Fernando Alonso always looks determined, that’s part of his make up. Now with his Zorro moustache and beard and the intense look in his eye, he looks like he should have a cutlass in his hand, rather than a steering wheel. But you can see he is focussed on winning this year’s world championship with Ferrari and expunging the awful memories of last November.
“To spend one more minute thinking about it would be an advantage for our opponents,” he told the media today at the Ferrari “Wroom” event in Madonna di Campiglio.
And so it would. Changes have been made since then with a new structure on the engineering and particularly the strategy side. Former McLaren designer Pat Fry heads the operation at the race track, using a sophisticated strategy tool run from Maranello by ex Red Bull and McLaren head of strategy Neil Martin.
Alonso worked with Fry during his one year stay at the team in 2007, and I asked him on Tuesday if he had worked with Martin, but he said he had not. Nevertheless he and the team seem to set great store by this new combination and both will find that the pressure at Ferrari is different from any other team.
Alonso dominated his team mate last year and to most observers the hierachy was established in Germany when the team invoked team orders to move Massa aside to give Alonso the win. It’s hard to see how Massa can force his way back in, despite his optimism that the Pirelli tyres will allow him to express himself much better than last year’s Bridgestones. But today Alonso was careful to avoid suggestions that he is now de facto team leader.
“I feel like a leader, not the leader, he said. Time will tell on that
I’ve been saying for a while now that Sebastian Vettel is likely to step up a gear now that he has won the world title. I’d expect him to lose the impetuousness from his driving. Alonso knows the changes a driver goes through once he has realised that ambition of winning the first world title and he feels the same about Vettel,
“No doubt Sebastian will be a contender. He will have experience and will be calm in certain moments. He will drive better than last year and that makes him dangerous to us.”
Unless Red Bull has lost ground technically to the others, or is slow to adapt to the Pirelli, Vettel has to start the season as favourite, but we will know more once we get to the Barcelona test at the end of February.
However Alonso also surprised many by suggesting that his old nemesis Michael Schumacher is the favourite,
“If I had to choose the most dangerous rival I would say Schumacher. He’s a driver who has won the most, he has nothing to prove and he certainly has every capacity to be the strongest. He had a difficult season (last year) but he is still a champion. He is still super class and if the car is right he will be a contender.””
Mmmm. One wonders how much of this is putting the pressure on his old rival. There is no love lost between Alonso and Schumacher and by raising the expectations on Schumacher, knowing his words today will echo in every corner of the F1 following world, Alonso is upping the ante, making life a little more uncomfortable for the seven times champion. That’s F1, as the saying goes, you’re either taking pain or giving it.
This surely is one of the most competitive fields in F1 history. Alonso is one of five world champions in the field this year, making it a real classic year – it’s like the late 1960s all over again, when Clark, Hill, Brabham and Surtees were around.
There are no specifics yet of what he’s asked for on the new Ferrari, but he made it clear that he’s been at work,
“When I arrived at the team in 2010 the car was already prepared whereas this year, thanks to the reciprocal relationship between me and the engineers, we’ve been able to try to introduce everything that can be influenced by the driver. That includes the cockpit, the controls, the behaviour of the car based on driving style – that will be much more adapted to me compared with last year.”
That’s an echo of McLaren, which has an engineer whose sole job is to oversee everything the driver touches and comes into contact with. It makes a bigger difference than you might think.
It’s early days and the cars haven’t even been seen yet. There’s a chance one team will have found something special, a legal way of using an F Duct, for example, which gives them the competitive advantage, but Alonso believes that nowadays its hard for one team to dominate and if the cards are fairly evenly stacked he has a great chance of winning races and the title this year.