, but from a driver’s point of view it’s not fantastic. On every (turn) there are three or four buttons to press. It’s definitely a little too much.”

The switch from Bridgestone to Pirelli as the sole tire supplier will be another challenge.

“The tires are essentially the biggest change for 2011 because that alters our style of driving,” Alonso said. “Everyone has the same brand so people talk about it less, but you have to adapt very quickly. Teams will have to resolve problems by the second or third race.”

If it doesn’t rain during one of the 15 days of preseason testing in Spain next month, teams could enter the third race of the season in Malaysia using untested wet tires.

The season opens with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 13, followed by the Australian GP in Melbourne - races generally marked by good weather. It usually rains in Kuala Lumpur.

“Entering a Grand Prix with completely unknown tires would be very difficult,” Alonso said.

Alonso entered the final race last season leading the standings only to lose the title to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel after a series of strategic errors by Ferrari. While nearly all Ferrari officials have acknowledged that the Red Bull cars were the fastest last season, Alonso surprisingly named Michael Schumacher as his most “dangerous” rival for 2011.

Having won five titles with Ferrari, Schumacher came out of retirement last season but struggled to a ninth-place finish with Mercedes.

“With five world champions on the track next season, if you ask me one name in January, I’ve got to say Michael, because he’s a seven-time world champion and he’s got nothing to prove,” Alonso said. “It was a difficult season for him in 2010 with new cars, a new style of driving and everything completely new in F1. But he’s still a champion.”

Alonso also said he expected a tough challenge from Red Bull and McLaren.

“But hopefully our car will be fastest and my toughest rival is Felipe,” he added. “That would be very welcome news for us.”

However, Massa struggled last season and has yet to prove he’s regained his edge after a life-threatening accident at the Hungarian GP in 2009. The Brazilian hasn’t won a race the last two years after missing out on the 2008 title by one point to McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and there is speculation this could be his last season with Ferrari if he doesn’t improve.

“You can feel the (pressure),” Massa said. “But the most important thing is the pressure I put on myself. I know I can do a great job and if I drive the car like I want I will be there.”


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Updated Thursday, Jan 13, 2011