In an extraordinary statement issued on the Ferrari website last night, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo publicly attacked his lead driver Fernando Alonso for disloyalty at a time when the team needed to “close ranks” following a disappointing showing in Hungary.
“The Ferrari I saw in yesterday’s race doesn’t sit well with me,” said Montezemolo – and he wasn’t just talking about the performance on the track, but about the way his team was functioning.
According to the statement Montezemolo was particularly unhappy with comments Alonso made about the car, after he trailed in a distant fifth in Budapest, unable to compete at any stage of the weekend with the leading Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus cars. But there is no reference to any specific comments and Alonso has said the same thing for some time; that Ferrari needs to find developments which work in order to compete.
There is no reference to the signal of disloyalty put out over the weekend by Alonso’s contact with the Red Bull team, but this is surely the subtext of Montezemolo’s loss of temper.
The statement refers to “rash outburash that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone.”
Alonso had said that “as a birthday present (he was 32 yesterday) I would like the same car as the others”. But there doesn’t seem to be any specific comment anywhere which goes overboard in criticising the team.
However Ferrari’s statement goes on:
“That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team. So, when Montezemolo called the Spaniard this morning to wish him a happy birthday, he also tweaked his ear, reminding him that, “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own. This is the moment to stay calm, avoid polemics and show humility and determination in making one’s own contribution, standing alongside the team and its people both at the track and outside it.”
Montezemolo was announced as President at Ferrari in November 1991, in a turbulent period literally days after star driver Alain Prost was sacked for criticising the Ferrari team.
In over 20 years at the helm, he has never publicly criticised a driver like he has done with Alonso. If this is the public side of the outburst, one can only imagine what was said privately. Ferrari has been around for decades and has had many great champions pass through its doors. Alonso has been given leeway to criticise the team in the past four years, something Michael Schumacher never did, but clearly Montezemolo has decided that enough is enough. No driver is more important than the team.
The underlying tone of menace was also enhanced by a note that during the technical debrief at Maranello, Montezemolo presented each of the engineers with a knife – to put between their teeth as they fight to resore Ferrari to the top. Swashbuckling stuff and the message is crystal clear.
Alonso has made no response as yet, issuing a tweet at around 20-00 CET, saying “Fantastic birthday!!! Thanks to all..!!!! Happy!!”
The big question however is, can this relationship continue or is there a permanent wedge between Ferrari and its lead driver? And does Alonso have any realistic chance of a Red Bull drive? If not where would he go? And how would Ferrari replace him?
The only top line driver potentially free to move is Kimi Raikkonen, whose manager Steve Robertson was in Budapest for talks with Red Bull and Lotus. He said on Sunday night that he was “close” to sorting Raikkonen’s next contract, but these developments may change things a bit. However Raikkonen was shown the door by Montezemolo in 2009, paid not to race for the team in 2010, as he had a binding contract, so there are bridges to be repaired there and it would seem an awkward fit at this stage.
* According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Ferrari is starting a three day test today at Magny Cours with test driver Pedro de la Rosa. The team is using a 2011 Ferrari, as the FIA Sporting Regulations permit, but it appears not to be a Pirelli test – that would be ironic given that Montezemolo also criticised the Italian tyre manufacturer for changing tyres mid-season and artificially affecting the competition, contributing to Ferrari’s loss of form.