It has been one of the greatest years in Formula One history. Five drivers from three different teams have battled it out for the honour of becoming world champion in one of the most competitive seasons of all time. There has been overtaking, unexpected events, huge crashes, controversy and Nigel Mansell getting his moustache back in Money Supermarket advertisements.
In the end there could only be one champion, and Sebastian Vettel sneaked through in the final race of the season to win by just four points from Fernando Alonso. There is no doubt that the Red Bull was the best car this season due to its superb aerodynamics designed by the legendary Adrian Newey. However, perhaps the biggest story of the year was the promising beginning for the new Ferrari dream team. In light of the disappointment of Abu Dhabi, it’s easy to forget that it took Michael Schumacher five seasons to get it right with Ferrari. Fernando Alonso’s debut season at the prancing horse was altogether more promising.
The start of the season
Fisichella and Badoer ruined their careers by standing in for Massa at Ferrari in 2009. The pair had had the honour of driving for Ferrari but had struggled to adapt to a car which the team admitted was difficult to drive. The 2010 car was an altogether better machine, but Ferrari current breed of F1 racers are very different from that of their rivals. Regardless of this, Alonso proved his brilliance by adapting quickly and was fastest on the first day of testing in January. He carried this form through to Bahrain where he and team mate Massa dominated, taking a one-two finish almost half a minute ahead of their closest challengers.
Following Bahrain, critics were predicting another year of Ferrari domination. However, it was not to be as Red Bull unlocked the speed from its car and Mclaren played with clever strategies. Alonso spun at the start in Australia, suffered an engine failure in Malaysia and received a penalty for jumping the start in China. In Spain Alonso returned to the podium in front of his home crowd, but worryingly the Ferrari was now over one second per lap off the pace of the Red Bulls. This poor form continued in Turkey where Alonso failed to make it through to final qualifying and then could do no better than 8th in the race. Fans began to question whether Alonso and Ferrari was a good match after all with claims that Alonso was cracking under the pressure of driving for the Italian team. However, Ferrari remained calm and realised the need to improve quickly.
The improved package
The Ferrari was much more competitive around the streets of Monaco and Alonso looked set to challenge for victory once more until he crashed in practice. This destroyed his chassis and ultimately his weekend. Canada saw Alonso and Ferrari back on the podium, but Alonso was passed easily by both Mclaren’s during the race which highlighted the need for further upgrades.
These improvements came in time for the European grand prix in Valencia with a new blown diffuser which emulated that on the pace setting Red Bull. Unfortunately Valencia and Silverstone proved to be equally as unfortunate for Alonso as earlier rounds of the championship, with the safety car ruining his strategy and robbing him of a podium in Valencia and an incident with Kubica doing the same in Silverstone. This left Alonso well adrift of the championship leading Red Bull’s and Mclaren’s and many wrote off his chances of the championship. However, Alonso vowed to fight back and Ferrari was about to unlock the potential of the improvements made to its car in Valencia.
While at Mclaren, Alonso’s argued that the team should give him preferential treatment over team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Alonso believed that this would allow them to focus on one driver and therefore give them a better chance of winning the championship. Hamilton and Alonso eventually finished one point adrift of Raikkonen in the championship and relations between Alonso and the Mclaren team destabilised.
Ferrari had given Raikkonen and Massa equal treatment during their time as team-mates but felt that they had missed the leadership qualities of Michael Schumacher. Alonso was capable of providing this, but in order to extract full benefit the team would have to adopt Alonso’s mindset and give him preferential treatment over Massa. The team finally bowed down to Alonso’s will in Germany when the Spaniard complained over the radio that Massa was holding him up as cars dominated the race in first and second positions. Massa received team instructions to move over and allow Alonso through to win the race for the sake of the championship. It is unclear if relations between Massa and Ferrari will ever recover, however it cemented Alonso’s position as team leader. Alonso also proved at Renault that he requires the maximum possible support of his team to feel comfortable, and Ferrari finally proved that they were willing to provide this. What followed were some of the greatest drives of Alonso’s career.
The closing stages
Alonso set out to achieve the maximum result possible from the car in each of the final eight races in order to give him the best possible chance of stealing the championship from the Red Bulls. Over the next seven races, a messy weekend in Belgium aside, Alonso achieved this scoring three victories, six podiums and 120 points to amazingly take the championship lead from the Red Bulls with just one race remaining. This included a stunning win in front of Ferrari’s home fans in Monza, a brilliant lights to flag victory in Singapore despite massive pressure from Vettel and a controlled win in Korea. This unbelievable comeback left Alonso eight points clear of Webber, fifteen ahead of Vettel and twenty-four ahead of arch-rival Hamilton as the circus headed to Abu Dhabi.
The finish line
For what ever reason the Ferrari just wasn’t quick in Abu Dhabi, but Alonso had to finish ahead of Webber and in at least fourth place to deny Vettel of victory, with Lewis Hamilton’s championship challenge all but over. Alonso’s qualifying lap was breathtaking as he dragged the Ferrari into the championship winning position of third. However, a poor start saw him drop to fourth behind Button. Despite this he was still set for the title and just had to hold Webber behind him who was fifth. Webber pitted early due to tyre wear problems and Ferrari decided to follow suite in order to ensure that the Australian didn’t get ahead of them in the pit stops. It proved to be Ferrari’s downfall as Alonso and Webber got stuck behind Vitaly Petrov who had made his pit stop during the early safety car period caused by Michael Schumacher, and therefore didn’t need to pit again. The time the pair lost behind the Russian more than compensated for the time they would have lost on worn tyres. This lost Alonso further positions to Rosberg and Kubica and he eventually finished seventh. Alonso therefore lost the championship by four points to Vettel despite an inspired fight back which started at the controversial German grand prix, when Alonso finally realised that he had Ferrari’s complete support.
2011 and beyond
Alonso and Ferrari should be an even stronger force in 2011. Alonso now knows the team and the car well and following Germany he knows that he has got what he always craved at Mclaren in being considered the teams number one. This could be the beginning of another ultra-successful period of Ferrari history led by the charismatic bull-fighter Fernando Alonso. 2011 will be fascinating.