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Alonso’s doing it again – another year outperforming teammate, equipment

Apr 21, 2014, 10:45 AM EST

AlonsoChina AP

Excuse the familiarity if you’ve heard this statement before – a Ferrari is not at the head of the Formula One field, but yet Fernando Alonso is bringing it to heights it probably shouldn’t be.

The Spaniard has made a habit in recent years of outperforming the equipment at his disposal. Sunday in Shanghai, a race where Alonso won in 2013, was the just the latest example.

The 2014 Ferrari F14 T has gotten off to a bit of a slow start and coupled with the recent management shakeup, Stefano Domenicali resigning and new man Marco Mattiacci coming in, the pressure was on for an improved weekend in the last flyaway round of the season before the European season commences.

Upgrades are always going to be limited in the first few events before teams return home to their mostly European bases in earnest. Still, after the Bahrain disaster, Ferrari introduced a new front axle and brake duct assembly in Shanghai that bleeds airflow from the brake cooling duct through a duct in the centre of the axle. It’s a system that makes brake cooling a bit more efficient while also reducing drag – braking is key at a couple points of the Shanghai International Circuit, notably on the long back straight into the penultimate corner on the circuit, the tight hairpin.

This may not have been the only key to Ferrari’s improved form in Shanghai, but it certainly didn’t hurt. As it was, Alonso got on with the job anyway and drove another near flawless race.

He survived a bit of contact from former teammate Felipe Massa after both drivers performed an excellent getaway from Row 3, moved ahead of the Red Bulls after a round of pit stops and although he was up to second and eventually hauled in by the substantially quicker Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, he held onto third for his and the team’s first podium finish of the year.

With a car that at the moment you’d have to say is maybe third or fourth best, at best, in the field, this was no small accomplishment.

Alonso currently stands third in the World Championship with 41 points. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen’s lackluster start to the season continues, as he languishes in 12th on just 11 after an eighth place Sunday, some 50 seconds behind his teammate.

In four races, Alonso has outqualified the Finn three of four races and finished ahead in all four. In both Melbourne and Shanghai, Alonso has started a season-best fifth while neither time Raikkonen has advanced out of Q2, and started 11th. Raikkonen matched Alonso with fifth on the grid in Bahrain but fell to 10th in the race.

It’s been especially impressive to see Alonso – long regarded as one of F1’s best starters and racers, if not the out-and-out fastest on a single lap – up the ante in qualifying to hold such an early edge on Raikkonen, who was expected to be the Spaniard’s stiffest internal competition since then-rookie Lewis Hamilton in the 2007 season.

Alonso’s held an authoritative edge over teammates Nelson Piquet Jr., Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa since that ill-fated single season at McLaren, and is now giving Raikkonen the business through four races.

This is as good a start as realistically could have been possible for Alonso, and if Ferrari makes further upgrades from the European races, the two-time World Champion could finally return to his winning ways.

At the very least, he’ll continue to punch above the car’s weight.

  1. ditto65 - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    I’m sure it helped that Kimi was hardly able to run in the practice sessions in China.

    • redrock81 - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:22 PM

      excuses.

  2. techmeister1 - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    There is no doubt that Alonso drives the wheels off of the Ferrari but Massa has out performed Alonso in the past on numerous occasions when the car was driveable so in fairness to Kimi, until Ferrari delivers a driveable car there isn’t much he can do. Ferrari has a lot of work to do to be consistently at the front of the grid. One race does not make for a good car.

    • indycarseries500 - Apr 21, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Numerous? I can recall one, and even then Alonso was close enough for Ferrari to give the “Fernando is faster than you” call.

      • techmeister1 - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        Yes there were several races where Massa both out qualified and finish higher than Alonso. In fact I think there were three races in Massa’s last year alone. Kimi ain’t no slouch but like Massa you got to give him a decent car. Alonso could probably qualify top 10 with a wheelbarrow. LOL

  3. redrock81 - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Love him or hate him you can’t deny that Alonso’s the most complete driver of the grid today… if not the best.

