Thursday, January 29, 2015

Alonso at Ferrari: The messiah that wasn't (III)

2013-2014: Toys out of the pram

The start of 2013 was pretty good for Alonso, with two wins at China and Spain, however when he arrived at Monaco something started to go wrong. The Monte Carlo race was to prove a milestone in the Spaniard's career at Ferrari.
It was a specially difficult event for him, as he was overtaken by Adrian Sutil on his Force India at Loews, the slowest turn of the whole Formula 1 Championship. He had already lost a position to Sergio Perez's McLaren and would lose another one to Jenson Button's to finish 9th.

Monaco 2013: The day Alonso lost his mojo?

At Monaco, the rendezvous of the rich and almighty of this world, one of the most important races for the Scuderia after Monza, its star driver was overtaken by a Force India at the slowest turn of the Championship. Now, what went through Luca di Montezemolo's mind at that very moment?  Did he remember how he was asked by some among the Italian fans to bring in the Spaniard? Alonso, subito! They said, he had hired him, given him everything and after two WDCs lost at the last race, this humiliation. It must have been a difficult moment to go through for the man who brought Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher to the team of the prancing horse.

The driver from Oviedo fought back and would score some good results in the three following Grand Prix, as he arrived to Hungary, second in the WDC, 34 point behind Sebastian Vettel. There was still hope.
However there is something with the Hungaroring that seems to prove decisive in Alonso's fate. It was there, after all, that he won his maiden victory in 2003. He would then go at odds with his Renault Team after losing a rear wheel following a pit stop in 2006. And one cannot forget his confrontation with Ron Dennis in 2007, asking for first driver status a few hours after holding back Lewis Hamilton at the end of Q3.

Hungaroring 2013: Going way too far

The single-seater gave the Italian team plenty of trouble, the race was hard for Alonso, and afterwards, in front of the cameras of a Spanish TV Network he somewhat exploded. Excerpts:

"...the superiority of Red Bull right now over our car is overwhelming, but not only Red Bull, Lotus Mercedes, etc... (...)the message is that we have been for four years half a second or a second behind Red Bull..."

Now even though one can recall many great drivers from the past perfectly able to remain tight lipped through the most difficult times, one can understand Alonso's frustration. However, as James Allen acutely pointed out in his web, far from being a one-off, the outburst was just the tip of the iceberg. Ferrari's President Luca di Montezemolo was unimpressed and for the first time in more than twenty years as head of the Maranello outfit,  publicly rebuked one of his drivers. The man from Oviedo had eventually made history at the Scuderia, but not the way he hoped for.

In Spain, as the virtual "Alonso Media Corporation" lambasted the very man that had prevented Ferrari from disappearing altogether as a manufacturer and a Formula 1 competitor, the whole Italian company was subject to a shameful wave of criticism. I, though a nostalgic of the real Team Lotus, found it deeply regrettable. The Scuderia Ferrari is an legend in motor sport, and they deserve enormous respect. The very one Colin Chapman and Enzo Ferrari had for each other. Should I remind the reader that the Commendatore wrote the preface for the British genius official biography, written once Chapman had passed away? Do you think that means something for too many of the members of the "AMC", Formula 1 fans of the 11th hour? They do not even know that biography exists... Neither could I forget this issue when I read the statements made by Stefano Domenicali on Michael Schumacher, a few days after the former was sacked as we will see in a few paragraphs time:

"...He was formidable because his contribution was not limited to his exceptional talent behind the wheel (...) In private, he could be very severe, even ruthless, but outside he was always the first to defend the team..."

Was the former team manager sending a message to someone? I definitely would say so. 

After a string of tyre delaminations and explosions on some Grand Prix week-ends, the FIA decided for security reasons to order Pirelli a change in the structure of their tires. All the teams had to bring adjustments to their single-seaters in order to integrate the new circumstances. The Red Bull engineers nailed it and Sebastian Vettel grabbed the podium top spot at the eight remaining races. 4th Championship in a row for the German and Red Bull.

