Clash Of The Titans – Let’s Hope They Both Win
I recently wrote a post titled “Ferrari You’re Ruining My Summer.” It was slightly tongue and cheek which more times than not is my approach to F1 (at the end of the day it is just cars going around in circles really). In it I stated that the GP of Hungary was due in nineteen days and it was time for the boys in red to show up with a transformed car. I did my best to light the fire under everyone’s you know what, let them know they are the mighty Scuderia and they can bounce back like a super ball.
Well things didn’t quite go as planned. Fernando Alonso had been fourth in Germany which triggered my tirade but could manage only fifth in Hungary. In fact the slide backwards since his brilliant drive in Canada is as follows: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Apparently my little pep talk was not of any help back in Maranello. If that was not enough to go into the summer break with a little bit of apprehension and concern for the second half of the season, I read this unsettling news on the BBC’s website when I woke up on Monday morning.
Fernando Alonso rebuked by Ferrari chief Di Montezemelo! The article was written by the BBC’s Chief F1 Journalist Andrew Benson. Here are some excerpts from that article so you can get a feel for the situation.
A Ferrari statement said Alonso was reminded by Di Montezemolo that “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own”.
According to the statement, Di Montezemolo also insisted that “this is the moment to stay calm, avoid polemics and show humility and determination in making one’s own contribution, standing alongside the team and its people both at the track and outside it”.
Lastly there is this: It also revealed that Di Montezemolo was referring to Alonso when he told a team meeting on Monday that “there is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone”.
As Monday turned into Tuesday and that into the rest of the week, I have to say I was in a bit of a panic. I needed to find out what Alonso said. I looked everywhere and only found a few comments, surely those could not be the ones in question. My search proceeded, and the same two little, non-threatening, with-out-any-nasty-cuss-words-in-them comments kept coming up over and over. Here they are:
Asked afterwards what kind of car he wanted for his birthday, the double world champion said: “The one the others have”. Asked also what he planned to do over the August break, with the season now at its midpoint, he retorted: “I will pray”. Eight words in total.
These so called transgressions apparently were made to the press in conversation as it drifted to the celebrating of Alonso’s 32nd birthday. After I finally determined that this was the gist of it (I could still be incorrect on this and if anyone knows any differently please send it my way), I said out loud, ARE YOU JOKING?
Seriously, this is what all the drama is about? These two little lines? This is the kind of rhetoric that warrants such a rebuke? Come on Luca, being in Formula 1 all these years and President of one of the most recognized companies on the planet your skin must be thicker than that?
It’s extremely rare for Mr. Ferrari himself to criticize his drivers. Take a look at this, from a piece by James Allen, Montezemolo Gets Tough With Alonso:
In over 20 years at the helm, he [LdM] has never publicly criticized a driver like he has done with Alonso. If this is the public side of the outburst, one can only imagine what was said privately. Ferrari has been around for decades and has had many great champions pass through its doors. Alonso has been given leeway to criticize the team in the past four years, something Michael Schumacher never did, but clearly Montezemolo has decided that enough is enough. “No driver is more important than the team.
This is pretty heavy stuff. Clearly all is not well in the house that Enzo built.
Now lets take a step back in time for the moment and also give a little bit of context. During the race weekend there was a weird rumor going around. At some point during the Hungarian race weekend Alonso’s manager was seen taking a meeting with Red Bull’s Christian Horner. There was some speculation that it was in regards to another driver that Alonso’s manager handles, Carlos Sainz junior who I believe just tested for Red Bull during the YDT at Silverstone, but there were suggestions that it revolved around the open seat over at Red Bull. What????
Days passed and it was confirmed the meeting was about the possibility of Alonso taking Webber’s seat. I am speechless. Is Fernando really considering leaving the most celebrated racing team in F1, with a such a rich history? This is where great champions come to burnish that greatness into the record books.
