x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Alonso’s meagre accomplishment at Spanish Grand Prix highlights Ferrari decline

When his compatriots roarded on Sunday as Fernando Alonso passed Kimi Raikkonen for sixth at the penultimate lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, it encapsulated the diminished standing of Ferrari, writes Graham Caygill.

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso arrives at Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix. Tom Gandolfini / AFP / May 11, 2014
Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso arrives at Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix. Tom Gandolfini / AFP / May 11, 2014

The fans in the main grandstand on the start-and-finish straight at Circuit de Catalunya came alive on the penultimate lap of the Spanish Grand Prix and the Ferrari flags were waved furiously.

Home hero Fernando Alonso had just come past them in front of teammate Kimi Raikkonen, having overtaken the Finn midway through the previous lap, to delight his supporters.

But apart from establishing himself as the best-performing Ferrari driver again, there was little to really celebrate for the Spaniard as the pass was for sixth place, and that was where he finished in Sunday’s race.

Twelve months ago, it was a different story as he had dominated at Barcelona to win for the 32nd time in his career.

Victory No 33 is still being sought by the man from Oviedo, and it is a sad reality that, over his run of 19 winless races, he or Ferrari have not been realistic challengers for victory, such has been their collective decline in fortunes.

It is clear the problem is with the machine, primarily, rather than the men behind the wheel, with Ferrari being out-performed last year by Red Bull Racing. This year, it is Mercedes-GP who have proven far too good for everyone else.

Both Alonso and Raikkonen were more than a minute behind race-winner Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, and more worrisome, they were both 1.9 seconds off Hamilton’s pole winning time in qualifying, a gigantic margin by modern F1 standards.

The car lacks grip in the corners compared to the Red Bull and Mercedes vehicles, and its engine lacks power compared to Mercedes, meaning it is losing out everywhere, hence the deficit.

The car is no match for Mercedes, and in Barcelona, was slower than both Red Bull cars, the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and, until it encountered technical problems, the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.

Luca Di Montezemelo, the Ferrari president, can scowl as much as he likes in pit lane, but it is not going to alter the fact that his team have taken a huge step back and given the strongest driver partnership on the grid, on paper, in double world champion Alonso and 2007 world champion Raikkonen, an uncompetitive car in the F14 T.

It has been seven years since the last man won a drivers’ title in a Ferrari – Raikkonen – while 2008 was their last constructors’ crown. Honours in 2014 can already be ruled out given their poor form.

Alonso acknowledged pre-race that there was a serious danger, given their dominance, that Mercedes could win all 19 races this season.

A consequence is that it would mark Ferrari’s first winless campaign in 21 years in the series, making the dominant time when Michael Schumacher won five world titles in a row between 2000-2004, as the team won 57 of 85 races in that period, seem even further in the past.

Due to the lack of track testing in modern F1, it will be nigh on impossible for Ferrari’s engineers to find the 1.5 seconds needed, minimum, per lap for the car to keep pace with Mercedes this season.

So, the focus should be on learning and looking ahead to 2015.

There has been a substantial overhaul behind the scenes, with new team principal Marco Mattiacci replacing Stefano Domenicali, who stepped down last month.

This is a difficult task for Mattiaci, given what he has inherited, but the evidence of his work is not in the short term. His contribution and that of technical directors Pat Fry and James Allison can only fairly be judged on the start of the 2015 season.

It may be difficult to accept for Ferrari, considering their place as the most successful team in F1 history, but the focus should be on channelling the humiliation of this season into trying to launch a comeback next year.

With the resources and funds at their disposal, the team should never have the fourth- or fifth-fastest car on the grid.

Until then, Alonso and Raikkonen will have to do what they have done so far – put on their best smile and try to look as content as possible as they fight for top-eight finishes.

That will be easier said than done.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE