After their shock defeat in the final round of 2010, Ferrari was set to resume their battle with Red Bull in 2011.
For the second time in three years, Ferrari came close to seeing one of its drivers crowned world champion, only to fall at the final hurdle.
The team pledged it would not make any hasty decisions in the wake of Abu Dhabi. Strategist Chris Dyer eventually had to make way following the error that cost Fernando Alonso the championship.
Ferrari also took on two prominent members of staff from their biggest rivals: Pat Fry from McLaren and Red Bull’s Neil Martin. They will bolster the strength of a team with impressive resources – one which has grown used to unprecedented success.
Six races wins in the last two seasons would thrill most teams. But compared to the levels of dominance with which Ferrari began the last decade, team principal Stefano Domenicali must dreading the thought of a third consecutive season without a championship trophy.
At the launch of the new car – called F150 at the time and since re-named the 150° Italia – president Luca di Montezemolo complained about F1′s “excessive” reliance on aerodynamics: “In the 1970s it was more about the engine and mechanics, now it’s all about aerodynamics.”
There was a sense of frustration at tight restrictions on engine development, traditionally a Ferrari strength, with the greater opportunities for aerodynamic development – where Red Bull and Adrian Newey reign supreme.
The 150° Italia carried on the conservative appearance of recent Ferraris. But while it did not look as innovative as McLaren’s MP4-26 or Renault’s R31, it had shown promising form in testing on long runs.
It had also been very reliable – Ferrari led the way in terms of distance covered in the winter tests. Nailing the reliability at the start of the season was key to their win in the first race last year.
Ferrari’s strong development was clear from the progress they made with the F10 in the middle of last year. They were expected to push Red Bull every lap of the way for championship honours in 2011.
But did they?
When Ferrari and Fernando Alonso finished 2010 so strongly - Abu Dhabi and Vitaly Petrov notwithstanding - many assumed that the combination would take the fight to Red Bull in 2011. It's probably fair to say that Ferrari started the new season joint championship favourites.
It wasn't to be. The 150 Italia broke little new ground and, early season, there were correlation problems between the wind tunnel and track.
Looking for improved data, Ferrari changed its model scale from 50 to 60% and although early tests looked okay, they reached a point where the increase in blockage from the bigger model caused trouble. It meant re-adjusting the whole shape of the tunnel, the boundary layer, the size of the belt, pretty much everything.
An early season upgrade did not produce the improvement hoped for and Alonso's home race in Barcelona highlighted the team's shortcomings.
A characteristic of recent Ferraris has been gentle use of the tyres and it was initially thought that with a banning of double diffusers and higher degradation tyres from Pirelli, it could pay dividends.
In fact, the opposite was true. The car would not generate enough tyre temperature in qualifying and Alonso seemed to take out a permanent lease on fifth grid slot, generally behind the Red Bulls and McLarens.
In Spain though, he made a ballistic start and led the race for the first two stints on the soft tyre. The fact that he was lapped when Ferrari bolted on the hard compound Pirelli brought the extent of the problem into crystal clear focus.
Sporting director Stefano Domenicali publicly praised the spirit of his driver and made it clear that the problem lay at Ferrari's end. The team quickly dispensed with technical director Aldo Costa, who was snapped up by Ross Brawn at Mercedes. Pat Fry, a long time McLaren man recruited by Ferrari to look after on-track engineering, took over the reins.
"Our tyre issues were really down to the classic Ferrari problem/benefit -- depending what type of track you're at - of generating bulk temperature in the tyre," Fry explains. "At McLaren it was almost the opposite -- they could generate temperature straight away and are still the same now. It's a fundamental of how you set the car up.
"I'm sure if we still had unlimited testing it would be relatively easy to swap between the two characteristics. Singapore is a classically low bulk temperature circuit, so you struggle to get the grip. But with all the traction events you overheat the surface, therefore you slide around more, wheelspin more and overheat the surface even more.
"Whereas at, say, Silverstone, which was good for us, you have long, fast corners where you really work the bulk temperatures. That trade has been there all through the last two seasons."
Fry points out that while Ferrari had the benefit of its Fiorano test track and plenty of running at Mugello, they were not at the level of McLaren in terms of simulation tools, which hurt them when on track testing was so severely curtailed.
It is not for nothing that Luca di Montezemolo and Alonso himself have been pointing out that F1 is the only major sport in which the participants are forbidden to practice...
He also believed that there was more to be had from blown diffusers with the engine mapping if you ran a car with good tyre warm up.
"There's the issue of how you run your engine, the way you adjust the car stability with the engine controls. Because McLaren run their engine the way they do, it gives them an advantage in the corner entries that we can't access at the moment."
