The incident where Fernando Alonso passed Felipe Massa on the way into the pits in yesterday’s Chinese Grand Prix has sparked a great deal of debate and is likely to be the subject of a significant amount of internal discussion at Ferrari, once everyone finally gets back to Maranello. Will the management want to calm the troubled waters or express their admiration for the killer instinct of their new driver?
It didn’t kick off in Shanghai, because Felipe Massa chose to play it straight and not moan about his team mate’s actions, as many drivers would have done in the past. But behind closed doors one imagines that he will have a few things to say. Because this was quite a move by Alonso and it made quite a statement.
It is hard not to see it as Alonso asserting his claim to be team leader. He imposed himself over his team mate at that vital moment because he knew that not to do so would hold him back and would cost him time and places. So he put Massa into that position instead.
This action has really got the Italian media going; Italy’s leading F1 journalist Pino Allievi, writing in the Gazzetta dello Sport claims that,
“We will be talking for a long time about the lightning pass on Massa in the pit lane entry. Such a thing has never been seen before between two Ferrari drivers.”
Pino should know – he’s been around for a long time and had strong links to “The Old Man” himself.
Colleagues who spoke to Massa after the race say he was pretty stony faced, but not about to do his dirty laundry in public. He told Italian colleagues,
“My wheels spun coming out of the hairpin. I didn’t know that he was also coming into the pits, but he came alongside me and when I saw him on the inside there wasn’t much I could do, I didn’t want to create an incident.”
Alonso started to lose his temper with the Italian media when they grilled him about it, “If you are looking for me to say the wrong thing you’re wasting your time, ” he snarled. “Nothing happened. He got wheelspin on the exit of the corner and I came out better and passed him. If it had happened between two cars of a different colour no-one would write a line, but as it’s us people will talk about it for ages for no reason.”
Team boss Stefano Domenicali will know that this is not the end of the matter. It needs to be carefully managed. We already have the rumours about Ferrari being cagey on a contract renewal for Massa, because he hasn’t been close enough on pace to Alonso this season and there have been stories linking Robert Kubica to the seat.
“We are friends,” said Kubica of Alonso at the weekend. “We were almost team-mates at BMW and if you believe what you read, it might happen again in the future.”
However there are also contrary stories that a one year extension for Massa is being prepared.
Domenicali’s two drivers were always going to have moments like this, it was just a question of when. In Bahrain Alonso jumped Massa at the start and it gave him the basis for his win. In Australia Massa got him back and Alonso could not pass him, even though he appeared to be faster.
Those were racing incidents and according to Domenicali, so was the one in China, although he admitted that,
“It happened in a place where you wouldn’t expect a pass. But for us it was a normal racing episode, they are both professionals and this is part of racing.”
He also made the point that the drivers did well to radio as they came down the pit lane, that Alonso was in front so the mechanics didn’t fit Massa’s intermediate tyres to him by mistake.
What is interesting about this incident is that the pair were coming in together, one of three double stops the Ferrari team made on the day.
It had started raining again and everyone was on slicks. The four cars in front of them had decided to stop on that lap for intermediates; that was 7th place Schumacher, Webber in 8th, Alguersuari, 9th and 10th place Sutil.
The cars running at the front however pitted a lap later; that was Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, Hamilton and Vettel – all of whom judged that an extra lap was desirable.
But Rosberg’s extra lap was 10 seconds slower than his previous lap, so pitting when the Ferraris did was the right call. Alonso felt that it was the moment and took no prisoners when he saw Massa struggling for grip out of the hairpin.
So when Massa says that he didn’t know Alonso was pitting at the same time, it rather implies that this was either a late call by Alonso himself or a communications breakdown whereby they both decided to come in at the same time.
For Gazzetta dello Sport there is no doubt of the significance of this. The Spaniard has had enough of politely waiting around and wanted to make sure he stays close to the championship fight. This was “The day when Alonso grabbed the role of team captain.”
It’s great stuff. It’s what makes F1 such a compelling sport.