A defiant Fernando Alonso spoke today for the first time about the unprecedented public criticism of him by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo after the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Ferrari published an article days after the Hungarian race, with Montezemolo calling for the team to fight together, with a knife between the teeth and noting “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.”
While the Italian media believes that it was his comment, “What would I like for my birthday? The same car as the others,” Alonso said that he and his management had been through all the comments he had made in that weekend and others and could not find anything that directly criticised the team and the car, as had been claimed.
“I think it was wrong information coming to the president,” Alonso said during his packed press briefing in the Ferrari motorhome at Spa.
“We looked back to all the press conferences – these days with recorders etc it’s easy to check exactly what you say – and it was nothing different to any other grand prix and I tried to push for the best for the team and for our performance.”
Asked by this website what lessons he and Montezemolo had learned from this unprecedented attack by a president on his leading driver, Alonso said that the burden of representing Ferrari meant that every statement was scrutinised more than other drivers,
“It was so clear in the young driver test, ” he went on. “I said I was not going to the young driver test because there was nothing to test, there are no tyres to test and there is no setup possibility. [The press said] ‘Alonso creates big polemics against Ferrari, against Pirelli, against the world!’
“But Kimi was not going and its funny…This is the repercussion of being Ferrari and the president and me talked about this as well.
“Also, we learned doing four press conferences in the weekend in three different languages; two of them are not in my mother language and I am from the north, so don’t speak perfect Spanish…it means there can be mistakes and there can be misunderstandings.
“What we need to do is to concentrate on racing because we need to be together, we need to be united and we need to win this championship.
Perhaps the real trigger for Montezemolo’s anger, on top of the team’s waning competitiveness, was the note from Red Bull that Alonso’s manager had approached them for a chat about the future.
Alonso saw that one off in short order: “I think the president is a very intelligent man to separate what is rumour and what can be true,” he said. “We have both been in F1 for many years now and we know what the summer break means in terms of rumours so there were never questions.”
Alonso’s body language was open and defiant. He gave little away emotionally, save for a wipe of the eye when discussing the Montezemolo criticism. Asked point blank whether he would be driving for Ferrari next year he gave a shrug which implied “of course” but he didn’t say it. Some Italian colleagues believe that he may decide to stop or take a sabbatical next year if he does not win the title this year.
In the current context, the idea of Kimi Raikkonen returning to Ferrari seems not so far fetched. He is a world champion and he is on good form. Although the parting in 2009 was fairly bitter, he knows the ropes at Ferrari, knows many of the senior people including Stefano Domenicali, James Allison and Pat Fry well and would provide an insurance policy for the team against anything going wrong with Alonso.
Alonso made reference in the Italian part of the conference to the fact that when Raikkonen and current incumbent Massa were team mates in 2008/9 Raikkonen had not looked particularly good,
“In 2008/9 when they were together Felipe was stronger than Kimi,” said Alonso.
Raikkonen and Ferrari are clearly kicking the tyres on reunion at the moment, looking at the matter from every angle.
Alonso also spoke of the championship situation and observed that the title will be decided in the next four races, as these will show the level of competitiveness of the leading teams with the final raft of developments before the focus moves onto 2014. He said that Lewis Hamilton has to be taken seriously as a title contender and hoped that he and Ferrari would be able to challenge Sebastian Vettel to the end.