I for one have never really liked the term silly season, it just sounds a bit too goofy for my taste, this is Formula 1 after all, could they not have chosen a more sophisticated word to describe the uncertainty or guess work from the press corp and the fan base when teams and drivers are about to make changes? But that is exactly the word I used when this story broke. Silly. Well to be honest, think I said to myself WTF first and then used silly second. Alonso leave Ferrari? It seems crazy but the meeting did happen. Now we have some context for the comments, and possibly for the rebuke. Did the meeting affect LdM’s reaction to Alonso’s remarks?
Still, I just can’t get out of my mind the idea that what Alonso said to the press was no big deal. He did not say it with any malice, if anything I read it with a slight inflection of humor. It did not come off as pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but I was not there and I of course happen to sympathize with his feelings.
I will give di Montezemolo the benefit of the doubt and agree (begrudgingly) that Alonso’s words were that of a petulant child that isn’t getting his way. Fine, I will concede that even though all the child wants to do is win a championship wearing your red overalls, in your red car for all of Italy and yours, the greatest racing marquee in F1, Fernando should have thought better of what he said. I agree.
Therefore Alonso you should have not engaged in the polemics, although that word used by di Montezemolo is a bit strong for the actual comments. But in Alonso’s defense lets look at some of the comments that he has made in supporting the team, or asking for calm after a troubling race or decision during the race by the team, or putting his complete confidence behind the team time and time again. Here are just a few of the many that I was able to dig up from the past three years.
Going back to 2010, a definitely painful ending for all Ferrari and Alonso fans, “It’s pointless to try and work out who got things wrong: A World Championship that slips away by four points after 19 races can be lost on so many occasions, not just the end.” My feeling here is that Alonso is referring to his jump start in China and his crash in FP3 at Monaco which is taking responsibility for his own mistakes. Very humble if you ask me, considering the missteps by the team and the incorrect strategy call in Abu Dhubi.
Alonso finishes up his thoughts on 2010 this way, “I want to congratulate Red Bull and its drivers: over the course of the season they have had a little something extra than us and they deserve to be where they are today. I had said it over the past few days: this is still a great season. There have been some very intense months and I found myself in a team that has an amazing atmosphere. Now there is some sadness, but I am sure that in a few hours, with a clear head, we will begin to appreciate better what we have achieved.” Pretty darn gracious don’t you think?
Moving on to 2011, does anyone remember how Ferrari looked so good in pre-season testing only to get to Melborne and line up on row three in qualifying? Here is what he said after the race.“It wasn’t the start what we all wanted but nor is it anything to get worried about. Overall, the Australian Grand Prix can’t be defined as disastrous.” You mean 1.5 seconds off in qualifying and a distant 31 seconds in the race was not disastrous? Yet there is Alonso toeing the party line. I think that is what you call a team player.
After the only highlight from that year, the well deserved British GP win, a delighted Alonso had this to say about his colleagues: “It is a special event for every driver competing in F1, we know the history of this race, a special grand prix and I had the privilege to drive the Frolian Gonzales car that was the first Ferrari within F1. Today we won in the same circuit with the same passion, the same group of people who work for this fantastic team.”
Let’s look at 2012. The Ferrari has not improved and Alonso has not won since the rain affected the race in Hockenheim. The disaster of Spa has already occurred at the hands of Grosjean who by the way Alonso was very careful not to blame, instead just chalked it up to two drivers [the other was Lewis Hamilton] that were fighting for the same spot going into turn one. The coming together with Kimi in Japan again robbed Alonso of valuable points and still he is calm and looking forward not behind.
Alonso is quite aware of his cars deficiency’s yet this is what he has to say during the race weekend in Korea: “We have not been gifted anything, indeed Spa and Suzuka deprived us of places that were easily within our grasp. It’s not through some sort of divine miracle that we are in this position, it is down to the work of us all, from the first to last. Formula One is a team sport: you win and lose together.” Does this sound like someone that does not appreciate his fellow teammates?
