The Monaco Grand Prix: the jewel in the F1 crown. Coming into the weekend, Ferrari was in surprisingly good shape. Despite the speculation about the ability and future of Felipe Massa, the Scuderia have been performing significantly above fans’ expectations after an awful start to the year. Fernando Alonso was joint leader of the Drivers’ Championship heading into Monaco, after arguably performing more consistently than any other driver so far in 2012.
Alonso continued his run of good form on the first day in the Principality, fastest in first Practice 1. Both he and Massa performed solidly in Practice 2 and 3 as well, with Felipe showing significant signs of improvement. Ferrari has publicly backed the Brazilian as a key member of the team, but he is clearly a man under pressure. His improved form in Monaco could have been helped by the nature of the circuit. Weaving between the barriers is a great leveller of car performance and the lack of high-speed corners may have helped Felipe as he has struggled for apex commitment compared to Fernando at many of the faster tracks.
In Qualifying, the red cars were both through to Q3 for the first time this year: Alonso fifth and Massa seventh, after Michael Schumacher was dropped to sixth thanks to the penalty he carried over from Spain.
On Sunday, the start did not go as well as others have this season. Fernando was tagged by Grojean in the Lotus, which triggered the Frenchman’s first corner contact with Schumacher and his retirement. Alonso escaped without any damage, but the first stint in the race was a little lack-lustre. Felipe seemed to have the edge for a change, looking anxious to get past his team-mate. Fernando was working hard to look after his tires, in order to reserve rubber to attack McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, as they neared the first stop.
When Lewis stopped first, Alonso turned on the style with a fastest lap which, along with another incredibly quick Ferrari pit-stop, allowed him to comfortably leap past the McLaren. Vettel’s long first stint in the Red Bull on Prime tyres was a cause for concern for most teams. However, Webber, Rosberg and Alonso did enough to come out ahead of Sebastian after he eventually stopped on lap 46.
For the rest of the race, Alonso followed Webber and Rosberg closely, but never really pushed to attempt a pass, even when the light rain towards the finish caused the field to bunch up dramatically. Third place in the race saw Fernando take the outright lead in the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa’s fifth is his best result of the season.
Fernando may lead the title race, but Ferrari’s conservative strategies of are becoming a matter of concern for the Tifosi. The team seems happy just to beat specific drivers in each race, rather than push towards victory. After the Monaco race, Alonso said he just wanted to beat Vettel and Hamilton this weekend and that his target next race will simply Mark Webber, his closest championship rival. The Scuderia are definitely planning to play the long game in the 2012 season, but they could be further ahead in the title race had the pit-stop strategy in Barcelona and the pace in Monaco been more aggressive. Conservative racing has cost the team dearly in the last few years, most notably at Abu Dhabi in 2010, when it cost Alonso the title. With each race seemingly wide open and six different winners in the first six races, this is going to be a very tight season. Hopefully Ferrari will begin to push themselves a little harder to win more of these phenomenally close races in 2012.
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! These views do not reprsent those of Veni Vidi Vici.