All em­pires fall. In­ter­fer­ence from above shat­tered Jean Todt’s su­perteam, put the brakes on Fer­rari’s se­rial cham­pi­onship dom­i­na­tion, and once again left them chasing dreams

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Af­ter Schu­macher’s great­ness, an­other fall from grace

Of all the driv­ers rac­ing on the 2018 grid, he’d get it more than any of them. To join the canon; to add to his Red Bull haul with F1’s great­est team and equal Fan­gio’s ti­tle tally of five; to fol­low in the wheel tracks of his friend and coun­try­man Michael Schu­macher; and to achieve what Fer­nando Alonso failed to pull off in five sea­sons. How sat­is­fy­ing for a man who car­ries the Pranc­ing Horse shield into bat­tle with heart­felt pride. He’d wear that ti­tle well.

But the big ques­tion must dwell some­where in his psy­che: like Alonso, the man fêted by so many (and surely to Vet­tel’s an­noy­ance) as the most com­plete F1 driver of the mod­ern era, is Seb destined to miss out too? Or could he still be the man to glo­ri­ously res­cue the Scud­e­ria from a ti­tle slump all too fa­mil­iar from decades past? This year, we might be about to find out.

It’s been 11 years since Kimi Räikkö­nen took the crown from Alonso and won­der-rookie Lewis Hamil­ton in their tu­mul­tuous sea­son to­gether at Mclaren in 2007. Since then the Finn has faded, been paid not to drive for Fer­rari, been paid more to re­turn… and is still there in the other car, de­spite fad­ing again.

In the midst of Kimi’s puz­zling ca­reer, the made-in-heaven match of Alonso and Fer­rari rock­eted into life in 2010… only to tum­ble to terra firma in the wake of an­ti­cli­mac­tic nearmisses and groan-in­duc­ing team mis­takes. Vet­tel was the van­quisher then, but now finds him­self in near-iden­ti­cal cir­cum­stances, against Hamil­ton and Mercedes’ silver dream ma­chines.

Back in Maranello, Jean Todt’s records­mash­ing reign pe­tered out once Schu­macher’s glo­ri­ous era had passed, and even Mi­das-gilded pres­i­dent Luca di Mon­teze­molo – saviour of two Fer­rari gen­er­a­tions – lost his touch, to be re­placed by a flinty in­dus­tri­al­ist whose taste for com­fort­able knitwear be­lies his grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion for cold-eyed steel in the board­room.

In re­cent times, Ser­gio Mar­chionne has more than once threat­ened what was once un­think­able: to pull Fer­rari from F1. Sure, Enzo Fer­rari said the same, on more than one oc­ca­sion when it suited him. But with Mar­chionne, one senses he’d re­ally do it – with­out a mo­ment’s re­gret. Grand prix rac­ing was once Fer­rari’s rai­son d’être. But in 2018 is that still the case?

Strange times – but then that’s not just true for Fer­rari. Rewind to 2005 and the picture was so much more fa­mil­iar. Schu­macher had oblit­er­ated the pre­vi­ous campaign for his fifth ti­tle in a row and, at a fight­ing-fit 36, there seemed lit­tle to sug­gest he wouldn’t march on and claim more. One hun­dred grand prix vic­to­ries? It was surely just a mat­ter of time.

Then Bridge­stone, de­pend­able tyre sup­plier and com­plicit part­ner in Fer­rari’s awe­some run of suc­cess, got it wrong. The new rule ban­ning mid-race tyre changes, rain notwith­stand­ing, had


the de­sired ef­fect in shak­ing up F1 and end­ing what had be­come a scar­let monotony. While French ri­val Miche­lin made rub­ber that proved both durable and con­sis­tent, Bridge­stone’s was nei­ther. Re­nault vs Mclaren, Alonso vs Räikkö­nen – that was the re­fresh­ing script of what turned out to be a great sea­son. Mostly.

In­di­anapo­lis was the gi­ant blot that would stain the his­tory books. Here it was Miche­lin who got it wrong. Their fail­ure to pro­vide tyres that teams could trust in the banked fi­nal turn led to grand prix rac­ing’s great­est de­ba­cle, as just six Bridge­stone run­ners took the start, to a ca­coph­ony of boos from a fu­ri­ous pub­lic. And in the scep­ti­cal US of all coun­tries.