Lastly from our current season, this comes to us from the conclusion of the German GP: “This was a difficult race, we weren’t very quick and at some moments we were not competitive enough. In the first stint, we paid the price for being on used tyres, because by lap twelve they were already finished, which cost us some of the advantage we hoped to gain from our strategic choice. Even if we were hoping to finish on the podium, finishing less than eight seconds off Vettel after starting eighth is an encouraging result. The team is doing its utmost to make the car more competitive and after tackling a few races without being too sure about our updates, today we can claim to have cleared up many of our doubts and to have understood which are the areas we must concentrate on to move the development forward.” I would say that was standing by your team, no?
Alonso clearly doesn’t have a history of complaining about Ferrari, even after three and a half frustrating years. So there must be a subtext and the real reason for this riff between di Montezemolo and Alonso might simply come down to hurt feelings. We humans are very sensitive no matter what we say or how we act and the Red Bull meeting must have really affected Luca deeply.
I will concede this meeting could have very well been interpreted as an act of disloyalty and if I was Alonso even if I wanted to explore the idea of driving for another team now or at a later date, especially Red Bull, I would have gone about it in an entirely different fashion. For the record Alonso has stated that he is very happy where he is and has no intention to leave. But this is F1 after all and anything is possible.
In a post called Smoke And Mirrors Joe Saward states : Everything involves shades of grey. Thus a story such as the suggestion that Fernando Alonso is talking to Red Bull Racing can be read in many different ways.
Here is where everything gets tricky. What was really said, what were everyone’s true intentions? Was this just Alonso using the press to his political gain? Was this his manager acting on his own accord or was Red Bull trying to destabilize the Scuderia? There is no way to really know.
In a following post also from Saward he states, and I think quite correctly: The clock is ticking. Fernando is 32 and has only two titles to his name. Vettel has three and looks to be on his way to a fourth, yet he is still only 26. In other words, unless Alonso gets things moving soon he will not be the star of his generation when the history books are written. He needs to up his win rate.
And not surprisingly one is reminded how Formula One works. One has to take care of one first. Survival is priority one.
And yet di Montezemolo requires absolute loyalty. Does he offer it in return? Let’s examine another world champion’s exit from the team. By 2006 Michael Schumacher had won five titles for Ferrari. But di Montezemolo wanted to secure the next generation of Ferrari titles and Kimi Raikkonen was at the top of his list.
Kimi being Kimi was never going to go for the pull-over-and-let-me-by-so-I-can-win crap that Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine were all too happy to sign up for. Michael, not wanting to jeopardize his greatness was not about to allow a driver to come in without a guarantee of supremacy. Just think if in that year Michael lost to another driver fair and square in the same car? All the history books with his records would then have an asterisk next to them. In theory at least.
So di Montezemolo wanted Kimi and Michael was effectively pushed out arguably while still at the top of his game and with a possible sixth Ferrari title and eigth overall on the table. Does that seem like the epitome of loyalty on Luca’s part to you?
The next part of the lesson in loyalty I am pretty sure we all know. It is the one where someone from Ferrari, someone high up (like the guy in charge) is still wanting to secure the next generation of titles and since Kimi Raikkonen is not too keen on politics, sponsorship and putting the team first is bought out of his contract to the tune of seventeen million to miss the season and and make room for the next Ferrari champion. Fernando Diaz Alonso. That does not really seem like the pillar of loyalty either now does it?
At this point, what are we left with? I’m not too sure. A world champion is understandably frustrated and a marquee team is justifiably jumpy. This is usually the part of the post where I wrap it up with some kind of clever witticism that simultaneously gets my point across and hopefully makes you crack a smile. The part where I make some kind of profound summation of all the points that you just read and didn’t put you to sleep.
But right now I don’t have a point so much as a plea. I just want everybody to take a breath, take a step back and remember why we are here. To win a championship, to add the names Scuderia Ferrari (notice how I put Ferrari first ha ha) and Fernando Alonso to the big shiny trophy that is handed out at the end of the year at the FIA gala event. I want all parties to remember the pressures are tremendous and that every now and then everybody can make a mistake. But let’s put them behind us. It’s time, as the chairman said, to close ranks and get to the job at hand.
-jp- (and after all of that, the BBC’s lead story is, Ferrari boss Luca Di Montezemolo shares Fernando Alonso concern, lol)