Alonso fights to the end in another flawed Ferrari

2012 F1 season review

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“I think Ferrari has been the best in terms of reliability, perfect strategy in the pits and the pit stops, and very good starts,” was the company president Luca di Montezemolo’s verdict on their season. “We need only a car for next year that put our drivers in condition to start more in front.”

There’s no disputing the F2012 was the weakest link in Ferrari’s offering this year. Nor that the team – particularly Fernando Alonso – gave a lesson in how to get the maximum out of what they had. But we should be wary of dealing in absolutes: the car was not irredeemable and the team’s performance, though of a very high standard, was not perfect.

At the beginning of February the covers came off a Ferrari which soon proved to be as competitive as it was attractive. Even Ferrari admitted their newest creation was not a beautiful car. But while it didn’t get any prettier, it did get quicker.

Ferrari team stats 2012

Best race result (number) 1 (3)
Best grid position (number) 1 (2)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 3 (0/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,273 (95.34%)
Laps led (% of total) 217 (18.2%)
Championship position (2011) 2 (3)
Championship points (2011) 400 (375)
Pit stop performance ranking 3

Ferrari began the year by belatedly followed Red Bull’s lead in adopting a pull-rod rear suspension assembly on their car. By also using it at the front they broke new ground – at least for a modern high-nosed car – but after the troubled season they had their rivals may be reluctant to copy it next year.

The F2012 was not without certain qualities. It was a good all-rounder, particularly capable in the wet, and it was very reliable. These merits all helped Alonso keep piling on the points.

However the team’s persistent problems with their wind tunnel meant development later in the season was not on a par with the front runners. By the final races they remained little quicker than Lotus, and unable to match Red Bull and McLaren’s qualifying pace.

It isn’t necessary to take Ferrari’s version of events at face value to see what a supremely impressive effort this season was from Alonso and the team. His damage limitation during the first four races when the car was at its worst was exemplary.

Of course his Malaysian Grand Prix win stands out, but his disciplined drive to fifth while under attack from Pastor Maldonado in Australia also impressed. This was one of the great examples of a driver carrying an uncompetitive car.

Ferrari had pushed for a single test session to be scheduled at the Mugello circuit well before they might have anticipated needing it. As it turned out the test gave them a chance to test a series of upgrades which greatly improved the F2012’s performance.

A significant step forward came at the next race in Spain and by Canada the team had one of 2012’s must-have upgrades on its car: a Coanda-effect exhaust. Alonso was in the hunt for a podium finish until the team took a gamble on their strategy which backfired.

Not everyone at Ferrari persisted with the view that the only thing they got wrong all year was producing an insufficiently competitive car. Technical director Pat Fry admitted the Montreal race was a missed opportunity: “Our decision to stay out and try and complete a one-stop in Canada, with hindsight, that cost us four or five points.

“You never have a perfect year and we always look back at every race: what we got right, what we got wrong, so we try and not make those mistakes again.”

When Ferrari do that tally they will probably come up with fewer areas for improvement than their rivals. Choosing to start on hard tyres at Silverstone cost Alonso and the team’s cautiousness in Monaco left points on the table.

They gave little away during the season through unreliability or problems in the pits. Among the exceptions were the fault that struck Alonso down during qualifying in Italy which may have cost him his only dry-weather pole position of the season. A fumbled pit stop in America fortunately did not cost him anything.

When it came to strategy and quick, consistent pit stops Red Bull were at least a match for them. McLaren, however, were outclassed by Ferrari in this respect were beaten by them to second in the constructors’ championship.

But as always Ferrari’s principal focus was Alonso’s position in the drivers’ championship. The need to improve Felipe Massa’s desperately poor performances in the first half of the season invariably viewed from the perspective of whether he might be able to help Alonso.

It was only late in the season that Massa was going well enough in the car to be of any use to his team mate. He quickly moved out of the way in Italy, had to be told to back off in Korea, and made way for Alonso again in Brazil.

But the decision to deliberately incur a gearbox change penalty on Massa’s car to improve Alonso’s starting position at the Circuit of the Americas showed a readiness to deliberately impair one car for the benefit of the other which went beyond merely pulling over and slowing down.

