Two weeks is a long time in Formula One, isn’t it? After making up the numbers at Indianapolis, Ferrari produced a stunning return to form at Magny Cours – and it was a nice departure from the regular Lewis Hamilton Glorification Show.All that was needed to light the proverbial fire-cracker under the mercurial Kimi Raikkonen’s posterior were a few reports that Ferrari was courting Fernando Alonso to replace the generously-remunerated, yet seemingly-indifferent, Finn next year. Well, the advances made by the Scuderia at a recent test session at Silverstone, where the F1 circus will head this week, certainly helped, too. Has the season finally come alive?
When Michael Schumacher won at Indianapolis last year, observers believed his victory came as a result of Bridgestone’s winning record at The Brickyard. Yet, when he followed up the win with a dominant performance at Magny Cours, the seven-time world champion re-ignited his challenge for the title and relentlessly whittled down Renault and Alonso’s leads in the standings… He almost bagged an eighth driver’s crown.
Ferrari’s one-two finish at the French Grand Prix sets the scene for another Prancing Horse revival. Although McLaren ran the red cars close in qualifying, neither Hamilton nor Alonso had any answer to Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in the race. And, after cruising to his first victory for Ferrari at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen produced a polished (dare I say Alonso-like?) performance to beat his favoured team-mate with a refreshing mix of consistency and innovative race strategy.
However, the biggest difference between Ferrari’s current position and the one in which the Maranello-based team found itself during the corresponding period last year, is that the season hasn’t developed into a two-way battle for the driver’s championship yet. Hamilton may need to defend his driver’s championship lead until McLaren gets back on even terms with Ferrari, but the Briton can take some relief from the following – a) he currently has the upper hand over the unlucky Alonso, and b) the Ferrari duo are likely to score points at the cost of one another’s championship positions.
We all knew that McLaren was bound to suffer a technical problem or two at some point. Unfortunately for Alonso, ill fate struck the Spaniard’s McLaren during qualifying and although he was a spared a 10-position grid penalty, he was in no position to fight for victory at Magny Cours. He did entertain the masses with a brave overtaking manoeuvre on BMW’s Nick Heidfeld, but for all his determination and grit, Alonso struggled to the chequered flag in seventh place. Hamilton finished on the podium, but the Briton didn’t have the best day at the office – his on-track mauling of Robert Kubica notwithstanding.
Viewers almost missed Raikkonen’s leap into the lead at the second round of pit stops because our beloved British ITV commentators and the director of the television production (his or her nationality is unknown to me) focused much of their attention on Hamilton and Alonso’s progress in the French Grand Prix. British fervour is bound to hit fever pitch at next weekend’s race, so expect the Hamilton praise-singers to be in full voice at Silverstone. I wonder if Jenson Button still receives fan mail these days…
As a long-time admirer of Alonso’s race craft, I am somewhat concerned about the rut in which the Spaniard seems to find himself. Ever since the two-time world champion entered Formula One he has always dominated his team-mates. Therefore, if things didn’t go his way, at least he’d have the satisfaction of being the team protagonist. According to reports, Alonso seemed disconsolate during Thursday’s press conference – he seems incapable of getting on terms, let alone psyching out, his team-mate and an eager Press corps can’t wait for the emotional Spaniard to lash out at his team or Hamilton.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten what an amazing feat Schumacher achieved when he won five titles in a row. It seems increasingly unlikely that Alonso will win three crowns on the trot, but perhaps the Spaniard needs to free his mind from the burden of defending a championship to regain that winning feeling. Besides, things are bound to get quite heated between Raikkonen, Massa and Hamilton before a new champion is crowned.