Friday, March 08, 2013
Alonso can make the difference for Ferrari
By Alan Baldwin
(Reuters) - Fernando Alonso came close to winning his third Formula One championship last season in a Ferrari that was not the quickest car and now he will try again with one he says is 200 times better.
Simple logic would suggest that this season the 31-year-old has his best chance yet of becoming the 10th driver to win a title for the Italian glamour team, joining a list of greats that includes Juan Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher.
Being crowned with the most successful team in the history of the sport, one that has competed in every championship since the first in 1950, would be a career high for a driver who is already Ferrari's clear number one.
To be a Ferrari favourite you do not have to win the championship for the Maranello team - Gilles Villeneuve and Nigel Mansell never did - but Alonso wants more than just love and respect.
The Spaniard won three races in 2012 and, against the odds, finished on the podium 13 times in 20 starts. Despite losing out in the end, Alonso declared it a 'dream season' but he feels the best is yet to come.
"Last year was the best year of my career and I was very happy with the performance, but I think this year will be better," he said this week.
"We have a better starting point, and I have learned from some mistakes of last year... I have prepared better. I am better than last year."
Give him the tools and Alonso, twice a champion with Renault in 2005 and 2006, can make the difference. He knows it and so do the team, who have done everything they can to give him a winning machine.
"Last year we had a very difficult winter and we were completely lost. We didn't know what the car was doing. We didn't understand what was going on in the wind tunnel and on the track," he said at the final pre-season test last week.
Despite that, Alonso had a healthy lead in the championship by the halfway point only to see it whittled away by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.
The German ultimately clinched the title by three points at the season-ender in Brazil with Alonso pushing hard in a car that Ferrari reckoned was between seven and eight tenths of a second slower than the Red Bull.
"We hope that we have reduced the gap and we will arrive in Australia in better shape than Brazil, which means 200 times better than last year in Australia," he said.
Asked whether he could hope to win the title again this year, the 25th anniversary of the death of team founder Enzo Ferrari, Alonso saw no reason why not.
Alonso and Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa have both led the timesheets in testing, with the new F138 looking much less of a handful than the ugly F2012 car.
The Spaniard missed the first test in Jerez, deciding instead to spend more time in training for the rigours of the season ahead.
When he drove the car for the first time in Barcelona last month Alonso declared it to be "on another planet" compared to the one he drove at the same point in 2012.
Ferrari hope their problems with the wind tunnel are now resolved, with the team using Toyota's in Cologne while theirs is being rebuilt, and they have also rediscovered the real Massa after the Brazilian's form went missing for the first half of last year.
Massa worked on his mental approach, using a sports psychologist to help change his thinking and become more positive.
Alonso, he said in January, had been the toughest team mate of his career - tougher even than seven-times world champion Schumacher. If the Spaniard has his way, it will not get any easier this year either.
"We now have a car that is responding well to what we change, and that is doing what we expect," said Alonso in Barcelona. "We know we are maybe not the quickest yet but the potential of the car is there."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)