  4. fireblade22 - Apr 22, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    “With a car that at the moment you’d have to say is maybe third or fourth best, at best, in the field”

    What? Who writes this drivel? The Ferrari was clearly the fastest non-Mercedes car in China during practice, and then during the race. Alonso has always been a poor qualifier, his qualifying place is never a good indicator of his cars ability.

    No driver can ever “outperform his car”. If your car can only do 190 kph no amount of pressing the pedal will make it do 191 instead. The best drivers can get close to 100% out of their cars. No driver can get 101%.

    • techmeister1 - Apr 22, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Actually The F14 probably is a third or fourth place car at the moment on most tracks, maybe worse on others. Getting more from the car than it can typically deliver is possible when a few rare drivers like Alonso muscle the car to a better result than can normally be earned. Performance isn’t just terminal speed it’s producing a better lap time than the equipment can normally deliver with a top notch F1 driver suck as Kimi, Massa, etc. Schumi was good at this also.

      • fireblade22 - Apr 23, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        “The F14 probably is a third or fourth place car at the moment on most tracks”

        It wasn’t a third or fourth place car in China. It was consistently the fastest non-Mercedes car. Lo and behold, Alonso finished third.

  5. MBW - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    I use to be a big Alonso fan. Then there was the Piquet Jr. disaster. I believe that Alonso should have been banned from F1 along with Briatore & Piquet Jr. Jr. was just a hapless victim of the other 2, & it cost him the rest of his F1 career. That isn’t fair or right. In Bahrain, both Kimi & FA ran together & finished 9 & 10. Kimi was looking forward to his 2 days of testing in Bahrain. Then I read that FA was in Kimi’s car for both days, until it would not run anymore. It ran the first day but not the second…? It ran well enough to hang with the #14 all day in Bahrain. Then we get to China & the car won’t run in the 1st practice. Why? What was FA doing testing for 2 days in Kimi’s car? Who made that decision? Why? What possible use could there be having FA in Kimi’s car for 2 days? Have you ever heard of another team doing anything like it, or Ferrari ever doing it before? Kimi had felt good about how well he had run in Bahrain & all of a sudden in China, nothing worked right. I am wondering why? None of this makes sense to me.

    • redrock81 - Apr 22, 2014 at 8:50 PM

      @MBW – you do know that the FIA scrutinized all of the radio messages between Piquet Jnr, Alonso, Symonds and Briatore before, during and after the race and he was found innocent of it.

      As for the Bahrain tests, the original plan was to have Alonso do the first 2 days and then turn it over to Kimi for the next days. Alonso ran his car (Alonso is no.14) on the first day of testing and ran Kimi’s on the 2nd day. http://formula1.ferrari.com/news/day-testing-bahrain

      The team may have wanted Alonso to check what was wrong with Kimi’s car because I remember Kimi complaining about brake-by-wire problems which Alonso had not encountered.

      During the test Ferrari later found out that Kimi’s car had been damaged as a result from Raikkonen’s collision with the kerb during practice in Bahrain. Ferrari stopped the tests immediately as a precaution and to fix Kimi’s car so that it would be ready for the next race. If none of it makes sense then I suggest reading more…

  6. techmeister1 - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:47 PM

    I never 100% believed that Alonso did NOT know about the set-up with Piquet Jr. and Briatore. I do believe that Jr. probably felt he had no choice or he’d lose his seat – because IMO Briatore is scum and should have been permanently banned from F1. Piquet should have been penalized but not banned for life.

    IMO the FIA has failed the racers and the fans in recent years with a LOT of unacceptable decisions such as allowing Red B.S. Racing to continuously cheat for three seasons with no penalties after the infractions were documented. Who knows how many races they won by cheating with illegal ride height changes, flexing wings, etc.? The FIA also monumentally failed the world by allowing Mercedes to conduct a TOTALLY ILLEGAL TIRE TEST with their 2013 car. For this I will never forgive the incompetent and impotent FIA.

    • indycarseries500 - Apr 24, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      Piquet isn’t banned for life, I mean no one will hire him but he’s not banned.

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