The final player to take the stage at Ferrari’s pre-season warm up event in Madonna di Campiglio was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, who narrowly missed out on his third world title at the final round in Brazil last year, is refreshed and ready to challenge again with the new Ferrari, which will be launched in just over two weeks time.
Ferrari got their sums wrong on the 2012 car and started the season around 1.5 seconds off the pace. This year Alonso sees no reason why the new car, developed in the Toyota wind tunnel in Cologne by a strengthened aero team, shouldn’t be there or thereabouts at the start of the season, giving him a chance to challenge,
“This year everything should be much more normal and we are much more confident,” he said.
“We can be faster or slower, but not 1.5 or two seconds off the pace. It is maybe impossible to be worse than last year, so I am confident.”
With no significant rule changes, in theory the cars will be evolutions of the 2012 models with declining margins for development, so it should be a close season. Alonso will be hoping so, with little margin between the top cars, as this will give a platform for his consistency to prevail.
Alonso made comments towards the end of last year about who he rates most highly among his opponents and cited Hamilton, today he was back on the subject,
“Who is the strongest driver? My answer is Hamilton. It was true last year, it was true this year,” he told the audience.
“It is a personal opinion, not political, not to make people think something. Who is the strongest opponent, the strongest driver on grid? Who is the one you have to keep an eye on? It is Hamilton – and it will still be Hamilton next year.
“He is a super good driver because he won every year with any car: he won in 2007 and 2008. In 2009 they started around two seconds off the pace with the McLaren, and Hamilton was able to win races – and it was the same in 2010. Last year also Nico we saw winning in China with Mercedes. So with Hamilton he will be able to win more than one race.”
But Hamilton has won only one world title during Alonso’s career, while Sebastian Vettel has won three, more than the Spaniard himself. Asked why that didn’t rate more highly for him Alonso made clear that he felt Vettel deserved the success he had enjoyed, “In 2011, there was a fantastic performance from him. It is true the car was much in front of everybody, they [Red Bull] were first and second consistently, and when the car is good you tend to relax in some races. But I remember difficult races in 2011 with wet/dry conditions, and he did not do any single mistake.
“So for sure in these three years there were moments when he was better than anybody else and he deserved these three championships.”
It’s not necessary to see this thesis as disrespectful to Vettel. Alonso has to view it this way, after all Hamilton he is the only one of his rivals who has raced alongside him in the same team and been able to beat him over a season. You can debate the rights and wrongs of that momentous 2007 season at McLaren, but Alonso knows Hamilton’s strengths and weaknesses from that experience far more closely than he can know Vettel’s, never having competed in equal machinery with him.
None of this will bother Vettel one iota; the German has three world championship trophies in his cabinet and no-one can take them away from him. This year he will go out and seek a fourth and Alonso will be one of his main rivals again. Meanwhile Hamilton is not expected to challenge for the championship, given how far back Mercedes were at the end of 2012, but Alonso has no doubt that the Briton will win a race or races in 2013.