To make mat­ters worse, Todt’s re­fusal to con­sider any­thing beyond the self­ish in­ter­ests of the Scud­e­ria kicked in once again. Fer­rari’s part in re­fus­ing to com­pro­mise on the ad­di­tion of a chi­cane to Turn 13 should never be for­got­ten. Yes, Miche­lin screwed up, but be­tween them, the FIA and Fer­rari could have led F1 through this nightmare with grace. In­stead, they chose wil­ful in­tran­si­gence and the hor­ror story played out to its pa­thetic con­clu­sion. To the world, Schu­macher’s vic­tory – hav­ing al­most barged team-mate Rubens Bar­richello off the track af­ter a pit­stop – was beyond mean­ing­less. To Todt, his man had ten points and was back in ti­tle con­tention. Noth­ing else mat­tered.

In the name of safety, tyre changes were rein­tro­duced the next sea­son, leav­ing 2005 as a di­vert­ing anom­aly all these years later. As the new 2.4-litre V8 era be­gan, Fer­rari bounced back – only to find Re­nault, Alonso and Miche­lin more than ready to de­fend their hard-won ti­tles. Alonso’s bat­tle and ul­ti­mate de­feat of Schu­macher was mon­u­men­tal that year, a sea­son of high-stakes drama. In Monaco, there was Schu­macher’s ‘park­ing ma­noeu­vre’ at Ras­casse, when he pur­posely nosed his Fer­rari into the bar­rier to thwart Alonso’s qual­i­fy­ing lap. Yet an­other foul to fur­ther stain a blem­ished legacy. Then at Hock­en­heim, pol­i­tics threat­ened to sour a clas­sic sea­son when Re­nault were thrown into tur­moil over the sup­posed il­le­gal­ity of their clever mass damper sys­tem. The FIA ste­wards ap­proved it – only for the gov­ern­ing body to ap­peal against their own em­ploy­ees’ de­ci­sion!

Mean­while, over at Fer­rari, the su­perteam that had blown through the record books and seem­ingly bro­ken the age-old boom-bust cy­cle was be­gin­ning to crum­ble. Ten­sions be­tween di Mon­teze­molo and Todt were drawn tight. Once he’d brought in Schu­macher, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, it’s ar­guable that Todt’s main con­tri­bu­tion to the years of sus­tained glory had been hold­ing the team to­gether – and push­ing back against di Mon­teze­molo’s dis­rup­tive in­flu­ence. But the dy­nam­ics were chang­ing.

Mind­ful of Schu­macher’s age and a per­cep­ti­ble need for a suc­ces­sion plan, di Mon­teze­molo signed Räikkö­nen. Todt was fu­ri­ous – but pow­er­less to pro­tect his beloved ace. At Monza, Schu­macher an­nounced his re­tire­ment at sea­son’s end. Spec­u­la­tion was rife that he’d ef­fec­tively been pushed. His in­abil­ity to find con­tent­ment af­ter F1, the painful flir­ta­tion with su­per­bikes and his re­turn with Mercedes in 2010


clar­i­fies only how even Fer­rari’s most suc­cess­ful F1 driver could suc­cumb to Maranello’s machi­na­tions. Schu­macher meekly ac­cepted an am­bas­sado­rial role for the time be­ing.

In his wake, the glue bind­ing the su­perteam dis­solved. With­out Michael, Brawn chose to go fish­ing in 2007, while Todt be­gan to lay the ground­work for ami­able Ste­fano Domeni­cali to suc­ceed him. Both had so much more to of­fer F1 – but no longer un­der the Mo­dena-yel­low shield that had de­fined them. For a while, it seemed their cre­ation would rum­ble on in their ab­sence. Räikkö­nen’s ti­tle smash-and-grab in 2007 vin­di­cated di Mon­teze­molo’s med­dling, although Räikkö­nen’s raid would never have come off had it not been for Mclaren’s Alonso vs Hamil­ton civil war, which was mis­man­aged so spec­tac­u­larly badly by Ron Den­nis. This was also the year of ‘Spy­gate’, when dis­af­fected me­chanic Nigel Step­ney passed Fer­rari tech­ni­cal draw­ings to Mclaren’s Mike Cough­lan.

There­after, Brazil­ian jour­ney­man Felipe Massa took cen­tre stage as Räikkö­nen failed to con­vinc­ingly de­fend his ti­tle. How Massa came a Timo Glock away from be­com­ing 2008 world cham­pion is, ten years on, the stuff of legend. His dig­nity in the wake of Lewis Hamil­ton’s skin-of-the-teeth first ti­tle has de­fined this true gen­tle­man of F1 – hap­pily so, given how dark his story turned the fol­low­ing year.