As cynical moves go it was not on a par with Singapore 2008 (different team, same beneficiary) but the degree of inventiveness involved and the eagerness to sacrifice one driver for another was reminiscent of it.

What is most disappointing about Ferrari and Alonso’s eagerness to employ such tactics is that he is the last driver on the grid who needs them. He drove a superb season – not perfect but as close to it as racing drivers ever get. His relentless consistency and minimal errors recalled the brilliant performance in 2006 which secured his second world championship. This was the third time since then he’s come within five points of a third title.

His victory in Valencia from 11th on the grid was one of the best drives of the year, demonstrating Alonso’s strengths in wheel-to-wheel battle and tyre preservation as well as his team’s sharpness in the pits.

Ferrari spent a while over the decision whether to retain Massa for 2013, eventually confirming they would after the Singapore Grand Prix. By this time his form had improved, and in the final two races he was quicker than Alonso. Whether this is a long-term return to form remains to be seen – he is certainly fortunate to still be racing for a team of this calibre after three years of worsening performances.

Ferrari can justifiably be proud of how much they achieved in 2012 and how close they came to championship success having begun the year with such an inferior package. Alonso’s performances in particular won him deserved praise. He remained in the hunt until the chequered flag fell in Brazil, and when it did there was no room for doubt he had given his all in pursuit of the championship.

A few days later the team decided to pursue a disingenuous petition to the FIA over Vettel’s driving in Brazil despite video evidence showing he had done nothing wrong. Their claim this was not motivated by a desire to change the outcome of the championship was insincere and unconvincing, and served only to sour the end of a season in which they had earned a lot of credit.

Ferrari drivers’ race results

Fernando Alonso 5 1 9 7 2 3 5 1 2 1 5 3 3 3 2 2 3 2
Felipe Massa 15 13 9 15 6 10 16 4 12 9 5 4 8 2 4 6 7 4 3

Ferrari drivers’ laps per position

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Fernando Alonso 216 136 247 178 128 63 35 52 23 6 8 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Felipe Massa 1 78 31 131 108 140 74 75 115 78 45 43 51 42 45 34 21 24 8 10 9 2 3 10

Over to you

What’s your verdict on Ferrari’s 2012 season? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “Alonso fights to the end in another flawed Ferrari”

  1. Those graphs are painfully accurate at describing how underperforming Massa has been this year.

    1. You beat me to that comment. It’s just sad really.

    2. …And how much he improved come late season.

  2. I think that afer 2 painful runner-up seasons, especially 2012, Alonso deserves a ultra-dominant car (a la RedBull 2011) for next year. His third title campaign should be a walk in the park.

    1. I think that he deserves a ultra-slow car because he took all the credit for the wins and threw all the guilt at his teams – especially at his engineers, as he said the car was so bad. So they should repay him with a ultra-slow car :)

      1. He did give the team credit when they improved the car ahead of the European season. :P

    2. I think Alonso deserves a car… a VW beetle should suffice. I kid ofcourse.

  3. Their claim this was not motivated by a desire to change the outcome of the championship was insincere and unconvincing, and served only to sour the end of a season in which they had earned a lot of credit.

    You base your statement on what Keith?

    1. P.S
      So when McLaren appeal it’s cool, when Ferrari seek for a clarification it’s sour grapes. Smells like double standards Keith.

      1. Agree! It’s a British blog… what can you expect? As long as Ferrari doesn’t win, everything is cool.

        1. Seriously? Yes there is perhaps a slight bias towards towards British teams and Drivers but this due to the fact that Keith tries to appeal to the largest national fan base of this Website (British). This happens in Business no matter where you look, even applied to supporting teams in F1. Marussia, Caterham and HRT combined probably did not get anywhere near the airtime one of the top Three teams alone did. Being mutually fair to all teams as a structure does not work in business, we all what to see news about our team, our nation but with a large feied and nationality base not everyone can be pleased. Keith tries his hardest to keep it as fair as he can but this one sentence for you has poisoned what most would say was a great journalistic season for Keith which is a very unfair conclusion to make. He is not the only journalist to make this judgement on Ferrari so picking him out as some sort of petty writer is unjust.

