It’s the beginning of 2013. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is about to start racing his new Ferrari in the earnest hope of winning a historic third title with the Italian marque. He had gone so close the previous year, pipped at the last race, machinery not quite good enough to beat Vettel in the Red Bull. But 2013 only needed a little bit more from the team and Alonso would deliver. Meanwhile, he was the happiest he’d ever been in a team – his comfort zone.
Fast forward to the midpoint of the season. Despite two wins in China and in Spain, we now have the situation in which Fernando is publicly rebuking his team in no uncertain language and Luca di Montezemolo, the big man, the heir to Enzo Ferrari himself, is reproaching Fernando for so doing. The rumours of a shock Red Bull move don’t seem quite so outlandish now. So how did it come to this?
The answer lies in Ferrari’s abject performance levels. Even acknowledging the two wins, the mid-season form guide has the Maranello concern languishing as fourth fastest, behind Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus, usually in that order. Unbelievable as it might have seemed only three or four races ago, McLaren and others can and do beat Ferraris sometimes. But what will have bothered Alonso is not the occasional lack of pace. It is rather what apparently is an endemic malaise, the rot setting in as the natural order of pace at the front settles down. And Ferrari are not only nowhere near the front; they also look like they don’t have any answers.
To give him his due, di Montezemolo has also been harsh with his team. He reportedly sent them knives (‘metaphorical up to a point’) with which to embark on renewed endeavours. He seems to notice there is a problem, one that has not been solved by the engineering brilliance of Pat Fry and so calls for a new face to be brought in in the shape of James Allinson. It is difficult to see this approach failing, as long as there is not a bigger problem and they are given enough time. Does Alonso have patience enough?
There are two ways of looking at Alonso’s behaviour this week. The first is that he is deploying a questionable motivational strategy. Having tried the carrot, goes the theory, here’s the stick. It is indeed a reasonable conclusion to arrive at, given that his softer approach so far this season has not yielded the desired result. The second way of seeing it is that it’s a sign he’s well and truly fed up with pushing himself to the limit and being surrounded by mediocrity in others. This is also understandable.
But the reality is that in all probability, Fernando Alonso wouldn’t want to go to Red Bull (ostensibly a British team) with Vettel (the young hotshoe) immovable in the other chair. He did that once, in 2007, and it didn’t go well. He would have to be pretty cheesed off with Ferrari for that to happen. It’s not impossible that drivers can fall out of love with Maranello just as hard as they fell for it – see Lauda, Mansell, Prost in anni passim. But as a motivational tool, the threat of losing Fernando as well as their jobs has got to be pretty effective for the team. Work harder. Find speed. Understand the tyres.
And Fernando will give them time, because he still loves them.