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Fernando Alonso: The Ferrari years and the championships that got away

Fernando Alonso: the F1 nice who could not catch a ruin – phase 3 of 5

Luca Di Montezemolo used to be Ferrari president right through Fernando Alonso’s time with the group, and he recalls him, Michael Schumacher and Niki Lauda as “the three best drivers I have seen in the Ferrari team”.

“What I appreciated about Fernando is he was always a fighter, a fighter, a fighter,” Di Montezemolo says.

Alonso joined Ferrari after a two-year sojourn again at Renault. Twice in his first 3 years at Maranello, he misplaced out on the championship at the ultimate race. Each time, he had got himself in that place regardless of now not having the quickest vehicle.

“From mid-2010 to 2014,” one Ferrari insider stated, “Fernando was the best driver in the world. There’s no argument about that.”

Those championship defeats have been very tricky to take.

In 2010, after overhauling a 47-point deficit and then taking the championship lead with a outstanding victory in the soaking gloom of South Korea, the group made a mistake in calling him in for an early pit forestall at the ultimate race in Abu Dhabi. He got caught in the back of the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, which used to be sooner on the directly, and completed 7th as Vettel gained in his Red Bull and grabbed the identify from underneath Alonso’s nostril.

By the finish of the 2010 season a 3rd identify had slipped away from Alonso and a primary championship used to be in the palms of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel

Two years later, it used to be much more galling.

In the fourth-fastest vehicle, Alonso led the championship for a lot of the season, taking 3 remarkable victories alongside the means in Malaysia, Valencia and Germany. He used to be overtaken through Vettel in a burst of 4 consecutive wins through the German in a run of races in Asia in the remaining phases of the season. But Alonso misplaced the identify simplest on account of two cases of dangerous good fortune.

He used to be taken out at the get started of each the Belgian and Japanese Grands Prix: in Spa through Romain Grosjean’s flying Lotus after the Frenchman tangled with Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren; at Suzuka when the entrance wing of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus punctured his left rear tyre.

Had simplest a kind of incidents now not took place, Alonso would had been champion.

“Despite not having the best car, the team did fantastic work,” Di Montezemolo says. “So I’m unhappy that the aggregate between Ferrari and Alonso – who for me remains to be certainly one of the two or 3 easiest drivers in the international, even now – did not paintings. For not anything, for a couple of main points, a couple of components.

“If he had gained only one championship with Ferrari, he would have entered into historical past – 2010, 2012, he used to be in a position to win two times.

“Having said that, I have a very good memory of Alonso because he was able to put Ferrari on the top, win or not win, for four seasons.”

Alonso used to be taken out in a multi-car crash at the get started of the 2012 Belgium GP, brought about through Lotus driving force Romain Grosjean

Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari’s group boss from 2008-14, provides: “The car was not really very strong and despite that he was able to come very, very close to winning the title with Ferrari because of a lot of things he did as a driver. And therefore, even if it is not correct to say that in life, he was very unlucky.”

Domenicali says 2012 used to be particularly tricky to take: “To reach that scenario with the stage of efficiency we had on the vehicle used to be outstanding.

“That’s why it used to be in point of fact very tricky at the finish of the season to peer, after this kind of combat with now not in point of fact a just right vehicle, to be in that place and to lose now not as it used to be your fault, however since you have been in a spot the place you should not be.

“I be mindful when there used to be the shunt with Grosjean, first nook at Spa, we stated, ‘OK, issues are going down.’ Then it used to be a large sense of frustration when, right away after, we had the similar scenario in Japan with the tyre minimize through Kimi in the first nook.

“That used to be in point of fact an overly tricky second. But it used to be even worse in India, the place [Vettel won again and] there used to be this sense of: ‘Come on, this isn’t conceivable, convalescing 60 issues on the different aspect on account of one thing you’ll in point of fact now not combat.’ The feelings have been relatively top in any respect ranges.”

The seeds of Alonso’s departure from Ferrari have been sown proper there.

‘He is a man who wishes the beef up of the group’

Domenicali described Alonso as a “very strong force” when then pair labored in combination all over the Spaniard’s spell at Ferrari

Domenicali says: “Fernando used to be in point of fact motivated to ensure he gained with Ferrari. In the maximum tricky moments, he had that function very transparent in his thoughts, and that stored his motivation very top. He used to be at all times seeking to push for all the main points.

“So he used to be very keen on what used to be going down in Maranello. He used to be at all times hooked up together with his engineers, and he had an excellent dating together with his workforce of other people. That used to be very particular and it used to be vital for the guys. And he had an excellent dating with all the international round Ferrari.

“In the duration I used to be there, he attempted to do the whole lot to ensure he may just win.

“He at all times driven very onerous in all prerequisites. Of direction, he’s a driving force who in point of fact understands what racing is all about and he’s a man who wishes the emotional beef up of the group. That used to be crucial for him.”

Domenicali says Alonso’s popularity as being tricky to regulate, any person who drove the group aside, is “unfair”.

“There are other people with other personalities, in fact,” he adds. “When you’ve got any person who’s – how can I say? – an overly robust power, you wish to have to regulate the reality that he has an excellent character. You wish to deal with it. It is one thing you wish to have to paintings on with all the large drivers.