    2. As I said in this article, Vettel did nothing wrong and that much was clear from the video. Whereas, as I said in the article you’ve linked to, there may have been a case to answer five years ago – it’s not as if there was video footage we could all watch which showed that Williams and BMW’s fuel temperatures were legal.

      1. What’s the difference between what McLaren did in 2007 and Ferrari did in 2012? Just the fact that Ferrari happen to be the team F1fanatic loves to hate.

        1. Have You been on PlanetF1’s forum lately ? Ugh! Bile and Vitriol spring to mind!

      2. That’s why they asked for a clarification and not appealed the race results. In the next days after the race the Internet was full of videos from different angles and fierce debates wether the pass was legal or not. Ferrari have a huge fanbase and I’m prety sure they received thousands of messages asking for this matter so they needed to calm down the spirits. They knew they had no case so basicaly asked the FIA: “Just say everything’s legal so we can move on.” And this was actually beneficial for Vettel because it shedded any doubts and controversies that could remain if the situation wasn’t officialy cleared. So I return to my first question: what do you base on when claiming Ferrari were insincere?

        1. Clarification/appeal – same thing result wise. The Ferrari were insincere because of the comments they made afterwards. And because in 2007 they thaught it would be bad for F1 if the title was decided by penalties. In 2012 they seems to changed their minds. Funny stuff, isn’t it? XD

      3. If it was so clear from the video then why were the fans so convinced Vettel had done something wrong?

        Anyways, its the type of tabloid quality comment we’ve come to expect from this blog.

        1. @infy Because people see what they want to see. I’ve seen countless ‘fans’ around here wishing nothing but bad luck for Vettel, I’ve seen people outraged that he won the title. If you hand them a video like that one where some guy ‘explains’ his moves when he himself didn’t understand all the facts, then you’re oh so easily going to get these people to jump into it. Heck, there were dozens still convinced he overtook under yellows even after the FIA said there was no case to answer. Just because these guys didn’t understand it, doesn’t mean there was something to answer, as was the case, and the way Ferrari handled it’s press release indicates that they went to the media before going to the FIA, which is stuningly stupid.

          But now, F1F has “tabloid quality”? Seriously?

        2. If it was so clear from the video then why were the fans so convinced Vettel had done something wrong?

          Because the people you refer to, would have been convinced, no matter how many times they were proven wrong.

        3. It’s a disappointing comment from infy, a long time commenter.

          Personally, what I’ve noticed is the quality of the comments (probably including this one) has gone steadily downhill in the last 5 years on this blog – not the article content which has gone from strength to strength and is about as impartial as you can get from a formula 1 blog in my opinion.

          1. davidnotcoulthard
            20th December 2012, 12:26

            Which I believe is the result of increasing popularity. I might be wrong, but the website ESPNStar is owned by basically the only company to cover F1 in South East Asia, and the quality of the comments are, as I see it…….Windows Vista/ME-esque (Or, if you’ve heard of it in Linux/BSD/Unix, GNOME 3-esque in most of the eyes of the geekiest people to use a GUI in their PC). It’s just an opinion, though – and nobodyi should be forced to agree with me. Anyway, I still see the comments on this ebsite as being of the best quality – and they’re usually good enough to counter a “low-quality comment” – in it self a subjective term.

      4. I see nothing wrong with wanting clarification. It turned out later that Vettel was right all along and nothing happened. Its not that Ferrari expected them to find that Vettel did nothing wrong and still change the results, they understand ofcause that only if something was found that was cheating something would happen.

  4. Wow, those graphs really do show up how consistent Alonso (and Ferrari) were this this season – in the 18 races he finished, he ended just two in a lower position than 5th, and spent just 11 laps outside point-scoring positions all season. Given how close the field was at times, that is remarkable.

    1. Fernando’s laps per position chart is quite remarkable and consistent for such a competitive season in the car he had. It does, however, shows that even though the Ferrari pace was poor in qualifying the car was always capable of holding position or moving forward during a race.

  5. “We need only a car for next year that put our drivers in condition to start more in front.”_ LdM

    Well Luca, if you want to be at the front you should be prepared for reliability issues as it seems no F1 team could produce a fast and reliable cars these days. There seems to be always a trade-off. I remember Ferrari and Massa in 2008 Silverstone race and suddenly this past season they looked unbeatable in the wet. In the opposite direction was the MP-4/27 which was so bad in the wet unlike its predecessors that made LH look like a “rain master”.

