x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ferrari's tactics have Alonso seeing red in Formula One action

Strategy to have teammate Massa give him tow down main straight backfires on Spaniard as he qualifies only fifth at Italian GP, writes Graham Caygill.

The third qualifying session started well enough for Fernando Alonso but it ended with him frustrated once again with Ferrari.
The third qualifying session started well enough for Fernando Alonso but it ended with him frustrated once again with Ferrari.

History can often in sport have an unwelcome way of repeating itself, and Fernando Alonso must have felt a keen sense of deja vu as he got out of his Ferrari in parc ferme after qualifying Saturday for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

Having looked as if he would be challenging for a front-row spot alongside championship rival Sebastian Vettel, a strategy of having teammate Felipe Massa positioned just in front of him to give him a tow down the main straight in a bid to increase straight-line speed backfired as he qualified only fifth.

It had been the same story, indeed actually worse, 12 months previously when Alonso, having been fastest in the first two parts of qualifying, ended up 10th after a mechanical failure on his final lap saw him lose pace.

He had not set a competitive time on his first lap because he had been giving Massa a tow, such was Ferrari's confidence in Alonso's pace they believed he only needed one flying lap to take pole.

So, in theory, on Saturday was better for Alonso, even if he has been left with the proverbial mountain to climb in Sunday's race with Vettel quickest and his Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber, Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber and Massa between him and the pole-sitter.

But Alonso was clearly agitated by the result, with Italian media translating into English a message broadcast on television where he appeared to shout at Ferrari's engineers on his pit radio on his way back to the pit as being: "You're really idiots. Mamma mia guys."

Once out of the car, and cooled down, Alonso later tried to play down suggestions he was less than happy with his employers, and made it clear he was pleased with fifth, as he felt it gave him a shot at the Red Bulls in the race.

"It's the first time in many, many races that I will be able to see the Red Bull rear wings on the grid, and on the first lap I can attack," he said in his news conference. "It's been an extremely, extremely good qualifying for us."

This has been so often the story of Alonso's 2013. Quick, but with too much to do on race day.

Two weeks ago in Belgium he was very fast, but starting only ninth it took him until mid-race at Spa-Francorchamps to get into second, by which point Vettel was long gone.

A 46-point deficit is a lot to have to make up in the championship to Vettel, and the reality is Alonso is going to need a lot of bad luck to hit his rival, as well as seeing his and Ferrari's fortunes improve considerably, if a third world championship is to come his way.

Hence the frustration that is clearly bubbling away with the 32 year old, which surfaced Saturday.

This is increasingly looking like a seventh year without a world title to his name, and 2006, the second of his two titles, is feeling a long time ago right now.

It is his fourth year with Ferrari and the appalling tactical blunder at Abu Dhabi in 2010 that lost him the world title continues to look more and more costly by the year.

There is clearly tension between Alonso and the team, with Luca Montezemolo, the team's president, publicly admonishing Alonso after the Hungarian Grand Prix in July over comments he had construed of not being fully supportive of the team.

This had coincidentally happened after a representative of the Spaniard had held a meeting with Christian Horner, Red Bull's team principal, at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July.

Alonso has denied actively pursuing the second Red Bull seat alongside Vettel, that was vacant after Webber announced he was retiring from F1 at the end of the season.

But being the competitive creature he is, it is hard to believe he did not at least enquire about the possibility of joining the Austrian team, given they are on course for a fourth successive year of the drivers' and constructors' titles.

Alonso's present contract at Ferrari is due to run until 2016, but what has gone down with the team since he joined them at the end of 2009 is not what he signed up for.

Two second-place finishes in the championship, which could become three this year, 11 race victories and four pole positions in 69 races would be good for some drivers.

But not for Alonso.

Ferrari was supposed to be where he built his legacy.

He had two titles to his name with Renault, but he probably had visions of something similar to what Michael Schumacher did at Ferrari when he moved there.

The German, who already had two championships in the bag, spent four years with the team making them competitive before he won an unprecedented five in a row between 2000 and 2004.

This could still happen for Alonso.

It was five years before Schumacher won his first world title in a Ferrari, and 2014 will be Alonso's fifth in Ferrari colours.

