During the summer break, Ferrari pilot Fernando Alonso has been ruminating about his title chances for the 2010 F1 season. Although Alonso is currently sitting with a 20 point deficit to points leader Mark Webber, Alonso prefers to bifurcate the season, insisting that the leading group of drivers will begin the second half of the season with a clean slate when they line up on the grid at Spa at the end of this month.
As Alonso said on Ferrari’s official website, “We all start from zero [at Spa]. No one feels they are leading the championship and no one feels that they are fifth in the championship.”
All well and good, except that Alonso is at zero minus 20. Or, put another way, points leader Webber is at zero plus 20. And all things considered, it’s Red Bull that seems to have the momentum this season, rather than their main rivals, McLaren and Ferrari. The Red Bulls are strong at every venue, unlike the McLarens and Ferraris, who have shown a lack of consistency from one track to the next.
That said, it must also be acknowledged that the Red Bulls could have done a much better job of putting a gap between themselves and their rivals. But, as most observers will concede, a series of mechanical failures and foolish driver blunders (primarily the latter) have cost the Red Bull boys, Webber and team mate Sebastian Vettel, a costly sum of points. It’s largely for this reason that the other teams are still reasonably discussing their title chances, and that McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is lying a very close second to Webber, trailing the Aussie by a mere four points.
And considering the way in which Sebastian Vettel once again managed to squander a leading position through a needless gaffe in Hungary, it would seem as though Red Bull has yet to get their house completely in order. So, even though they still having winning momentum, no one is completely discounting their ability to blow it at a crucial moment.
Certainly, this fact is not lost on Alonso. He’s a calculating driver, and, as usual, he’s done the math. “We are able to take the lead of the championship if we win one race,” he said. “We know that all five drivers will fight until the last race but we need to use our experience, as a team Ferrari winning so many championships and my personal experience as well fighting for three championships. In the next seven races we need to score as many podiums as possible, I think consistency will be the key to this championship.”
What’s interesting here, too, is the fact that he’s placed the top five drivers in a special group, as though they’re the only ones who need talk about fighting for the title. It’s true, that the top five are covered by only 20 points, while the gap between fifth and sixth is 44 points. So Alonso’s assumption is reasonable. What’s also true, however, is that the man in sixth is Alonso’s team mate Felipe Massa.
When Alonso moved to Ferrari this year, paddock pundits nodded knowingly, and insisted that Alonso would waste no time in trying to establish himself as the focal point of the team, much as Michael Schumacher had done at Ferrari before him, and as Alonso himself had done at Renault. Alonso has borne out everyone’s predictions, in spades. Not only has he outperformed Massa at nearly every turn, but he has used his political skills to secure intra-team leverage for himself whenever possible.
At the German Grand Prix, he was stuck in second behind Massa in the closing laps of the race, and when he couldn’t pass the Brazilian on merit alone, he radioed to his engineer, “This is ridiculous.” Massa’s engineer soon thereafter radioed to his driver in a poorly coded message that it was time to move over for the anxious Spaniard, which he reluctantly did. As team orders are currently illegal, Ferrari was later fined $100,000, and the matter will soon be reviewed by the World Motorsport Council.
Now, in his analysis of Ferrari’s endgame for 2010, Alonso seems to be publicly telegraphing a message to the team, i.e. that Massa is now clearly in the second tier of drivers in this year’s title race, and going forward his function should be to support Alonso’s chase for the title. No doubt, in private meetings with the brass at Maranello, he has has pressed this message more explicitly.