  6. The 2012 season basically showed all of the teams that at times, giving the full support to a top driver does have its benefits, and when the driver responds in kind, and in turn inspires the team, a positive impact is felt by all, from the mechanics, team members and the fans.

    I’ve always been a Ferrari fan, and this is the year that I’ve felt completely ‘in’ the team. With Alonso showing controlled aggression at almost all of the races, that’s what makes bring part of the tifosi so great, when the driver you’re rooting for makes you feel your support is getting you somewhere. And with Massa picking up pace towards the end of the season, I can’t wait for the 2013 Melbourne Grand Prix. Hopefully the people at Maranello eke out the qualifying performance required to bring the fight straight to the top.

    1. Great comment, nice to hear about real feelings!

      For me, it’s a very close call between backing a no.1 driver and having both supported in order to take points off rivals. Personally, I think the Vettel/Webber combination is probably just about right.

      McLaren’s position of equality even when one driver is practically out of the championship is pretty silly in my opinion.

  7. The question is will they improve enough in 2013? I fear they have a lot of catch up to do before they think of beating the Red Bulls and McLarens on a regular basis.

    1. Well, they already beat McLaren this season. From Alonso’s latest interview about Ferrari’s need to push the rules to the limit, I expect them to show up with something analogous to Brawn’s DD otherwise they’ll have to play voodoo with Vettel’s alternator for another season.

      1. Ferrari didn’t ‘beat’ McLaren, they outscored them.

        McLaren’s season was basically their own undoing, as without the much-covered issues they’d have likely stormed both championships, given how competitive the car and the drivers were when they weren’t stationary.

  8. Laps led (% of total) 217 (18.2%)

    … and Alonso challenged for the title all year round?

    1. If a driver had finished 3rd in every race, never won and never led a single lap, he would have 300 points and be World Champion!

    2. Also the only two people to better that are Hamilton and Vettel i believe.

  9. Just saying, had Alonso finished Japanese GP, race results graph would have never intersected . Ohh Massa!

    1. Although, they would have done at the end were it not for team orders.

  10. So very very fine and balanced review, thank you Keith.

  11. I still can’t believe Alonso and Ferrari nearly managed to pull it off considering the pace the F2012 car had. Incredible.

    Mclaren on the other hand… the exact opposite.

    1. No, the exact opposite would have been McLaren 9th/10th. They [McLaren] had a lot of bad luck and failures, but they still managed to win more races than Ferrari and were only equalled by Red Bull.

      You can’t really compare consistency and performance stats this season, as both RBR and McLaren lacked the former when compared to Ferrari.

  12. From the graph I could see Massa lapped at every position through out 2012, right from 1st till 24th! Would be really interesting to find if any other driver did that?

    1. @nirupam: According to the other season review articles the only ones that have done so are Perez and Grosjean. I’m not sure about Webber and Vettel, but I don’t think they have lapped in every position.

      1. @sempregilles – I think as to complete a lap in 24th place you have to be the 24th car probably excludes Vettel, as in Abu Dhabi cars collided at turn 1 and in Brazil obviously Senna was eliminated so even without factoring in overtakes I think you may very well be correct.

        Webber again never completed a lap in last as of course Alonso was eliminated at turn 1 in Japan so the same applies there: Webber would’ve crossed the line in at least 23rd.

  13. Ferrari was not the best car during the season, but Alonso’s performance in title deciding race was not something three times world champion would be proud of, again.

  14. I have the simplest question: how do you technically know that the Ferrari is “flawed”. Who has acess to any technical data of the car? IMHO, the Ferrari deliberately tried to over-emphasize the car’s disabilities to make Alonso look the best. Besides, I never liked Alonso and I believe he won twice just by pure luck.

    1. I agree with you. This site and some the people of it seem hypocrital and double standards. Also the sriter of it when he praises alonso he or she writes something bad about him twice the amount he praises. Why he didn’t write anything about hamilton and the way he behave when he posted the telegraphy on his twitter account?

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