“I do know now and again other people stated he used to be hanging damaging drive on the group. But when you’ve got a champion, you need to perceive his sensitivity and his perspective. And it used to be as much as me and the group to deal with that.

“He used to be very unfortunate to not win the identify as a result of I do consider he deserved that. And in fact with a identify, the historical past of that duration would had been modified dramatically.”

A sluggish lack of religion

Alonso despatched his house enthusiasts into raptures after victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013 – he hasn’t gained an F1 race since

“Fernando was always very correct, tried to push the team to improve,” Di Montezemolo says. “But he entered in crisis with himself in his mind in the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.”

Things started to move downhill in the summer season of 2013 as Alonso began to query whether or not Ferrari would ever be capable of ship him a vehicle through which he may just win a 3rd international identify.

At the get started of the season, Ferrari’s vehicle used to be now not completely aggressive, however it used to be delicate on tyres, which have been particularly delicate in early 2013, and Alonso gained two of the first 5 races.

By the time of the 8th race, the British Grand Prix, Alonso used to be 2d in the championship. He used to be already 36 issues in the back of Vettel – however nearer than he have been to the lead than at the similar level in 2010.

The Silverstone race noticed a chain of main tyre disasters. Pirelli answered through making the tyres extra powerful. Ferrari’s competitiveness fell again, and Alonso’s frustration grew.

In July, his control held talks with Red Bull. Alonso believed a freelance could be imminent. But it by no means materialised and, in step with a Ferrari insider, Alonso’s temper used to be darkish over the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix because of this.

After the race, an Italian TV interviewer requested him what he sought after for his birthday. He responded: “La macchina degli altri” – that means any person else’s vehicle.

Di Montezemolo used to be furious. He organized for a press unencumber to be put out the following day – Alonso’s exact birthday – announcing he had phoned his driving force to hope him a cheerful birthday, but in addition to “tweak his ear” for his “latest comments”.

Di Montezemolo professes now not to bear in mind that incident now, however he does say: “Sometimes for me it used to be vital to paintings on him to steer clear of a scenario the place some declarations, some concepts, began as a result of he sought after to win, [and] may just create issues in the group.

A Ferrari remark in 2013 stated Alonso used to be reminded through Di Montezemolo that “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own”

“I disagree when any individual says: ‘Alonso is a driving force that destroys, no, creates troubles in the group.’ No.

“For certain, the largest distinction between Michael Schumacher and Alonso is that Michael in the easiest and in the worst moments used to be at all times very, very on the subject of the group.

“Fernando is a man that compared to Michael is extra targeting himself than on the surroundings of the group.

“This doesn’t suggest he isn’t just right for the group. But I used to be obliged to paintings so much with him on his thoughts, on his perspective. Because for him it used to be simpler to make criticisms. Not out of doors, however inside of the group now and again, when it’s higher to be extra shut with the group to steer clear of any individual in the group going: ‘Oh, however Alonso isn’t glad.’

“Fernando was not against the team. Not. But in the worst moments he was more looking at himself, [he had] more doubts: ‘What do I have to do? Maybe my race driving is not at the best. Maybe the engine designer…’ More conscious of himself than the team.”

He doubted himself as a driving force?

“No,” Di Montezemolo says. “‘What can I do on this group to be extra aggressive? Maybe’ – I come up with an instance – ‘I’ve to switch my race engineering, possibly it’s higher to persuade Domenicali to switch the engine man. Maybe it’s higher to mention to this boy I do not need to see you any longer in the pits.’

“He used to be extra in doubt relating to the total competitiveness of the group, however at all times, at all times very robust, very pushing, seeking to do from himself the most even in the tricky prerequisites.”

That summer season, Domenicali changed into involved that Alonso would take a ruin from F1 at the finish of the yr. Ferrari had stored Massa as his team-mate at the finish of 2012, regardless of misgivings about his efficiency, to stay Alonso glad. But that they had already dedicated to shedding the Brazilian at the finish of 2013.

So, with fears Alonso may give up, Domenicali felt he may just now not possibility having two drivers and not using a revel in of the group – and he re-signed Raikkonen as an insurance coverage if Alonso used to be to stroll away.

There used to be one ultimate assembly with Red Bull. At the Belgian Grand Prix in overdue August, Alonso sat in a vehicle at Spa airport with group boss Christian Horner and technical leader Adrian Newey and mentioned a transfer.

In the finish, it got here to not anything. Alonso stayed at Ferrari for 2014.

On observe, he set his thoughts to destroying Raikkonen, and he accomplished it, out-qualifying him 16 to a few at a median of greater than a part a 2d a lap, and being crushed through him in a race simplest as soon as on benefit all yr.

But off observe, Alonso used to be increasingly more now not certain that staying at Ferrari used to be a good suggestion.

Di Montezemolo says: “In his mind, he was thinking: ‘Maybe this is not the best moment to stay in Ferrari because maybe McLaren can be better, maybe (Nico) Rosberg can leave a seat at Mercedes’ – that was two years before Rosberg signed the new deal with Mercedes. ‘Maybe I can go to Red Bull.’ He started to think about other possibilities.”


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