Can Alonso hold on to his lead and become the next Formula One Champion?
By Berthold Bouman
Against all odds Fernando Alonso is leading the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, 40 points ahead of the number two, Mark Webber, and 42 points ahead of the number three, double World Champion Sebastian Vettel. The Ferrari F2012 is certainly not the fastest car on the grid, but the Spaniard is someone who never gives up, he won three races this season, and that is probably a lot more than he bargained for ever since he go into his Ferrari for the first time during testing in early March 2012.
The Spaniard has finished all 11 Grands Prix in the points, which is not only a sign of driver-related consistency, but also the car, engine and gearbox are performing consistent. It has already been said by in and outsiders: this year’s championship is all about consistency, and the most consistent driver and team will emerge as the victor of the 2012 season.
Alonso is smart enough to know he was lucky a few times, which also helped him to keep his points advantage, but nevertheless he is the only driver to have won three races. Hamilton for instance, has won two races, but only has gathered 117 points, due to, shall we say, a few driver-related ‘problems’ he had this season. Vettel won one race, but only has 122 points, and that is why Niki Lauda said Vettel could learn from Alonso. According to the Austrian, Alonso performs better under pressure than his rivals.
Ferrari Technical Director Pat Fry admitted Ferrari got some help from above, “Yes, we were helped by the weather, but then why didn’t other people take advantage of it? We’re fortunate to be where we are — some of that is luck with the weather but then everyone’s got those conditions. They’ve got to go and make the most of it.”
Fry also knows how important it is to develop and produce new car upgrades, and Ferrari have something special for Spa and Monza, two high-speed circuits, “We have a few interesting developments that we will introduce at Spa, a track which, from an aerodynamic downforce point of view, is quite special, as indeed is Monza.” He also thinks Ferrari should keep the pressure on for the second half of the season. “There is still also a lot to do: we must continue to keep up the pressure to a high level.”
Alonso also understands the development race for the 2012 Championship is far from over, “I think Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus are in front of us and we need to catch up. We need to close this gap, hopefully after the summer break when we come back to Spa we need to be more competitive and we need to be quicker.”
Former Formula One, and now IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello said, “Alonso is in the form of his life. He does not have the fastest car but he is the one getting the best out of what he has. And his rivals are taking points off one another.” And he predicted, “In the end I see this as a duel between Alonso and Vettel.”
Jenson Button, who has had a problematic first half of the season to say the least, said about Ferrari, “The team have done a great job to get the points they have, but I don’t think they’ve really had the speed.” About Alonso’s current advantage he commented, “They are going to manage it well, they are a great team and Fernando is a great driver.” And he predicted, “But it’s tough when you see other teams winning races consistently — and I think that might be happening over the next few races.”
Also Williams driver Bruno Senna said it won’t be easy for Alonso to grab the title, “There are still 225 points [for nine 1st places] left, which is a lot. So even with 40 points more at the moment it’s not going to be easy for him.” And he explained, “You never know what is going to happen in terms of the development. It is possible that Ferrari will be left behind, even if I don’t think they will let that happen.”
Also the tyres have become an important factor, especially this season as most teams are still struggling to understand the Pirelli tyres. Ferrari has been struggling with the Pirellis in 2011 as well, and therefore hired Hirohide Hamashima, a former Bridgestone tyre technician. He thinks Ferrari still has a lot to learn, “We are studying very hard how the tyres behave and the process for preparing the tyres to find out which way is the best.”
And he added, “In Malaysia Ferrari used the tyres very well and Fernando won and also I think in Valencia he understood how the tyre behaved very well and that was how he could win a very difficult race. He also had an explanation for Alonso’s lead in the championship, “I think the main reason why Fernando is leading the championship is Fernando himself!”
And what does Alonso think about the current situation? “Hamilton and Vettel are the drivers we have focused on since the beginning. They are the biggest challengers, but all of the teams are close. Hopefully, they will fight among themselves and not one of them will dominate,” he said to GMM today. About his future chances he commented, “Sometimes we know we can be on the podium, other times maybe it’s only seventh, but we cannot afford to make any mistakes or do anything that we will regret.”
Webber very nicely summed it up like this, “There’s always talk that it’s [the Ferrari F2012] not the fastest car, but you need the most consistent one. I don’t think anyone’s got the fastest car at the moment. And the Australian added, “We do know we can go and have a chance, no question about it. But I don’t think anyone will sail off into the distance. Those days are numbered.“