Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, it seemed like a match made in heaven – or at least the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, but yesterday the cracks began to show and suddenly questions are being asked which leave us wondering about the two-time world champion’s future.
Alonso finished a distant fifth in last weekend’s Hungarian GP, prompting the Spaniard to comment in response to the question of what car he’d like for his birthday, by saying “The one the others have.”
His comment followed rumours which arose at the weekend, when Christian Horner refused to deny that Fernando Alonso is a contender to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing in 2014. Ferrari are believed to have a contract with Alonso until 2016, but Alonso’s manager was seen entering the Red Bull motor home in Hungary, triggering paddock speculation that he might be considering an early exit.
Later on Sunday, Alonso quashed the rumours saying “I’m very happy [at Ferrari] but we need to improve the car if we want to have a chance of winning the World Championship,” but with an audience of more than half a billion viewers F1 is nothing if not a stage, so the actions of Alonso’s manager were clearly intended to send a signal to someone..
It was Alonso’s 32nd birthday yesterday, so Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo phoned him to wish him a happy birthday, but took the opportunity to warn him about his conduct immediately following Sunday’s grand prix.
Yet again, the scene was played out very publicly, via a post on Ferrari’s website.
Il presidente started with the team’s performance saying “The Ferrari I saw in yesterday’s race doesn’t sit well with me.”
The article went on to say, following a meeting with Stefano Domenicali and the Scuderia engineers the day after a disappointing Hungarian Grand Prix, that each one of the engineers present received a “gift” of a knife, along with an invitation – metaphorical up to a point – to put it between their teeth when thinking how to tackle the second half of the season.
The new appointment of ex-Lotus engineer, James Allison (who starts on September 1st), was cited as a boost to the Scuderia’s resources but that the team needed 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.”
That was in reference to Alonso’s comments, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.
The article went on to say, when Montezemolo called the Spaniard to wish him a happy birthday, he also tweaked his ear, reminding him that, “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own. 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.”
Alonso is nobody’s fool, so it’s unlikely that he’s considering jumping ship mid-season (or mid-contract), but he’s clearly losing his patience with the team and Montezemolo’s public remarks will have done little to appease him.
Does Alonso need Ferrari more than they need him?
I suspect team principal Domenicali will be trying very hard to calm the situation down, if Alonso were to become free he’d have his pick of nearly any top team, Ferrari on the other hand need the two-time world champion to guide them as they fall even further behind their rivals in the 2013 season.
As it says in Ferrari’s article, “This topic will be the subject of further debate in the near future.” I also suspect Montezemolo’s public rebuke of Alonso may have made a bad situation even worse. We’ll see..
Pictures: Scuderia Ferrari.