Bien avant de s’illustrer chez McLaren, Ferrari ou Renault en F1, Patrick Tambay...
The Alonso Factor, by Massimo Burbi
In the end it was Andrea Stella, Alonso race engineer, who summarized it perfectly talking to the italian Tv after the race: “Fernando opening laps should be all put together in one video” he said “and then showed in drivers academies”.
Of course Alonso’s races are a lot more than a “one lap job”, but his capability to maximise opportunities in the opening stages, which are still about improvisation rather than planification, remains uncanny. One wonders what the other drivers think when he consistently, race after race with little exceptions, drives around them gaining crucial ground on the leaders generally after a disappointing qualifying session. Alonso seems to find open doors where others just see solid walls.
It was the case, again, in Spain. Unable to find a way in after the lights went off he had to settle for fifth approaching the first corner, but when it seemed he was, for once, forced to stay where he started, he just took the outside line in turn three to literally drive around Raikkonen and Hamilton, two world champions who not give way easily to anybody.
Certainly, the move of the race. Maybe, the move of the season
Alonso had a strong pace in Barcelona. It didn’t come as a surprise, Ferrari consistency was for all to see during Friday FP2, but the Spaniard still had to make his way to the front from the 3rd row.
Mercedes was never going to be a real contender and Alonso knew his race was against Vettel and Raikkonen. Disposing of the Finn at the start and leaving his most dangerous opponent to battle with a fading Hamilton (hurting his tyres in the process) was a decisive step. He and his pit wall finished the job on lap 9 when he undercut both Raikkonen and Vettel by stopping a lap earlier (which as usual was the way to go) rejoining on Rosberg’s tail while Raikkonen, who was shadowing him before the stop, fell down to sixth with a mountain to climb to get back on top.
Rosberg was quick to disappear from the leaders mirrors and from that point on Alonso always run in clean air, while Raikkonen had to spend energies, tyres and time in battles which costed him his last chances to challenge the Ferrari.
The ease Alonso displayed in overtaking Kimi on lap 39 didn’t tell the truth. By that stage they were making two different jobs: Raikkonen was nursing a 14 laps old set of options while Fernando had new rubbers just fitted. Given the different strategies Ferrari and Lotus were much more evenly matched than that moment showed.
Had Kimi kept his position at the start, and had Lotus been not outmaneouvered by Ferrari at the first round of stops, Alonso closing laps could have been way more busy than they actually were. What Fernando did was putting himself in the position to exploit the full potential of his car for almost the whole distance, while others were often stuck in traffic despite a better starting position.
So again, you can’t win without a competitive car, but the men in the cockpit are still the ones who made results possible on race day. Alonso may have lost the last six world championships, but there’s little doubt in my mind that he’s the best driver out there. And when his car does its job it’s hard to see him being beaten.
Ferrari still doesn’t have raw speed though, as Red Bull lacks consistency where tyre management gets demanding and Lotus, in the hands of Raikkonen, seems often to have both but seldom emerges from the first lap in a good enough position to fully benefit from it.
It’s a three way battle up there at the top of the standings. The one who’ll fix his weakness first will get the advantage. Meanwhile Pirelli announced they mean to reduce number of pit stops by Silverstone. That could be good news for the reigning champion but beware the Alonso factor.