One of the interesting human interest stories to come out of this Melbourne weekend was the renewal of the niggly relationship between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.
Luckily it never came to that and Schumacher was moved to the back of the grid.
Alonso made positive noises about Schumacher’s return this year, arguing that a championship won against the most successful driver in history is surely more valuable.
But this weekend they started getting under each other’s skin again. On Thursday Schumacher was camped out in the Ferrari hospitality area talking to former colleagues and Alonso came and went several times, clearly unhappy that he was on his turf. There is a dark look that comes over Alonso’s face at times like that – it was very much there in the press conference in Monaco that time – and it was there on Thursday, I’m told by a trusted colleague who observed the whole scene. Later the pair met by the Ferrari fridge and Alonso blanked Schumacher.
On Friday after practice, Alonso and his team were unhappy that Schumacher was not punished by the stewards for failing to observe the red flag for a Kamui Kobayashi incident.
This kind of struggle is what makes F1 so compelling; the mind games and gamesmanship of highly competitive individuals. Schumacher got stuck into Ayrton Senna in this way in his first few years in F1.
Ron Dennis once said of Alonso “Competitive animals know no limits” but if anyone embodies that description it is Schumacher. Alonso is now in his prime as a Grand Prix driver and for all the quality of Lewis Hamilton and the promise and maturing brilliance of Sebastian Vettel, Alonso is still the biggest beast in the F1 jungle.
Schumacher, yet to get back to his peak and to challenge Alonso in a competitive situation, is trying to mix it with him, perhaps looking for the psychological combat to inspire him back to his old level. A few years away from the scene has meant that he doesn’t carry that air of dominance around with him, especially on the track.
“Basically on my last try, I was slowed down by him,” said Schumacher after qualifying. He wanted to know if the Ferrari team had informed Alonso that Schumacher was coming through.
“In a way it is difficult because he was on his in-lap, and he was worrying about other things than maybe watching the mirror. But saying that, we had this chat yesterday in the drivers’ briefing that this should be taken care of, and actually he was one of the main guys asking about it.
“I had a conversation with Charlie (Whiting) about it because I wanted to know what are the guidelines here – and whether the rules have changed a little bit to what they used to be. I [told Whiting I] need to know what would you be okay with, and what not.”
Alonso told my Spanish colleagues on Sunday that Schumacher should have “taken the matter up with the stewards, rather than the TV cameras.”