x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Ferrari hope that history does not repeat itself in Brazil

Three times they have lost the championship in Brazil, and the Tifosi look set for more heartache.

Lewis Hamilton sneaked into fifth place in Brazil in 2008 to deny Ferrari's Felipe Massa the drivers' title on home turf.
Lewis Hamilton sneaked into fifth place in Brazil in 2008 to deny Ferrari's Felipe Massa the drivers' title on home turf.

Ferrari have been here before. Today, for the fourth time in six years, the Italian manufacturers arrive at a grand prix circuit on the final day of the Formula One season capable of securing the world drivers' championship.

And yet not since 2007 have they finished the job off successfully. For a storied marque, recently ranked the 15th most valuable team in the world by Forbes magazine, such statistics make for depressive reading.

And with Red Bull Racing, chief tormentor for the past three years, undoubtedly the fastest growing team in terms of financial muscle, success on track soon is becoming increasingly important.

Today, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari's Spaniard, needs a minor miracle if he is to overturn Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel's 13-point advantage and avoid last-day despondency for both his Italian marque and Stefano Domenicali, the Italian promoted to team principal in 2008, for the third time in five years.

"We need to go into the race trying to be perfect on our side and then seeing what's going to happen. That's the only thing we can do," Domenicali said.

"We have nothing to lose, because we are already behind. We need to go there with a rational approach, to try to be there and if an opportunity arises, we need to be prepared to take it."

It is a similar situation to how Ferrari arrived at Interlagos in 2007 when Kimi Raikkonen produced the surprise of the year to come from third in the drivers' championship standings to secure the title at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.

On that afternoon, it was McLaren who experienced the heart-break of last-gasp failure as Alonso and Lewis Hamilton finished tied on points in second while the Finn claimed Ferrari a record 15th championship.

Since that memorable afternoon, however, the racing boot has been on the other foot with Ferrari losing titles at the death in both 2008 and 2010.

Domenicali concedes such memories are still painfully raw in his mind.

At the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi two years ago, Vettel shocked the paddock by taking the title at the expense of Alonso in what Domenicali calls the "most frustrating" of his team's recent title losses.

"We had a couple of situations to handle and it was our fault that we were not able to do it, for a mistake that we made; we didn't help Fernando," he told The National, referring to a poor strategic call that put Alonso on the back-foot. "That season we didn't have the best car. I believe that we were able to always be there winning a lot of races, but we lost the championship. This is, I would say, the heaviest of my thoughts on the past."

It is 2008, however, that will for ever be etched in the memories of all involved with Formula One after providing the most dramatic finish in the sport's six-decade history.

Hamilton arrived, again at Interlagos, leading the championship. He needed only to finish in fifth place to secure his maiden title, at the age of 23, and deny Ferrari's Felipe Massa a championship win in front of his home fans.

Hamilton, starting on pole, slipped to fourth and then, following a typical Paulistano deluge, dropped two more positions to sixth.

Massa passed the chequered flag first and the Italian team's staff celebrated what they presumed to be the championship.

Only instead, as Hamilton negotiated the final corner, he passed Timo Glock's Toyota to claim fifth and a sensational title win. On witnessing the events unfold, Massa's father, celebrating in the team garage, saw his joy evaporate uncontrollably while a member of Ferrari's staff smashed a glass boarding in a fit of rage.

"In 2008, we were able to win the constructors' title and have Felipe as world champion for 20 seconds in a championship where I would say we lost mainly because the car was not reliable enough," Domenicali said.

"Felipe did an incredible job that year and we were very disappointed for him, because I think we deserved it." Unsurprisingly, it is the spirit of 2007 that Ferrari are looking to channel today as they hope for what Alonso calls "a strange combination of results".

Rain would certainly help his chances and, with a deluge similar to that of 2008 forecasted, nothing can be ruled out. How Domenicali prepares his team strategically and mentally will be fascinating to witness.

"We are in a different spirit to 2008 and 2010," Domenicali said. "We cannot look back; whatever will be the outcome, we need to accept it.

"Therefore I would say our mindset is closer to what we had in 2007 at the moment.

"That year, we were in a situation where honestly we had the same approach as at this race: try to do the best job we could, but knowing the opponent was very strong and the race evolved in a situation where we were able, as a team, to work extremely well."

Experience counts and Ferrari have been here before.

Yet the result is no longer in their hands: if Vettel finishes in the top five, the championship goes to Red Bull.

And Domenicali and his team complete the most unwelcome of sporting hat-tricks.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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