Yesterday, amid all the drama around Ferrari and USF1, we had another bouncy communication from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. He has been speaking with Don McRae of the Guardian, who has a good relationship with Ferrari’s communications department and has done some very good pieces with Felipe Massa in recent years.
Alonso says that the bookies have got it right in backing him as favourite for the title, “Put the money on me now!” he jokes. But he underlines the optimism he has already shown about the competitiveness of the Ferrari, “I expect Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull to be big contenders. But we are very happy where we are at Ferrari,’ he says.
The Ferrari has shown well in testing so far, initially proving reliable and more recently showing a good turn of speed especially in the long runs.
Ferrari has made good use of the front wing, I’m told, and Alonso was trimming it expertly during long runs last week to balance out the tyre wear.
Starting on Thursday the teams will be in Barcelona for the final test and Ferrari, like many of the teams, will have a very significant aerodynamic upgrade. The team didn’t want to go into details when I spoke to them today.
In the interview he says that he understands the Ferrari myth already, understands what being a Ferrari driver does for your status and your place in the sport,
“My father always told me this would happen,” Alonso remembers. “He said, ‘If you race for Ferrari then you can retire. Your life is complete.’ So after I won my two championships for Renault I said, ‘I’m happy now – my career is complete.’ And he said, ‘No, no, if you drive for Ferrari people will forget the championships. They will remember you as a Ferrari driver.’ I said, ‘OK, Papa, we’ll see.’ Now I think he was right. Ferrari gives you a special feeling.”
I find this very interesting because this is something Michael Schumacher took a long time to appreciate. It was only later in his career that he understood the myth of Enzo Ferrari and the emotional cache of the team. He was not a student of the sport, nor was his father, who largely stayed out of his early career, unlike Alonso’s. Schumacher had not figured it out by the time of Jerez 1997, for example, when he deliberately crashed with Jacques Villeneuve. Had he done so, he would probably not have done it. This is something Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo impressed upon him the evening after that race.
Alonso has had his own bumps in the road. The 2007 season with McLaren was his low water mark. He had joined the team he had admired as a child, because it was Ayrton Senna’s team, but first he found that Ron Dennis was not the man he thought he was, then he had problems containing his rookie team mate Lewis Hamilton, which led to him getting embroiled in the Spygate scandal, about which he told McRae, “With the spy history I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I was very happy to help the FIA discover everything.”
“2007 was very difficult but I learnt a lot personally. It was good for my career to take that step of joining them and growing up. I learnt how to work with a team and also to withstand the media pressure. The difficulties I had were coming from the team and the media. Now I am much more prepared for everything in Formula One – and in life as well.”
All eyes will be on Barcelona this week, where Alonso and Felipe Massa will get their hands on the definitive Ferrari F10 for the new season. Alonso promises ‘battles’ with his team mate, but assures us that these will be only on the track.