Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2012

Alonso fights to the end in another flawed Ferrari

2012 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2012

“I think Ferrari has been the best in terms of reliability, perfect strategy in the pits and the pit stops, and very good starts,” was the company president Luca di Montezemolo’s verdict on their season. “We need only a car for next year that put our drivers in condition to start more in front.”

There’s no disputing the F2012 was the weakest link in Ferrari’s offering this year. Nor that the team – particularly Fernando Alonso – gave a lesson in how to get the maximum out of what they had. But we should be wary of dealing in absolutes: the car was not irredeemable and the team’s performance, though of a very high standard, was not perfect.

At the beginning of February the covers came off a Ferrari which soon proved to be as competitive as it was attractive. Even Ferrari admitted their newest creation was not a beautiful car. But while it didn’t get any prettier, it did get quicker.

Ferrari team stats 2012

Best race result (number) 1 (3)
Best grid position (number) 1 (2)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 3 (0/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,273 (95.34%)
Laps led (% of total) 217 (18.2%)
Championship position (2011) 2 (3)
Championship points (2011) 400 (375)
Pit stop performance ranking 3

Ferrari began the year by belatedly followed Red Bull’s lead in adopting a pull-rod rear suspension assembly on their car. By also using it at the front they broke new ground – at least for a modern high-nosed car – but after the troubled season they had their rivals may be reluctant to copy it next year.

The F2012 was not without certain qualities. It was a good all-rounder, particularly capable in the wet, and it was very reliable. These merits all helped Alonso keep piling on the points.

However the team’s persistent problems with their wind tunnel meant development later in the season was not on a par with the front runners. By the final races they remained little quicker than Lotus, and unable to match Red Bull and McLaren’s qualifying pace.

It isn’t necessary to take Ferrari’s version of events at face value to see what a supremely impressive effort this season was from Alonso and the team. His damage limitation during the first four races when the car was at its worst was exemplary.

Of course his Malaysian Grand Prix win stands out, but his disciplined drive to fifth while under attack from Pastor Maldonado in Australia also impressed. This was one of the great examples of a driver carrying an uncompetitive car.

Ferrari had pushed for a single test session to be scheduled at the Mugello circuit well before they might have anticipated needing it. As it turned out the test gave them a chance to test a series of upgrades which greatly improved the F2012’s performance.

A significant step forward came at the next race in Spain and by Canada the team had one of 2012’s must-have upgrades on its car: a Coanda-effect exhaust. Alonso was in the hunt for a podium finish until the team took a gamble on their strategy which backfired.

Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Montreal, 2012Not everyone at Ferrari persisted with the view that the only thing they got wrong all year was producing an insufficiently competitive car. Technical director Pat Fry admitted the Montreal race was a missed opportunity: “Our decision to stay out and try and complete a one-stop in Canada, with hindsight, that cost us four or five points.

“You never have a perfect year and we always look back at every race: what we got right, what we got wrong, so we try and not make those mistakes again.”

When Ferrari do that tally they will probably come up with fewer areas for improvement than their rivals. Choosing to start on hard tyres at Silverstone cost Alonso and the team’s cautiousness in Monaco left points on the table.

They gave little away during the season through unreliability or problems in the pits. Among the exceptions were the fault that struck Alonso down during qualifying in Italy which may have cost him his only dry-weather pole position of the season. A fumbled pit stop in America fortunately did not cost him anything.

When it came to strategy and quick, consistent pit stops Red Bull were at least a match for them. McLaren, however, were outclassed by Ferrari in this respect were beaten by them to second in the constructors’ championship.

But as always Ferrari’s principal focus was Alonso’s position in the drivers’ championship. The need to improve Felipe Massa’s desperately poor performances in the first half of the season invariably viewed from the perspective of whether he might be able to help Alonso.

It was only late in the season that Massa was going well enough in the car to be of any use to his team mate. He quickly moved out of the way in Italy, had to be told to back off in Korea, and made way for Alonso again in Brazil.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2012But the decision to deliberately incur a gearbox change penalty on Massa’s car to improve Alonso’s starting position at the Circuit of the Americas showed a readiness to deliberately impair one car for the benefit of the other which went beyond merely pulling over and slowing down.

As cynical moves go it was not on a par with Singapore 2008 (different team, same beneficiary) but the degree of inventiveness involved and the eagerness to sacrifice one driver for another was reminiscent of it.

What is most disappointing about Ferrari and Alonso’s eagerness to employ such tactics is that he is the last driver on the grid who needs them. He drove a superb season – not perfect but as close to it as racing drivers ever get. His relentless consistency and minimal errors recalled the brilliant performance in 2006 which secured his second world championship. This was the third time since then he’s come within five points of a third title.

His victory in Valencia from 11th on the grid was one of the best drives of the year, demonstrating Alonso’s strengths in wheel-to-wheel battle and tyre preservation as well as his team’s sharpness in the pits.

Ferrari spent a while over the decision whether to retain Massa for 2013, eventually confirming they would after the Singapore Grand Prix. By this time his form had improved, and in the final two races he was quicker than Alonso. Whether this is a long-term return to form remains to be seen – he is certainly fortunate to still be racing for a team of this calibre after three years of worsening performances.

Ferrari can justifiably be proud of how much they achieved in 2012 and how close they came to championship success having begun the year with such an inferior package. Alonso’s performances in particular won him deserved praise. He remained in the hunt until the chequered flag fell in Brazil, and when it did there was no room for doubt he had given his all in pursuit of the championship.

A few days later the team decided to pursue a disingenuous petition to the FIA over Vettel’s driving in Brazil despite video evidence showing he had done nothing wrong. Their claim this was not motivated by a desire to change the outcome of the championship was insincere and unconvincing, and served only to sour the end of a season in which they had earned a lot of credit.

Ferrari drivers’ race results

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012drivercolours.csv

AUS MAL CHI BAH SPA MON CAN EUR BRI GER HUN BEL ITA SIN JAP KOR IND ABU UNI BRA
Fernando Alonso 5 1 9 7 2 3 5 1 2 1 5 3 3 3 2 2 3 2
Felipe Massa 15 13 9 15 6 10 16 4 12 9 5 4 8 2 4 6 7 4 3

Ferrari drivers’ laps per position

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012drivercolours.csv

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Fernando Alonso 216 136 247 178 128 63 35 52 23 6 8 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Felipe Massa 1 78 31 131 108 140 74 75 115 78 45 43 51 42 45 34 21 24 8 10 9 2 3 10

Over to you

What’s your verdict on Ferrari’s 2012 season? Have your say in the comments.

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