Fernando Alonso celebrated his second podium (and best result) of the season today when he crossed the line second behind Daniel Ricciardo. The Spaniard had held the led for most of the race distance, after a wet start and two Safety Car stints threw strategy and order into the air. He lost his lead however, when Daniel Ricciardo breezed past him into turn 1 with three laps remaining. He managed to fend off Hamilton though, which saw him equal his best result since the Singapore Grand Prix last season.
Fair enough, Fernando drove what must have been an exhausting race, particularly towards the end where he fought hard to keep Hamilton and Ricciardo behind him. So celebrate away Fernando and Ferrari – but tomorrow, the fun stops and the work commences. Or at least it should, because there is no real reason to celebrate in Italy.
Looking at the result on face value, one could say that Ferrari are finally getting their act together – Alonso’s last five results read 5th, 6th, 5th, 6th, 2nd. It looks like the Scuderia are on for a strong second half to the season if they can keep their act together. Maybe they could even win their first race under Marco Mattiacci before the season is out.
Today’s result does not signal an improvement for Ferrari, or show that they now posses a race winning car. All today proves is that when a track is very wet, one of the fastest cars on the grid starts from the very back, when two Safety Car periods wipe out huge advantages accumulated by two different leaders and when Ferrari happen to be at the right place, that they can finish second. Not even first!
The reason Ferrari finished on the podium today is a mixture of damned good luck on their part, bad luck on the part of several others, and the fact that Fernando Alonso is such a talented driver. To prove my point, Raikkonen finished only sixth in the same car. I’ve made no secret of my absolute belief that Alonso is the most talented and capable pilot in Formula One, so you’ll have to trust that I’m not being biased when I make these points.
Ferrari still haven’t given him a race winning car. Inheriting the lead, almost accidentally, and then managing to fend off the fierce competition from the cars behind, was down to driver talent, rather than the dog of a Ferrari that Alonso has been given to operate with.
I’m reminded of the scene in Rush where Daniel Bruhl (as Niki Lauda) returns to the pits and promptly says “it’s terrible – it drives like a pig!”, much to the disgust of the Ferrari worker who replies with “you can’t say that – it’s a Ferrari!”. So given the aura around Ferrari, and the team’s history and prestige, it’s with sadness that I write about how bad the Ferrari is. Of course, I should temper that by saying that “bad” for Ferrari means not podium material. “Bad” for another team would mean not points material.
But for a team with the resources that Ferrari have, including the estimated €400 million budget that they have to play with every year, it’s incredible that they can continue to miss out on podiums, never mind wins. Granted, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but even still it seems like Marco Mattiacci has had little effect on the team he was brought in to lead to greatness once again. Then again, having never managed a motorsport team before, his appointment was always going to be questionable.
I think Ferrari need to do several things. Firstly, (if they haven’t already done so), they need to get on the phone to Ross Brawn (the same man who revived Ferrari in the 90s and brought Mercedes to the front) and offer to give him whatever he wants to come out of retirement and rejoin to the outfit. Secondly, they need to offer the same to Adrian Newey. Rumours suggest that they have already reached out to Red Bull’s aerodynamic guru, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears. But with Red Bull supposedly back-benching Newey from next year, however, Ferrari should be pushing with all their might at dragging Newey to their team.
Thirdly, they need a huge overhaul in their aerodynamic department. Ironically it was Jules Bianchi using a Ferrari engine who put his Marussia through to Q2 on Saturday, knocking Raikkonen out in the process. Alright, so it’s not a fair match, rather a cocky strategy call gone wrong, but Marussia are doing wonderful things with their Ferrari unit (on a much lower budget) so surely it’s not a problem with the engines. Finally, they should be putting their next World Champion, Jules Bianchi, in the car next year. Although Kimi has a contract until 2016, and Alonso a contract until even longer, both will have performance clauses in their contracts which mean they can leave if Ferrari are not performing well. Although Fernando will understand the prestige of Ferrari and the huge honour that would come with winning a Championship with them, for four years running they have failed to give him a Championship winning car. Like I said already, talent on the driver side is not the issue. If one of their drivers does not leave at the end of this year, then they need to push one of them, probably Kimi, and give Bianchi the seat.
What Ferrari really need to do is buy another engine. Abandon their pride and, until they can get the package together in other departments, they should run with a Mercedes or Honda. This won’t happen, however, because of the pure, but admiral, stubbornness of the Scuderia to do it all themselves. And, of course, it would look bad if the most famous car brand in the world needed the help of another brand to win a race….
The bottom line is that, until Newey or Brawn goes to the team, or they can have some other radical reform brought in, they are going to continue to struggle behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams in a spectacle which is both embarrassing and painful to watch.
Photo courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari.