Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has shed a little more light on the decision to drop Kimi Raikkonen and hire Fernando Alonso, saying that Alonso is a better development driver, more in the mould of Michael Schumacher and that is what the team needs.
Domenicali’s comments will dismay Raikkonen, who has just signed a contract to compete in the World Rally Championship. I have checked with Ferrari and the quotes are genuine. They are downplaying the Raikkonen comments as ‘superficial’, however they say that the sentiments about Alonso are what the team feels at this time.
Domenicali was quoted yesterday in German tabloid Auto Bild saying, “Ferrari needs someone for the team similar to Schumi.”
Referring to Raikkonen he said, “In a car that is capable of winning, he was and is perfect. But if the car needs to be developed and the team fired up, Alonso is better.”
Alonso has always talked up his ability to develop a car, famously during his time at McLaren, claiming to have brought almost a second per lap to the car.
After a disappointing season, Ferrari has to deliver a fast car and compete for both championships next season. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has issued the clarion call and it is up to Domenicali and his technical team to deliver. Another season like 2009 and the pressure will begin to mount on some of the technical managers.
Domenicali described Raikkonen as “very fast, but also very closed”. This is a criticism of Raikkonen that one heard from the team throughout his time there. He was hired by Jean Todt in 2006 and when explaining his reasons for taking Raikkonen, Todt said that Raikkonen did not speak too much, which he saw as a strength. He focussed on driving the car.
But over time it became clear that while this was a positive in some senses, the team was looking to him for more leadership.
But perhaps they did not understand the Finn. His many fans certainly do; they appreciate his no-nonsense approach to racing and his refusal to complain or make excuses.
When it was announced in September 2006 that Raikkonen would replace Schumacher at Ferrari, his friend Tony Wilander made some telling comments, “How will the Ferrari team be with Kimi? Very different from Schumacher’s. Let’s not forget that Michael arrived at Ferrari together with people who had already worked with him at Benetton. Kimi, by contrast, doesn’t know anyone.
“On top of that, Kimi’s less of a perfectionist, and he will not visit the factory as often. However, I’m sure it will be enough to win the championship.”
Domenicali also spoke about the relationship between Alonso and Felipe Massa, which will be one of the real talking points of next season, in comparison with what happened between Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. “I’ve spoken to Fernando about (what happened at) McLaren. He felt betrayed, and also (said) that his relationship with Lewis was not always correct. At Maranello that will not happen. I can guarantee that,” he added.
On the surface, comments like these are little more than tittle-tattle and yet they need to be noted. People like Domenicali do not need to say such things unless they have a reason. These things are markers. Sometimes the comments come back to haunt them, such as Ron Dennis’ observation beforethe 2007 season about Alonso that they had talked through Hamilton’s long relationship with the team and that there would be no problems of favouritism.