Although we are still in the official hiatus between the 2009 and 2010 Formula 1 seasons, Fernando Alonso has not been idle. He is still contractually prohibited from wearing the Ferrari livery, but he is already a Ferrari driver in spirit. He has already paid two visits to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, and has driven road cars on test track there – testing in a Formula 1 car is prohibited by current rules until February.
Alonso is not one to sit on his hands. He is the spectral opposite of the man he’s replacing, Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi’s idea of training was peeling the wrapper from an ice cream bar and popping the lid off a Red Bull. (The canned drink, not one of the cars.) Alonso is more in the mold of Michael Schmacher, a methodical workaholic, who loves to race, and loves to test. Schumi won the hearts of his mechanics and engineers, not just because he was a superb racer, but because he loved to work with the car during its development phases. Alonso is the same.
Clearly, Alonso has an agenda. He joined McLaren in 2007, naively believing that he would enjoy preeminence in the team. Not so. Lewis Hamilton was already the golden boy there, even though he was a rookie. He’d been sponsored since age 13 by the Woking team, and nurtured every step of the way. He has McLaren lubricant running through his veins.
Alonso, like all great drivers, needs to be the hub of the team. The end of the story at McLaren was a foregone conclusion.
At Ferrari…clearly, he intends to avoid the same mistake. Felipe Massa has said publicly that Alonso won’t have it all his own way. He shouldn’t expect, Massa says, thhe team to adapt to him. He will have to adapt to the team.
Maybe so. Regardless of who is adapting to whom, clearly Alonso is laying the groundwork for the key relationships that he’ll need to foster during the active racing season.
Last week, he paid his second visit to Maranello, and spent two days meeting with engineers and driving different cars on the test circuit. The Ferrrari people were definitely impressed. As reported in Marca, one team member said, in a thinly veiled comparison to Kimi Raikkonen, “In the two days [Alonso] has seen more of the Maranello factory than others in two years.”
For his part, Alonso said, “I have to earn the trust and gain the confidence of the team and begin a good relationship with the engineers and mechanics. That is what I am trying to do in these months, in order to arrive at the first race with a good understanding with the team so that we all feel comfortable together.”
Of the current crop of drivers, Alonso is the most perfectly suited to Ferrari. He’s widely regarded to be the most complete driver on the grid, just as Michael Schumacher was in his prime. And like Schumacher and Senna, he’s a political animal, who will quickly try to win allegiance among his crew.
Certainly, Alonso will be a very different driver from Raikkonen. One suspects that Ferrari will soon find that he’s the type of driver they’ve been missing for the past three years. Alonso was meant for Ferrari, and Ferrari for Alonso. Massa will no doubt be looking over his shoulder.