As anyone who has worked in a business environment knows, in cases of public humiliation, or embarrassment, management loves to have a fall guy handy. Ferrari is no exception to the rule. Yesterday, the Scuderia announced that head of engineering Chris Dyer would be replaced in that role by ex-McLaren designer Pat Fry, the latter being a recent acquisition by the team.
Dyer has taken the brunt of criticism by the team for making the fateful decision at last year’s season finale at Abu Dhabi to pit Fernando Alonso early, theoretically to cover Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who had also pitted, and thereby put the Spaniard in position to collect enough points to win the championship. Alonso, as you’ll recall, went into the race leading in the points, and didn’t need an outright win to secure the title. After the pit stop, however, Alonso became mired in traffic, and ultimately gifted the title to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
While Ferrari honcho Stefano Domenicali recently told La Repubblica, “In a normal race it [would have been] a normal error,” he also said, “The mistake had a devastating effect.” Such was the level of trauma at Maranello in the wake of the title-deciding race that Domenicali himself at one point considered resigning. He reconsidered soon enough, however, and decided on a different course of action: demoting Chris Dyer.
Dyer, of course, has previously served as race engineer to both Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. After the Kimster’s results in 2008 failed to impress, Andrea Stella replaced Dyer as the Finn’s engineer, and Dyer became chief track engineer, the official nomenclature for race strategist. This role will now be filled by Pat Fry.
While it’s too early to judge the wisdom of this move, it does remind one of the Ferrari of old. During the Schumacher-Brawn era, the team generally took their lumps as a cohesive unit, rather than parceling out blame to individuals. Of course, it might be that Fry will end up being a better race strategist than Dyer. At this point, it’s too early to tell.
What we do know, however, is that the tifosi are a passionate bunch, and when things go wrong they like to see heads roll. One suspects that the team felt a certain pressure to place the blame on someone following Alonso’s narrow miss at capturing the title. Never mind that Alonso himself was unable to get past ostensibly slower competitors, such as the Renault duo of Vitaly Petrov and Robert Kubica. And forget about the fact that all race strategies come with a certain risk attached, and in this case, as Domenicali himself admitted, the gaffe looked immeasurably worse simply because it was the final race of the year, with the title at stake.
Setting all that aside, the fact remained that Ferrari needed to fix the blame on someone so they could at least give the appearance that there was an easy solution to the problem. In this instance, that solution was Fry in and Dyer out. Whether this proves to be a pragmatic change, or just so much window dressing, only time will tell.