Ferrari is hosting its annual media and sponsor event in the Italian ski resort Madonna di Campiglio this week and that means that there will be plenty of Ferrari-related headlines for the next few days.
Today it was the turn of team principal Stefano Domenicali to speak. He talked about Ferrari’s need to get back to the front of the grid, he spoke about the importance of fuel consumption this season, now that refuelling is banned and he talked about history, recent history.
“Let’s not forget Fernando is the only driver on the track who in his career has beaten Michael [to the world championship]. Fernando has everything to beat him,” said Domenicali, recalling the 2006 season in particular, where it was a straight fight between Schumacher and Alonso for the title.
Although Alonso’s chances were not helped by a controversial incident at Monza, when he was penalised for blocking Felipe Massa in qualifying, which handed Schumacher an open goal for the race, Schumacher’s chances were wrecked when his engine blew at Suzuka. It was a great scrap and I felt that it was the handing over of the baton. Schumacher was tired and had lost the motivation to perform at the only level he knows how to – the maximum. But now to everyone’s surprise, he has decided that he can still operate at that level and a comeback is achievable.
Back in 2002, when Juan Pablo Montoya was the exciting new guy challenging Schumacher in races, I remember asking Michael privately who he thought his greatest threat was going to come from. He said it was not Montoya, nor was it Kimi Raikkonen. Instead it was Alonso, who at that time was a Renault test driver. He’d seen enough of him from testing and in his 2001 F1 season with Minardi to know that Alonso would be the one to take his crown, just as Ayrton Senna immediately identified Schumacher in 1992 as the one.
Schumacher’s decision to abandon his deal with Ferrari and sign up to race with Mercedes has not gone down well with the Ferrari fans around the world, known as “tifosi” considering the move an act of betrayal. It is clear from Domenicali’s careful words that the team feels a little let down. I think the comeback surprised them; I spoke to some team members when the Schumacher to Mercedes rumours were gathering pace in late November and they seemed calm and said they had no reason to believe he would not honour his deal with them.
“Leaving the Ferrari family is difficult. The tifosi are not happy with the choice that he made -and not just the Italian ones, ” he added. ” What has happened has left its mark. Now we have to turn the page. We have to show Michael that this is a strong team. We want to win. But we must also remember that Michael has given a lot to Ferrari as well as what Ferrari has given him. His presence will be another stimulus for our team.
“Michael…is an extraordinary and strong driver. But Fernando and Felipe are able to beat him even if Michael is still very strong.”
Domenicali confirmed that motorcycle ace Valentino Rossi will test a Ferrari F1 car at Barcelona on 21 and 22 January – this will be a two year old car which will not be affected by the testing restrictions.
The pressure on Domenicali is significant this season. The team has won three of the last six world championships – two constructors’ and one drivers’ but last season was a blank and a return to winning ways is essential, especially now the investment has been made to drop Raikkonen and hire Alonso.