Fernando Alonso held his first press conference in Ferrari colours today. He spoke about his desire to win many championships with Ferrari, to end his career there and denied requesting number one status at any stage of his career. He also said that he expects to have a good relationship with team mate Felipe Massa.
His theme was that joining Ferrari was the culmination of a long journey in his career, that he was now at home in the Ferrari family. But being Alonso, he couldn’t resist an edgy comment about his McLaren days, suggesting that he felt like a number two to Lewis Hamilton. He kept referring to ‘minorities’ who continue to talk negatively about his behaviour at McLaren in 2007, it clearly bothers him that he has not been able to set the record straight about that time – due to the non-disclosure clause in his severance contract.
“I’m not saying to the team that I want to have anything better for me,” he said. “What I do is work 110 per cent with the team and if the team is not working 110 per cent too it’s not right. I’m a guy who will push everybody to do their best job possible, as their push me to do the best job possible.
“I never asked to be number one driver in any team in my career and that’s coming from nowhere, and keeps repeating again from a minority. But what I don’t want to be, for sure, is number two, like it happened sometimes in 2007.”
It is rare for Ferrari to hire a world champion – they have traditionally liked making champions. When they do it, it tends to be someone pretty special and it comes at a time when the driver is mature in his career and the team needs a boost. In the 1950s they hired Juan Manuel Fangio, in 1990 they got Alain Prost, in 1996 they hired Michael Schumacher and now, at the age of 28, Alonso joins that elite group.
This time around, the team isn’t in bad shape, like it was in 1996. They had a poor year in 2009, but in the two previous years they won races and championships. But Alonso is there to stop any rot setting in. He has been hired for his leadership qualities and because, for all the talent and speed of a Raikkonen or a Massa, the management believes that a team like Ferrari needs a killer in the car.
Alonso said that there had been a lot of waiting around to get started, thanks to the winter testing ban, which he criticised. But he has done as much as he could to get the lines of communication open with the team,
“We have had contact, especially with my race engineer and the technicians of the team,” he said. Ferrari confirmed to me this morning that Alonso will inherit Kimi Raikkonen’s crew, which means that he will be engineered by Andrea Stella.
“We kept exchanging emails and phone calls and I’m always updated about the development of the car so we can be perfectly ready when the tests start in February, ” he added.
“We have worked well. From day one I found myself at home at the team. There is like a family feeling from the start. He added that he was “100 per cent sure” that he would end his career at the team. Mind you, Raikkonen said the same thing in 2006.
“For any driver, coming to Ferrari is the best thing you can do in your career,” Alonso added.
“It’s almost impossible to find the motivation to race for another team after racing for Ferrari, because you will never find the same environment or have the same feeling due to its history.
Inevitably he spoke also about Michael Schumacher’s return. Alonso is the only driver on the 2010 grid who has beaten Schumacher to a world title and he admitted that the motivation is very strong to beat him.
“His return is good for the sport. For the fans, 2010 at the start will be very interesting. It’s a motivation for me of course. When he wasn’t here, of course there was that lack of motivation,” he said.
As for emulating Schumacher’s feats, in the Italian language conference he said, “Winning seven world championships would be difficult, if not impossible in F1 today. But certainly I will try to win as many as possible in the next few years.”
Schumacher’s arrival heralded a new era for Ferrari – the question now is, will Alonso be able to emulate him and carry the team forward?