Massa’s freak head in­jury from an er­rant spring thrown from Rubens Bar­richello’s Brawn in Hun­gary spawned ad­vances in hel­met de­sign, but ef­fec­tively ended Massa’s front­line ca­reer. His re­turn in 2010 for the start of four more sea­sons in a Fer­rari was an ad­mirable vic­tory in its own spe­cial way – but he’d never win an­other grand prix. This was Alonso’s team now.

Even be­fore his mid-decade ti­tle dou­ble, Alonso was touted as the most likely suc­ces­sor to Schu­macher. It took longer than ex­pected – the stormy year with Mclaren in ’07, then two wound-lick­ing sea­sons back at Re­nault – but even­tu­ally he found his way to Maranello. His air of su­pe­ri­or­ity, the in­tel­li­gence, the race­craft,

the po­lit­i­cal nous… he was made to lead the reds. And how close he came to Fer­rari im­mor­tal­ity.

Re­cal­ci­trant Räikkö­nen was shuf­fled off with a year left on his con­tract – at great Fer­rari ex­pense – to go ral­ly­ing; then Alonso daz­zled on his de­but. Like Fan­gio, An­dretti, Mansell and, yes, Kimi be­fore him, he won on his Fer­rari de­but. The ti­tle soon seemed to be within his grasp. At the fi­nal race, Abu Dhabi, he held an eight-point lead and qual­i­fied third. Then Fer­rari’s spec­tac­u­lar strat­egy own-goal dropped him be­hind Re­nault’s Vi­taly Petrov. On a track pur­pose-built for F1 show­downs such as this, the Fer­rari had no chance to pass – and the ti­tle slipped to Red Bull’s Vet­tel, who led the points for the first time (and the time when it mat­tered most) only when he crossed the line to win.

Some­how that crush­ing de­feat set the tone for Alonso’s time at Fer­rari. He was ti­tle run­ner-up twice more in sub­se­quent years and was heroic in cars that failed to match his tal­ent. Then slowly, the dream part­ner­ship soured. His pa­tience spent, Alonso and Fer­rari split in a cloud of dust-ups in 2014. Given how his sur­prise re­turn to Mclaren has turned out, you might think he should have taken more deep breaths, counted to ten and stayed put. In re­al­ity, there was no way back from the brink for this Latin fire­brand.

With four con­sec­u­tive ti­tles and lit­tle more to gain at Red Bull, Vet­tel’s switch for 2015 made sense. It’s strange and surely un­fair that the per­cep­tion of a quadru­ple cham­pion should be so tepid – but a ti­tle in red would warm the legacy nicely. So many be­fore him have paid the price for chasing Fer­rari im­mor­tal­ity. But that only makes it more de­sir­able. This year, as he and Hamil­ton go head-to-head in a bid to match Fan­gio and reach five, Vet­tel will do all it takes (and prob­a­bly more) to join the anointed.

Mean­while, what of Fer­rari them­selves? Do they still mat­ter as they al­ways have? This mys­ti­cism, this magic, caught the wind with As­cari, Fan­gio, Hawthorn and Hill, and gath­ered strength like a hur­ri­cane through the decades. The fu­ture? It was al­ways in doubt. But Il Pas­sione drove Enzo’s army. For staff loyal to Maranello and Italy’s de­voted tifosi lit­tle has changed. The same is not true of the board­room.

For all his faults, di Mon­teze­molo was a di­rect link to Enzo’s Fer­rari. He un­der­stood the past and was a part of it. Mar­chionne? He is blown by a dif­fer­ent wind that might – just might – puff the world’s most fa­mous au­to­mo­tive brand on to a wholly dif­fer­ent course. But would it mat­ter? Mar­chionne’s Fer­rari can some­times be hard to love. Then again, the same was said of Lauda’s Fer­rari 40 years ago, and cer­tainly of Schu­macher’s team of more re­cent times. Now, thanks to Todt and Brawn, of all peo­ple, an F1 with­out Fer­rari is con­ceiv­able – and in some re­spects, per­haps prefer­able with­out Fer­rari’s un­fair power of veto over rule changes.

But what are we say­ing? How much duller and less colour­ful would grand prix rac­ing be with­out the reds? The thread to As­cari’s Fer­rari, and even fur­ther back to Nu­volari’s, is thin. But all the time it holds. The drama, the histri­on­ics, the glo­ries… and the fail­ures. This is Fer­rari. And we wouldn’t be with­out them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.