x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fast but fumbling Ferrari left behind in the race by Red Bull

Alonso and his car have been a good package unlike last year, yet Red Bull have ensured reversal of roles. Graham Caygill explains.

At the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, Fernando Alonso was going strong in his Ferrari but faulty drag-reduction system meant Sebastian Vettel, next, cashed in. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
At the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, Fernando Alonso was going strong in his Ferrari but faulty drag-reduction system meant Sebastian Vettel, next, cashed in. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

There is an odd feeling to the Formula One circus as the protagonists arrive in Montreal for the seventh round of the season.

The season has been dominated by issues with the Pirelli tyres, or to be more precise, their rapid degradation when anyone actually attempts to go flat out.

Controversy over the Mercedes test with Pirelli last month, which is yet to be fully resolved with the two protagonists set for a FIA hearing over the test using a 2013 car, left a sour taste in the mouth in Monte Carlo.

What F1 really needs before the race this weekend in Canada is an event that allows people to focus on what should be the centre of attention - the racing and the championship.

Sebastian Vettel goes into Sunday's race holding a 21-point lead as he seeks a fourth successive drivers' title with Red Bull Racing.

But that is not telling the true story of the season, where on race day, it has been Ferrari and Fernando Alonso who have, when they have avoided trouble, proven to be the quickest package.

But note the wording of the phrase "avoided trouble", because Alonso and Ferrari have run into more than their share of issues, haemorrhaging points and ensuring he is only third in the standings, 29 adrift of Vettel and eight behind Kimi Raikkonen.

The baffling decision to let Alonso stay out with a broken front wing in Malaysia in March caused him to crash, while the faulty drag-reduction system (DRS) in Bahrain in April cost Alonso at least second place, though he did well to finish seventh.

In both races, Alonso looked strong and would have been a strong contender for victory, if not a spot on the podium.

That is a lot of points lost in Alonso's championship challenge, and would explain the deficit to Vettel.

On both occasions, Alonso has found trouble, Vettel and Red Bull pounced to take full advantage of their rival's problems with the German winning both races.

It is a role reversal of last year in many ways, though. Vettel and Red Bull had to hunt down Alonso, who drove wonderfully in his less-competitive Ferrari to, at one stage, take a lead of 40 points.

But this year Alonso and Ferrari have been fast, and when they have had a trouble-free weekend, they have dominated, as they did in China and Spain.

The irony here is that last year, Ferrari and Alonso were largely faultless in races. Their car was awful, but they somehow came within three points of the drivers' title.

Yet this season, with a faster car, the mistakes have popped up.

The car is fast and is relatively kind to the Pirelli tyres, maybe not as much as the Lotus chassis, but considerably better than Red Bull handle the rubber.

The one weakness is qualifying pace Alonso has only qualified once on the front row this season.

Not a big issue in modern F1 with DRS and Kers (kinetic energy reserves system) giving teams more opportunities for passing cars.

While passing opportunities in Monaco were next to nonexistent, drivers can overtake in Montreal, thanks to the long back straight, so Alonso will not be not too perturbed if Mercedes-GP again dominate qualifying tomorrow, as they have done in the past four races.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is renown for being tough on tyres, with a number of hard-braking areas, and if Sunday's race is dry, it will likely be Alonso and Raikkonen leading the way in the fight for victory once the first round of pit stops have taken place.

There is a long way to go in this 19-round season - we are not even at the halfway point - but given their past successes, there is no doubt that Red Bull and Vettel will improve their performances as the year goes on.

They are not firing on all cylinders yet, but still lead both championships.

Alonso and Ferrari cannot afford to let their rivals move too far ahead in the standings. But they must cut out the mistakes. Starting in Montreal.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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