Out in the open – Ferrari sign Alonso
At last, it has finally been confirmed – Ferrari have got their man. Fernando Alonso will be in red next year, hoping to help guide the team into becoming a dominant force once again. It is something that has been tried by several drivers – Ascari, Lauda and Schumacher succeeded, whilst Amon, Ickx, Alboreto, Prost and Alesi failed. If the rumours are to be believed, Alonso’s already submitted his shopping list for his engineers of choice, although it is not known yet who they are. But he’s got plenty of time to succeed – it is thought the initial 3 year deal is complimented by options that will take him up to the end of 2015, after 6 years of racing for the team and 7 1/2 years after signing for them.
Fernando Alonso is a very clever man. A lot of people have now raised questions about how he will fit into the team with Massa, who he has had disputes with in the past, being well-liked. But I think he will have learned from his experiences at McLaren. Plus I think Ferrari will give him a lot more freedom than McLaren did – Ron is a notorious control freak, but even the rumoured importing of engineers suggests Alonso will be allowed bit more growing room at Maranello than at the MTC. I’m sure he will also have looked back to see where Prost went wrong and Schumacher went right. He is the modern thinking man’s driver. As he said himself recently, he’s not the fastest driver, but he is very consistent. He knows when to push and when not to push. It’s just the same off-track – by bringing in his own people, he will be able to ensure that the car is as fast as it can be, but also as reliable as it can be. Reliability was a key factor behind Schumacher’s success and Alonso’s own success at Renault.
Turning away from the future, what about the recent past – has Kimi Raikkonen’s stint as Ferrari’s “lead” driver been a success? At first glance, you would say yes – 9 wins, 5 poles, 16 fastest laps, 26 podiums and a world title in just under 3 seasons so far. But the reality of it is he didn’t live up to expectations. In the whole time he was paired with Massa, there was just a stint of a few races midway through 2007 where you could definitively say he had him covered, and that had a lot to do with bad luck for Massa, who suffered more than his team mate at the hands of unreliability and ended up playing second fiddle. The fact that during the whole time they were teamed up, the man who was getting paid far less and was originally brought in as a number 2 with the alleged possibility of even being relegated to test driver for 2007 if Schumacher didn’t retire ended up matching him and even consistently beating him at one point shows that Kimi wasn’t worth the $50m a year they were paying him.
I get a lot of stick for suggesting that Kimi is overrated. He has a large, loyal fanbase who still firmly believe that he is one of the top drivers in the sport and is on a par with Alonso and Hamilton. I do like the guy – he’s a great character and I’m really pleased that it seems he’s going to be sticking round for a few more years. The sport needs drivers like him. But I don’t see how he can be classed in the top group of drivers now. He might have the speed of Alonso and Hamilton but I don’t think he’s any faster – I think that was a legend largely built upon the insansely quick MP4-20. Massa has frequently outqualified him and although he is no slouch, he’s no Schumacher, hence why Ferrari signed him in the first place. There have clearly been problems for him adapting to the car, particularly the tyres, but surely the best drivers will always adapt well and quickly. If he is slow to adapt to the McLaren next year, Hamilton will put enough space between himself and Kimi that the Finn will be on the back foot for the rest of the year.
This is what it comes down to – if Kimi was as good as his fans say he is, why are Ferrari dumping him? The team are putting on a brave face, but there is no doubt that they are disappointed with his performances over the last three seasons. Massa ended up as top dog in the team, and deservedly – I was one of the many who he won over last year. But he’s not an outstanding driver. His defeat of Raikkonen, which has ultimately resulted in his departure from the team, will go down as one of the great upsets in F1 history and proof that money isn’t necessarily what gets you success in this game. Alonso will have to keep looking over his shoulder next year – Felipe wants a third world champion’s scalp for his collection…