The technical regulations are changing next year and the altering of engine specification to 1.6 litre turbocharged V6s should, on paper at least, favour those who manufacture their own engines, namely Ferrari and Mercedes.

But, Ferrari's problems have mainly been in the design side of the car.

They have been unable to compete with Red Bull over the past four years and arguably more worrying is that they have not been able to improve the car during any of the season, with there continuing to be concerns over the wind tunnel facilities they use away from the track.

That is what irks Alonso. This was not the deal he was sold.

The biggest team in F1, with the vastest resources, have not delivered the fast cars he was promised.

Hence the ill will that is now growing on both sides.

Realistically there is nowhere elsewhere for Alonso to go.

Red Bull went with the in-house option of Daniel Ricciardo from Toro Rosso, Alonso in all likelihood burnt his bridges with McLaren after his acrimonious departure after his one season there in 2007, Lotus lack the consistent speed to appeal and Mercedes-GP's line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is secure.

The key thing for Alonso and Ferrari is to try to get the positive in their relationship going again after a frosty summer.

A strong performance and a victory in front of their home fans on Sunday would start that process.

It has been a long time since there have been genuine smiles on the faces of Alonso and the Ferrari chiefs.

A big day Sunday could be catalyst to end their summer of discontent.

RECENT PAST WINNERS OF THE ITALIAN GRAND PRIX AT MONZA

Year Winner Team

2012 L Hamilton McLaren

2011 S Vettel Red Bull

2010 F Alonso Ferrari

2009 R Barrichello Brawn

2008 S Vettel Toro Rosso

2007 F Alonso McLaren

2006 M Schumacher Ferrari

2005 J Montoya McLaren

2004 R Barrichello Ferrari

2003 M Schumacher Ferrari

2002 R Barrichello Ferrari

2001 J Montoya Williams

Italian GP qualifying results

1 Vettel, Red Bull 1m23.755secs

2 Webber, Red Bull 1.23.968

3 Hulkenberg, Sauber 1.24.065

4 Massa, Ferrari 1.24.132

5 Alonso, Ferrari 1.24.142

6 Rosberg, Mercedes 1.24.192

7 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso 1.24.209

8 Perez, McLaren 1.24.502

9 Button, McLaren 1.24.515

10 Vergne, Toro Rosso 1.28.050

Top 10 must start the race on the tyres with which they completed qualifying

11 Raikkonen, Lotus 1.24.610

12 Hamilton, Mercedes 1.24.803

13 Grosjean, Lotus 1.24.848

14 Maldonado, Williams 1.25.011

15 Di Resta, Force India 1.25.077

16 Gutierrez, Sauber 1.25.226

*17 Sutil, Force India 1.24.932

18 Bottas, Williams 1.25.291

19 V der Garde, Caterham 1.26.406

20 Pic, Caterham 1.26.563

21 Bianchi, Marussia 1.27.085

22 Chilton, Marussia 1.27.480

*Sutil given a three-place grid penalty for impeding another car

Drivers’ championship

Sebastian Vettel, Germany 197 pts

Fernando Alonso, Spain 151

Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 139

Kimi Raikkonen, Finland 134

Mark Webber, Australia 115

Nico Rosberg, Germany 96

Felipe Massa, Brazil 67

Romain Grosjean, France 53

Jenson Button, Great Britain 47

Paul di Resta, Great Britain 36

Adrian Sutil, Germany 25

Sergio Perez, Mexico 18

Jean-Eric Vergne, France 13

Daniel Ricciardo, Australia 12

Nico Hulkenberg, Germany 7

Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela 1

Valtteri Bottas, Finland 0

Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico 0

Jules Bianchi, France 0

Charles Pic, France 0

Giedo van der Garde, Netherlands 0

Max Chilton, Great Britain 0

Constructors’ championship

Red Bull Racing-Renault 312 pts

Mercedes-GP 235

Ferrari 218

Lotus-Renault 187

McLaren-Mercedes 65

Force India-Mercedes 61

Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25

Sauber-Ferrari 7

Williams-Renault 1

Marussia-Cosworth 0

Caterham-Renault 0

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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