In the last few days the open secret that is Fernando Alonso’s move to Ferrari has become a serious possibility.
Many seasoned F1 commentators are staking their professional reputations on the rumours that the double world champion is all set to drive for the Prancing Horse. But what will this mean for the Spaniard, and what will it mean for Ferrari?
On paper the partnership looks like a match made in heaven. Alonso is by some margin the most complete driver in F1 – blisteringly fast (though perhaps not the fastest), with an unrivalled ability to develop and set up a car. He is a double world champion because he effectively man-managed Renault into a winning position and profited from others’ drop in form. He should bring the best out of Ferrari – a team whose quintessential Italian nature he has recently praised – and provided they can give him a decent base from which to start, wins will come.
Meanwhile Ferrari have recently been missing someone of Alonso’s calibre. The 2008 drivers’ championship should have been theirs and although Massa did superbly well, one cannot help but think a true great would have taken the title from Hamilton. In 2007 they were lucky, as the infighting at McLaren benefited the red team. Raikkonen, the then champion, has since become a shadow of his former self. The truth is that since Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Jean Todt left, they have looked a little like an empire on the verge of collapse – still awesomely powerful and dangerous (and close to the front of the pack), but no longer invulnerable. They will be hoping Alonso can bring a little magic back, some greatness that will remind them of their German prodigal son.
But there lies the rub. Alonso, for all his ability, is not Schumacher. From when he arrived in 1996, it took the German legend two years to knock the ragged Maranello squad into winning shape, and four before he became world champion again. If it were only to take Fernando four years to win another championship, he would be one of the elder statesmen among drivers, and with such breathtaking talent in the shape of Hamilton, Vettel and Kubica around, may well have passed his best. There is no guarantee, moreover, that he could actually bend an organisation the size of Ferrari to his will. Renault, a small, efficient operation, was a different ball game.
The other major hurdle that lies in the Asturian’s path back to the top is politics. Fernando, bless him, couldn’t handle the politics at McLaren, so goodness knows how he is going to fare at Ferrari. His lowest moment – allegedly attempting to blackmail Ron Dennis into giving him preferential treatment – was given short shrift by McLaren management. If he were to try something similar at Ferrari, he would be out on his backside, one imagines, quicker than you can say intellectual property. And with nowhere to go except Red Bull, having burned all his other bridges.
That is before he starts trying to deal with a team-mate. As is written elsewhere on this site, Fernando is unlikely to get an easy ride from whoever is across the garage. It is most likely to be Felipe Massa – a man with no inconsiderable speed and maturity, and well-liked by the team and by the fans. Alonso would have to be very careful how he plays the game of getting the team to favour him. If it is Sebastian Vettel, one imagines Fernando will be dogged by flashbacks of 2007. The bottom line is that Alonso needs a team to focus its efforts around him. If they do, he can work wonders. But if they can’t, he’ll be left high and dry.
Were Alonso to take the drivers’ championship back to Maranello, he would be rightly feted. He would have just written himself into the history books alongside Michael Schumacher, something to which not many can lay claim.