F1 came back from its five week break with Ferrari and Fernando Alonso looking to defend their 40-point championship lead in the second half of the season.
The weekend at the legendary Spa circuit began with an honest, if slightly negative assessment of Fernando’s chances, straight from the man himself. He reiterated his belief that the Ferrari is not the fastest car and that consistency is the key from now on to keep him in the championship fight.
This sentiment rang true in Qualifying after a rain-soaked Friday Practice with almost no running. Alonso could only manage sixth place, being out-paced by Maldonado’s Williams and both Saubers. I can’t imagine that the boys in Maranello will have been happy to be behind another team that they supply engines to. Massa struggled too, failing to make it into the top ten.
Race day, like Saturday, was dry. Without changeable weather on their side, it was looking like it would be a long race for the Prancing Horse’s pilots. However, a freak accident meant that Alonso’s race never really started. After a jump start by Maldonado, Grojean tagged Hamilton causing a massive pile-up in which Grojean climbed over Fernando’s nose, narrowly missing his head.
Clearly shocked, Fernando remained in the car for a while before climbing out. Afterwards he complained of some back pain which made him think for a few moments before getting out of the cockpit. Ferrari has since called for drivers from the GP2 feeder series to be more closely examined regarding their driving standards before they join F1. Grojean has been involved in seven first corner incidents in his last twelve Formula One starts. This particular crash has concerned the FIA enough to ban him from the next race at Monza.
Once the race resumed, Massa showed far better pace than he did in qualifying. He eventually finished fifth, setting the second fastest lap of the race along the way. It was very interesting that his one lap pace during the race was much quicker than that of Vettel and Button. This is perhaps further evidence that Ferrari are underachieving in qualifying. However, Vettel and Button only stopped once, so they won’t have been pushing as hard as Felipe and will have been looking after their tyres. Many experts believe, based on Massa’s pace, that Alonso would have reached the podium if he hadn’t been taken out.
The championship lead is still intact, but has now been reduced from 40 to 24 points. Alonso can’t afford to have any more retirements this year and he will need to consistently place on the podium, as he did in the 2010 season right up until the final race, where his run of form faltered and cost him the title. Stefano Domenicalli makes a good point:
“We left Belgium with the awareness that the championship is still in our hands. It is in the hands of all the people at Maranello, who have to improve our car, because it is not yet at the level it should be.”
This level of honesty in the past would have been rare from Ferrari management, but it is refreshing to see this attitude in the modern sport. Of course the fans are still asking, how long will Ferrari continue to control the title race?
There has also been some great news for the Tifosi this week, with Fernando Alonso saying he will finish his career with Ferrari and may race beyond his current contract which expires in 2016. So the Scuderia will hold on to the man widely believed to be the most complete driver in the sport. Alonso had this to say:
“If I am still motivated and hungry still I would love to continue, and if I do it would only be with Ferrari for sure. If at that time I feel it is time to stop and have a different life it will be a decision I make that year.”
Monza, the home of Italian passion, was the stage for the next race and a chance for Alonso to respond to his disappointing Spa weekend. Ferrari showed great pace in Practice and looked ready to fight for pole position in final Qualifying. Unfortunately, Alonso’s rear anti-roll bar was damaged, putting him firmly out of the front row, 1.6 seconds down in tenth. Massa looked much more like his old self though, managing third behind the McLarens.
In front of the adoring Tifosi, the red cars both made great starts. Felipe very nearly made it into the lead before the first chicane and settled into second place while Alonso made up several places in the opening laps with some good fights along the way, especially with Schumacher. In a reverse of an incident from the 2011 Italian GP, Alonso tried to overtake Vettel on the exit of Curva Grande and found himself on the grass after being squeezed wide by the German. The FIA decided Vettel didn’t leave the legal car’s width gap required and penalised him with a drive through.
In a stroke of enormous luck for Fernando, nearly all of his championship rivals retired in the second half of the race. Vettel, Webber and Button all suffered mechanical failures, which was followed by Ferrari issuing a not-so-subtle coded message to Massa, requiring him to let Alonso past, improving his points haul.
In the run to the finish, some incredible tyre management from Sergio Perez gave him the opportunity to pass both Ferrari drivers and take second behind Hamilton. The Scuderia will no doubt be disappointed to be beaten by a car they supply engines to, but delighted by Alonso’s charge to third, despite starting tenth.
With so many challengers failing to finish, third place is a remarkable result for Alonso, which takes his lead in the title race to 37 points, while Hamilton moves into second. Alonso had this to say:
“It was a perfect Sunday for us, after the problem yesterday it was not easy to think about victory. So if you are not going to win, the podium is the next target. All the simulations and predictions said we would never finish on the podium, so it was much better than expected.”
Rumours are now beginning to circulate that Perez is the top contender for Massa’s seat at Ferrari. He is certainly out-performing Sauber team-mate, Kobayashi and is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Scuderia President, Luca di Montezemolo, has also been busy this weekend, calling for major changes to F1 in order to secure the sport’s future. He held talks with Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone during the race weekend and had this to say to the media:
“We want an F1 with less cost. Tell me why we have to spend a huge amount of cost to spend 24 hours in the windtunnel to do a small wing flap that for the public [the interest] is zero, for the television is zero, and for me as a road-car manufacturer it is less than zero because we will never use this for the road car?”
As well as wanting stricter cost-cutting measures, Montezemolo also wants the organisers to encourage more interest from young people, perhaps with shorter race distances which might allow drivers to push harder for longer. The excitement at F1 has definitely been improved in recent years. Personally, I’m not so sure that the FIA should react too quickly to messages like this – the sport’s traditions are still important.
For Ferrari, the last fortnight started with a spectacular low on the first lap at Spa, but has ended with a great home race performance at Monza. Consistency continues to be the key in the 2012 F1 season.
About the writer: Joe Barron is the Community Evangelist at iPhone game developer, Kwalee. He is an avid racing gamer and has written sim & wheel reviews for GameSpot.com, CItizenGame.co.uk and HookedGamers.com. He’s also a massive Ferrari fan!