If Ferrari ran its engine the same way it suffered understeer and Fry admits that breaking a philosophy and doing something different is challenging.
Ferrari started to explore a Red Bull-type exhaust concept in the wind tunnel in December and had also looked at flexi front wings and increased rake but Costa figured that the area would be closed off by the regulations.
"We tried running more rake and it was simply a trade-off of where the downforce was," Fry says.
"You're trading centre of gravity height and losing out a bit. It's down to the way the exhaust interacts with the floor and the tyre and you're trying to stop the air coming in underneath the tyre, so if you lift the rake up you change the area you're blowing.
"Optimising your front wing when it's close to the ground is one reason you do it and the other - our main driving force at Silverstone - was that's where the downforce was. So it wasn't a challenge running it there, you had to run it and make sure it was working as you'd expect.
"You use the exhaust gas to seal the floor. The high pressure area in front of the tyre is trying to come around into the low pressure area under the diffuser and you blow to stop it.
"The fact that we had our most competitive race with the Silverstone interpretation of off-throttle blowing did suggest we weren't getting as much out of the technology as some."
Alonso's Silverstone win was Ferrari's lone victory of 2011 and Fry adds: "Silverstone made people run at the level we were already running at. They didn't have time to re-optimise their cars. If you'd given them a couple of weeks they would have done. And it looked like Red Bull didn't use KERS in qualifying there, which is why we looked that bit closer."
Felipe Massa had another disappointing year. He finished it with just 118 points to Alonso's 257. Fifth place, which he managed six times, was his best finish of the year. In the circumstances it was perhaps surprising that Maranello kept its faith and the Scuderia will certainly be looking for stronger performances from both its chassis and its second driver in 2012.
The drivers in 2011 where polar opposites of each other, one at his peak, the other at his worst ever.
Fernando Alonso more often than not, fighting among the McLaren’s and Red Bull’s, Massa however, usually by himself or occasionally with a Mercedes driver.
Alonso’s performance in the third best car on the grid was stunning, on the podium ten times one of them being a win, while his team-mate finished no higher than fifth.
There were several races this year where you could have said Alonso was the “Driver of the day”, so it is very hard to pick out a race which stands out for Alonso, as there are several.
Monaco is a track where a driver can make more of a difference, and that’s what Alonso did. With the race looking like a straight battle between Vettel and Button, Alonso popped out of nowhere, and his pace was strong and with super-soft and the soft compounds used that weekend a victory looked like a possibility. With Vettel running on worn tyres, Alonso with a much fresher set, the latter looked the favourite for victory.
However, in Monaco, track position is crucial, and Vettel kept Alonso behind for as long as he could, and benefitted from a late red flag which enabled him (and the rest of the grid) to have effectively, a free pit-stop.
The race resumed and Alonso as relentless as he is, kept the pressure on and finished only 1.1s behind the victor.
With a driver of such calibre, it must give Ferrari a boost.
Felipe Massa had his worst season to date for Ferrari.
No podium finishes, highest finish of fifth and only collecting 37% of Alonso’s points, was truly abysmal for a driver who was in contention for two titles before his accident.
It’s a sad sight to see, a driver at his peak, then an unfortunate accident, and now below par. But what is causing the problem for the poor performances must be on everybody’s mind, is it because of the accident? Is it because of the incident in Hockenheim 2010? The tyres don’t suit his style? Or is it all three put together?
All Massa and we know, is that he needs to improve rapidly from this season and get much closer to Alonso and beat him occasionally.
He did have flashes of his old self, most notably at the Chinese Grand Prix; where he started sixth and ran second and third for most of the race, while his team-mate ploughed along in seventh. But like Vettel was on the wrong strategy, and went on to the unfavoured hard tyre compound and slipped down sixth by the end of the race. Like Nico Rosberg, his effort in China deserved a podium finish.
In Canada, he was faster than Alonso, and was running quite well until Karthikeyan stopped in the driest part of the tarmac, Massa avoided him and went on the wet surface causing him to spin and to come in for repairs for a new front wing.
At times during races Massa was left out on worn tyres far too often, and it made several wonder if Ferrari even acknowledges if he’s there.
With a car that was allergic to the harder compound tyres and slower than their rivals, the drivers had a tough time.
Ferrari need to get their act together to provide their drivers with a decent package. Their highest finish of third in the constructors for three years for a team that has won eight in ten isn’t great.
Highlights: Winning in Silverstone after sixty years of their first ever grand prix victory.
Lowlights: Leading the Spanish GP then getting lapped, and only winning one race out of nineteen.