There was another consequence from the Hungaroring saga. Fearing further trouble with their mercurial number one driver, the top Ferrari brass decided to bring back Kimi Räikkönen, instead of hiring promising Nico Hülkenberg who had been approached at first.

F14T, built for Alonso: The first year Ferrari did not win
a Grand Prix since 1993

And thus came the 2014 season and a complete new set of regulations to the grid. At Ferrari, despite having on board a driver who "improves the single-seaters" and whose "demands lead the engineers towards more successful designs", according to the "AMC", the F14T was a dog. The power unit was miles away from the impressive Mercedes-AMG one and the car a complete mess.
After Bahrein, at the top of the FCA group, (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, owners of Ferrari), decisions were made and Marco Mattiacci replaced Stefano Domenicali. At the Detroit headquarters they wanted to receive an input of the situation through an unbiased newcomer.
Mattiacci, who left Ferrari after the last Grand Prix, and most sources stress that it was a foregone conclusion that had nothing to do with his demeanour at the Scuderia, did a good job. He may have made mistakes, like sacking Luca Marmorini on whom a smaller size of the engine was imposed, but he contributed to hire valuable people. And he seems to have understood pretty quickly that the Spanish driver had far more power in the Team than he should. 

During the whole season, Kimi Räikkönen struggled with a car that did not suit him at all. Clearly it had been designed for somebody else. It was specially upsetting to watch Alonso boast time and again on Saturdays that he had qualified in front of his teammate. Not very much of a sportsman behaviour, to put it mildly. I have tried to remember a similar demeanour by another driver, and have been unable to do so. Hats off to the Ferrari team who closed ranks and protected the guy from Espoo in these difficult times.

There was another element who brought all Formula 1 buffs invaluable information, Italian journalist Leo Turrini. A Ferrari insider, former commentator of Grand Prix on TV and friend of the unforgettable Ayrton Senna, he gave us an insight of how the man from Oviedo was seen in the Scuderia. And it was not very flattering.

 "...Lasciamo stare le esasperazioni extra pista, il codazzo degli adulatori, le consuete menate sul pilota più grande all time e via delirando...."

Problems outside the track, too many unconditional flatterers, delusions of grandeur about being one of the best drivers ever...

Everything seems to have been written on the way the Spaniard left Ferrari, he has claimed time and again that he had decided it a long time ago. However his body language after the Red Bull Team announced at Suzuka that Sebastian Vettel was leaving, and the subsequent leak that he was to replace him at the Scuderia, said it all. He had been caught out.

It was incredibly amusing to see the "AMC" trying to sell that he was waiting for a Mercedes driver to be sacked in order to inherit his drive or that he could even stay at Ferrari.

Yes, sure. 

Eventually the arrival of the German and the departure of the Spaniard were officially confirmed. However it took ages until the new McLaren line-up was announced. And thus finished the "new era" of Fernando Alonso at the Scuderia Ferrari, the man who, according to the "AMC" would dwarf the achievements of Michael Schumacher... And as there is no shortage of simpleminded people who would argue that the return of the German was not terribly good at Mercedes, I will remind them that the team was underfunded as it would increase its budget by 30 million Euros for 2013 ( Moreover Michael had the worst possible luck when Nico won in China 2012 and then he scored the pole position at Monaco that very year (he could not use it due to a penalty from the previous race). How many poles at Monaco did Alonso achieve while he was at Ferrari? Pardon me? None?

Dwarfing Michael Schumacher's achievements
proved to be wishful thinking 

The complete failure of the Alonso-Ferrari endeavour, has been an enormous blow for the "AMC", from 2016 onwards Formula 1 in Spain is to be broadcasted through pay television only. In their desperate efforts to explain Fernando's results they have shoot themselves in the foot as too many among the public have bought their theory that those are due to a Championship rotten to the core. Hard to keep people hooked to such an event isn't it? On the other hand if a large unconditional fan base has been built, too many among the general public start to wonder if failing to win a Championship after five years at the wheel of a Ferrari is what should be expected from one of "the greatest drivers in the History of Formula 1"...

Too bad.

Stay tuned.

There is only one "MAGIC": AYRTON SENNA

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