Fernando Alonso almost won the 2012 championship. Here's why he can go one better in 2013...
It wasn’t supposed to happen. The F2012 was just not good enough. But a mixture of fortune, team work and a huge chunk of sheer bloody determination from the man in the cockpit meant that Fernando Alonso almost won the title in 2012. Few will forget the Spaniard clambering out of his car in the damp Interlagos circuit and realising those twenty races of dragging every last tenth out of that car was all in vain. The stare said it all. Only the world championship will satisfy Alonso, Ferrari and millions of people worldwide. Here’s why after three near misses since his previous title in 2006, this season could finally see Alonso’s quest for a third title fulfilled.
Alonso is improving as a driver with every passing season, very few people would dispute such an assertion. If the car is capable of qualifying only fifth, Alonso will qualify in fifth. If there’s a sniff of a chance, he’ll take it. Alonso isn’t infallible and towards the end of 2012 a couple of his qualifying performances could have been better. But in terms of an all-round driver, Alonso is one of the best in the history of the sport. The question now is whether he can repeat his 2012 form into 2013. You’d be a brave man to bet against it.
Ferrari has pointed to Alonso’s first corner accidents in Spa and Suzuka as costing him the title, but it’s just as easy to point he blame on Ferrari’s strategic errors in 2012. Had the team played their cards right, wins were achievable in Spain and Britain, with better results on offer in Monaco and Canada. With Ferrari still lacking confidence in their F2012 at that stage of the season, their conservatism cost Alonso valuable points during a stage when he could have asserted a stranglehold on the championship. It’s all very well for Alonso to drive his heart out, but he also needs the men on the pit wall to calculate the optimum strategy, which didn’t happen enough last year.
No-one will know how competitive the F138 is until the Australian Grand Prix, but initial impressions from Felipe Massa are that it’s in the ballpark. The change to DRS rules should help Ferrari in qualifying, as one of their weaknesses was instability under braking when the wing closed. This year, there will be limited DRS use throughout the weekend, whereas before it was available everywhere on track. What Ferrari will be hoping to achieve is stability with the Pirelli tyres. If Ferrari had one advantage in 2012 it was that the F2012 had quick tyre warm-up and a comparatively large operating window. If they can carry that over to the F138, they’ll be in a very good position.
Alonso needs a team-mate that can back him up and take points off of his main rivals. For the first half of 2012, Felipe Massa was in the doldrums and seemingly without a drive for 2013 as he struggled to break into the top ten, let alone trouble Alonso. But the Brazilian sought help, found inner-peace and was a changed man in the second half of 2012, finishing directly behind Alonso in the final two races. There’s optimism from Massa ahead of this season that he can continue his strong form. He’s unlikely to pose a threat to Alonso, but if he can ensure that there’ll be two competitive Ferrari’s at every race, it’ll be a huge benefit to the Spaniard.
A logical theory to adopt is that with very few regulation changes having taken place, every team will improve in 2013. The question then is how many improvements teams will make. Out of the top four, Ferrari started as the weakest; therefore theoretically they have the greatest number of improvements to uncover! But equally, it means their basis remains weaker than Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus. On the driver front, Alonso will be pleased that Lewis Hamilton is at Mercedes. The Silver Arrows remain an unknown quantity, but it’d be a brave man to bet on Hamilton challenging for the title, thus removing a potential opponent for Alonso. Of course, there are still two McLaren drivers but you’d assume that Alonso will look at a Button/Perez pairing as weaker than a Button/Hamilton one.
It’s a five point plan that could see Alonso finally become a triple world champion. After all, if he came within four points of the title in 2012, surely he can do it in 2013? Messrs Vettel, Button and Raikkonen would have something to say about that, but they’ll all be looking at a Spaniard in a scarlet Ferrari with concern.