Alonso on top as F1 arms race ramps up
WHEN Valencia became the second Spanish city to be awarded a Grand Prix in 2007, the deal reflected the fact that Fernando Alonso was expected to become a long-term champion on the scale of Michael Schumacher.
Alonso has discovered a fly in his paella since then: a pesky little blighter named Lewis Hamilton.
Over the past three seasons, the Spaniard has won only three races to Hamilton's nine. But on the evidence of yesterday's free practice, in which Alonso's Ferrari outpaced both the McLarens and the Red Bulls, this could be the weekend when the European Grand Prix comes home.
If Alonso can pull it off, Valencia will forget about the World Cup for an hour or two, at least. The crowds along the waterfront, where fans have been climbing on to the top of office blocks for a peek at the street circuit, will probably break into a flamenco festival.
But a successful weekend for Alonso would also cause dark mutterings around the paddock. Some of Ferrari's rivals -- notably Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner -- are not happy with the way the Scuderia used the pretext of a media day to sneak in an extra testing session before this race.
This was a canny move -- if, arguably, an underhand one -- as the build-up to Valencia has been unusually busy for Formula One's tech-heads.
Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault have all introduced versions of Red Bull's pioneering exhaust system, which diverts 1,000-degree gases downwards on to the back wheels. The side-effects of this technology could be disastrous for the cars' rear suspension components, but Ferrari's engineers were able to gain a sneak preview by exploiting a loophole in F1's regulations.
Although in-season testing has been banned since 2009, drivers are still allowed to go out in their cars if they are involved in a "promotional event" like the one at Fiorano eight days ago.
"Ferrari managed to sneak a filming-day test in last week, which is a bit naughty," Horner said. "It was, arguably, within the letter of the laws, but not within the spirit."
Plagiarism is a way of life in F1; by this stage of the season, the teams are ripping off each other's ideas in a desperate attempt to gain time.
Red Bull spent yesterday experimenting with a version of McLaren's 'F-Duct' system, which improves top speeds on long straights, so they can hardly claim to be any different. But Horner's real objection relates to the feedback data that the Scuderia's engineers would have picked up.
"They've probably learnt a bit," said Horner of Ferrari's new exhaust. "I'm sure there will be a lively debate at the next team principals' meeting. It's something that needs to be tidied up, because it's effectively a gentlemen's agreement. It should be respected."
With eight races gone, and 11 to go, F1's arms race is accelerating fast. This is often the time when McLaren -- a team with a reputation for late surges -- make a decisive move. It will not happen in Valencia, though, as they are one of the few outfits who are not bolting new gizmos and gadgets to the car this week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)