Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time for Alonso to deliver

Ferrari may have claimed victory in their FIA team orders hearing this week in Paris but another triumph on the track at Monza this weekend is absolutely critical to their championship ambitions.

Fernando Alonso, who was at the centre of the storm over Ferrari's tactics at the German Grand Prix, cannot afford another pointless race like the one he endured
in Belgium a fortnight ago, when he failed to finish after crashing in the closing stages.

Alonso, the team and the famous Ferrari fans - the tifosi - all know that the Spaniard's title dream demands fresh impetus at their home circuit, where the spotlight always shines more severely and more expectantly on them.

What was a 20-point deficit on the leading championship driver before the race at Spa has now more than doubled - and another failure to bag a big points haul here could spell the end of Alonso's challenge for the year.

Alonso and Ferrari can draw hope from the new points system, with 25 points for a win, which means that 150 points are still up for grabs over the final six races.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso

Alonso needs to produce results in Monza if he wants to resurrect his title ambitions. Photo: Reuters

But his problems in qualifying and during the race in Belgium showed how quickly a driver can drop out of contention.

Ferrari have admitted that their overall performance there failed to live up to expectations, and claim that they've found the answers.

The only proof of that, however, will be in Sunday's results.

And if after this race the gap between Alonso and the leader has climbed to more than 50 points (the equivalent of two race wins), those final five long-haul grands prix, where Red Bull's drivers are expecting to dominate, could become a disheartening slog into November.

On the positive side, if there's one man on the grid with the expertise and experience to take the fight to the front, it's Alonso.

Confident of the team's backing, he can demonstrate supreme race-craft. He can read the race brilliantly from the cockpit, understanding what he needs to do to make the most of his opportunities.

Significantly, he's taken the road to the championship twice already so knows the pressures and pitfalls, as well as the rewards.

And he's with a team who possess an enviable range and depth of resources to deliver the maximum performance. Maybe not as effectively as McLaren, who made a much better recovery last season than Ferrari, but impressive nonetheless.

The downside to the season, however, has been the number of mistakes by Alonso himself.

Even the Spaniard has admitted he's surprised by his errors, particularly the crash he had in practice in Monaco which ruled him out of qualifying.

Ferrari had promised to deliver a big performance that weekend. He'd been consistently fastest until his accident which left him playing catch-up from the back of the grid in the race.

His jump-start in China was also most uncharacteristic.

He appeared to be caught napping when Jenson Button overtook him in Canada, and when Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi did the same thing in Valencia.

Alonso's drive-through penalty at Silverstone for cutting a corner when overtaking Robert Kubica's Renault could have been avoided if he'd only handed back the place as the regulations demand.

And the way his performance dropped off in Spa from qualifying onwards was most un-Alonso-like. He blamed the tyre choice in the final part of the session - yet both Button and Lewis Hamilton improved their times on the same softer tyre, whereas Alonso
stayed 10th, more than a second slower than team-mate Felipe Massa.

At times this season Alonso has seemed at odds with the F10 car, fearing that Ferrari were drifting out of contention.

Red Bull's dramatic advantage at the Spanish Grand Prix certainly rang alarm bells. Ferrari's version of the F-duct initially made the car slower not faster, and possibly contributed to him over-driving at Monaco.

The new blown diffuser in Valencia and the new front wing at Silverstone re-ignited the spark but until the German Grand Prix, where the furore over team orders completely obscured their team's winning performance, the improvements weren't reflected in the results.

It's as if Alonso knows the car is still not as quick as Red Bull's RB6 and is attempting to compensate by pushing it to, and possibly over, its limits - and even his talent can't bridge the gap.

One of the Ferrari's great strengths, though, is its braking performance. That was shown at the chicanes at the Canadian Grand Prix and it'll be crucial at the three chicanes at Monza.

The car also responds well through medium-speed corners such as the two Lesmos, so there is renewed optimism within Maranello that the tifosi will be seeing red near the front of the grid this weekend.

But for all the teams, getting the best out of Monza depends on finding the right balance between low downforce and high straight-line speed.

With no pre-race testing these days, it's a major challenge for the engineers. Do they run the usual Monza specific rear wings, or is there a speed advantage with the F-duct system and a slightly higher downforce setting?

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Highlights from second practice at Monza

For example, in second practice, Hamilton's car ran with a conventional Monza set-up without the F-duct aerodynamic device, while Button's car continued with the F-duct. Their best times were less than 0.06secs apart, within 0.4secs of a second of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull.

Both Ferrari drivers, meanwhile, tested two different rear wings - both 'blown' by the F-duct - and now have to weigh up which provides the more efficient balance. Alonso edged Massa by just more than 0.1secs as the second and third fastest cars.

It left Alonso with a positive verdict for the weekend ahead.

"We are confident, we are happy with the job today", he said after practice. "We know McLaren are favourites for pole and we've seen the potential of the Red Bull all season.

"It will be difficult but we are there, we have nothing to fear and we will fight."

The forecast is for a dry weekend so that eliminates the weather variables which so damaged Alonso's last race outing.

Winning the Italian Grand Prix in a Ferrari ranks as one of motorsport's finest jewels.

Doing it first time out at Monza for Formula 1's most famous name, as Alonso needs to do, would be a spectacular re-launch into the title battle.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/jonathanlegard/2010/09/ferrari.html

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