Fernando Alonso paid a visit to the Ferrari Formula 1 team headquarters in Maranello on Friday. It was his first official visit in his capacity as a driver for the Scuderia. He arrived at the factory at 8.00 am, and began his day by meeting with team principal Stefano Domenicali. Alonso then met with Ferrari engineers to discuss the development of Ferrari’s car for 2010. The Spaniard was able to look at a wind tunnel mock-up of the new car, and try out new seat fittings.
Between meetings, Alonso was given an opportunity to drive a Ferrari on the famed Maranello test track. As his contractual obligations with Renault and their sponsors prohibit Alonso from driving a Ferrari Formula 1 car before the year’s end, Alonso did the next best thing: he drove a few laps in a Ferrari 458 Italia. As reported on Ferrari’s official website, “Fernando wanted to feel the emotion of driving a Ferrari on the track where all the Prancing Horse’s single-seaters are born and raised.”
Before leaving the factory at around 5.00 pm, Alonso attended a 30 minute private meeting with Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari and Fiat. According to Ferrari’s press release, the chairman was anxious to personally welcome Alonso to the Ferrari family.
In joining Ferrari, Alonso is adding his name to a list of many of the great figures in the sport who have also driven for the Scuderia, including Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and, most notably, Michael Schumacher, the most successful Ferrari driver of all time.
One detects a renewed enthusiasm within the team as a result of Alonso’s hiring. Since Schumacher’s retirement, the team’s luster has faded a bit, and, judging from outward appearances, the driver line-up of the past three years (Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen) has been unable to fill the seven-time world champion’s shoes.
Schumacher has always been known as a complete driver, someone who was equally good at racing and car development. He also has the charismatic quality of natural team leadership which all great drivers share. Most observers expected that Raikkonen would replace Schumacher as the de facto lead driver of the team, but the laconic Finn is, by all accounts, a very different animal from Schumacher. He has none of the German’s leadership qualities, nor does he seem to have Schumacher’s work ethic or technical skills.
In Alonso, Ferrari are hoping to recapture some of those qualities that Schumacher brought to the team. At a recent race venue, Peter Windsor of Speed TV asked Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley how the team members felt about Alonso’s joining the Scuderia. Smedley smiled and said, “Very happy.” He also said he thought Alonso would “add a new dimension to the team.”
Judging by Smedley’s expression in the impromptu interview, his enthusiasm was genuine. It’s likely that Kimi Raikkonen’s engineer, Chris Dyer, will be the one who actually works with Alonso. Dyer was also Michael Schumacher’s engineer.
Image by Todo-Juanjo, licensed through Creative Commons.