In the aftermath of Fernando Alonso snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari found themselves embroiled in a national enquiry as the tifosi tried to get their heads round what had happened. Everybody had something to say, even Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi who ‘called for the head’ of Ferrari’s chief, Luca Montezemolo.
The pressure was firmly on before the new 150º Italia had even turned a wheel in winter testing, Ferrari enjoyed a successful winter programme and with McLaren appearing to struggle to find any grip, they looked like the team to take the fight to Red Bull.
When the racing got under way, Ferrari failed to live up to the expectations from testing, Alonso qualified in 5th and Massa down in 8th. In the race, Massa took the flag in 7th while Alonso crossed the line in 4th, staring at the back of his tormentor in Abu Dhabi, Vitaly Petrov. The slow start to the season continued for Ferrari with the team having to wait until the 4th race in Turkey to taste the champagne on the podium when Alonso took 3rd. Elation soon turned into embarrassment in Barcelona as Alonso delighted his home supporters by storming through to take the lead into the first corner from 4th on the grid and lead for 18 laps before the first round of pit stops. A combination of Red Bull and McLaren’s pace and Ferrari’s inability to get heat into the Pirelli hard compound tyres saw the Spaniard slip down to fourth and lapped by the leaders.
Technical director, Aldo Costa paid the price for the poor start to the season, relinquishing his role with the race team to “ take on new responsibilities within the Company.” The Italian was replaced by Pat Fry who moved from McLaren the previous year.
The next round at Monaco saw the prancing horse regain some of their race pace as Alonso went head to head with Button and Vettel in a thrilling race to the flag with all three drivers on different tyre strategies. Barely a second covered the three as they went into the last 6 laps when a collision between Petrov and Alguersuari at the swimming pool complex brought out the red flag. Under the FIA rules, the teams can change the tyres whilst waiting for the restart robbing Alonso of the chance of overtaking Vettel for the victory who was on rubber that was several laps older.
Alonso has been in a rich vein of form of late, picking up podiums in Valencia, Nurburgring and the Hungaroring as well as delivering the teams first victory of the year at Silverstone.
The Spaniard has chosen the British Grand Prix in 2010 to announce he was still in the title hunt, this year he’s a little more cautious on his chances, “We have had nine races so far and, after the one at the Nürburgring, we will face the same number again. Some might say that makes it a time to assess what’s gone before, but I prefer not to look too closely at the standings. We had a difficult start, but from a few races ago up until now, we have got back to being competitive. It cannot be denied that we have made progress, up to the point where we have actually taken a fully-deserved win on one of the tracks – Silverstone – that on paper was least-suited to our car.”
Felipe Massa hasn’t managed to match the exploits of his team-mate so far this season. He has been comprehensively out qualified 10 – 1 so far by Alonso and hasn’t managed one appearance on the podium in 2011, all of which has lead to the now annual reports that he is soon to be replaced. Ferrari are adamant that he has another year left on his contract and aren’t looking to replace him. I’m sure that Felipe’s run of bad form has nothing to do with his accident n Hungary in 2009 but I don’t believe he’s got over the “Fernando is faster than you” team order. Apart from 2008, Massa has spent most of his time at Ferrari in the shadow of Schumacher, Räikkönen and Alonso and to prove he has the quality to lead a team he will have to look elsewhere.