Thursday 23 November 2017

Omens of history may offer Alonso and Ferrari hope

Taking on Red Bull is a big ask but one the Spaniard can handle, writes David Kennedy

Seventy years ago, Silverstone Circuit was a Royal Air Force bomber station during World War Two. Up the road in Bletchley Park in July 1941, computer scientist Alan Turing was cracking the Enigma code, the cypher which was the backbone of German military and intelligence communications.

The odds of deciphering the code were 150 million million million to one. Churchill said this feat shortened the war by a couple of years. In later years Turing took his own life with a bite from a cyanide-filled apple. It may be apocryphal, but it is said that the iconic Apple computer logo was designed as a tribute to Turing.

It wouldn't need a brilliant mathematician to work out the permutations for the likely winner of this season's world championship as the German Sebastian Vettel romps home to what looks like a second title. Cracking the code for beating Red Bull is another matter and it has the opposition scratching their heads for clues to how to win a war that is notching up increasingly impossible odds.

Maybe history can shine a light on who can step up to the plate. Sixty years ago, in July 1951, Ferrari scored their first grand prix win at Silverstone with Argentinian Jose Froilan Gonzales. Last weekend, Ferrari bookended that anniversary with another victory by Fernando Alonso.

To celebrate the original win, Alonso took the wheel of the 60-year-old Ferrari 375 grand prix race-winning car, which is now owned by Bernie Ecclestone. While the Spaniard negotiated the twists of the new-look Silverstone, he won't have failed to understand the symbolism.

As he sawed away at the giant steering wheel trying to maintain safe forward momentum in an ancient vehicle producing 450bhp and sporting tyres half the width of a Fiat 500, Alonso will have known just what was at stake when the burly Argentinian -- who was known as the "Pampas Bull" -- raced to Ferrari's first world championship success all those years ago. Gonzales, now 88, was simultaneously honoured in Buenos Aires.

That first win for Enzo Ferrari was a dichotomy when he beat his former team Alfa Romeo. He declared afterwards: "I cried for joy. But my tears of enthusiasm were mixed with those of sorrow because I thought, today I have killed my mother."

Heading to Silverstone last weekend Alonso ratcheted up the pressure on his crew and his rivals by stating that Ferrari had to win to keep the tifosi's 2011 title dream alive.

The comment, and the performance that followed, couldn't have been better timed. As the hitherto unstoppable Red Bull squad fumbled a pit stop and became embroiled in an unseemly internecine team orders row, Alonso made the most of Ferrari's new-found competitiveness to emulate Gonzales' achievement thus chipping seven points off Vettel's lead and giving his hard-working team the fillip they need heading into the second half of championship.

It was a win that appeared to benefit from a pit lane faux pas by Red Bull which cost Vettel vital seconds and pushed the series leader out of the lead and back to third position behind Lewis Hamilton.

However, there is plenty of evidence, not least a fastest race lap by Alonso (.67 faster than Vettel's best), that Alonso was getting the measure of the world champion anyway and that he would have picked off the Red Bull well before the finish. Vettel himself acknowledged as much after the race.

In the meantime, of course, Red Bull have to quell the storms brewing around Mark Webber following the Aussie's unrepentant insubordination in the closing laps last Sunday. Team orders are no longer banned so Red Bull boss Christian Horner had no need to covertly ask Webber to hold station behind Vettel.

Webber caused more than a few Red Bull hearts to flutter by shaping to pass his younger but more accomplished team-mate, but the level of controversy was kept in check as the two finished without any contact or place changes.

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz surprised everyone by insisting early in the week that Webber would still be at the team next year and the Australian himself suggested that there's a great chance he'll stay with the Milton Keynes squad for a sixth consecutive season in 2012.

Of course Hamilton has openly visited the Red Bull motorhome to discuss possible future employment, but although he has every reason to want to race the best car and not wait for McLaren to play catch-up, he will be ever mindful of the doomed Alonso-Hamilton relationship at McLaren, knowing any team will always have trouble harnessing two supreme talents.

Looking ahead to the Nurburgring next weekend, Alonso and Ferrari will be boosted by Silverstone but anxious about the rules volte-face by the FIA that will see a return to the 'off throttle exhaust blowing' that the governing body tried in vain to outlaw permanently.

With all sorts of horror predictions from team bosses about engine reliability for the Mercedes and Renault-powered squads, the FIA relented and the teams are free to run as before -- a considerable relief to Vettel and Webber.

Memories are fresh of Ferrari's pit wall decision to move Felipe Massa aside to make way for Alonso to win in the Eifel mountains last year, which cost them $100,000 in fines and led directly to a rule change in favour of team orders.

A similar one-two finish on Sunday would be just what the Scuderia ordered and Alonso might also like the omens from 1951 when, after finally breaking their duck at Silverstone, Ferrari won again next time out in the Nurburgring with Alberto Ascari.

Meanwhile in Gp3, Status Grand Prix emerged from a hectic Silverstone weekend with the lead of the drivers' championship thanks to Alexander Sims. There have been eight different winners from eight races in this F1 support series so no one could accuse GP3 of being predictable.

Whether watching it on Eurosport or live, it is reminiscent of great Formula Ford races, nose-to-tail racing, slipstreaming, dicing, duelling from start to finish.

As usual, a double-header awaits in Germany where a fragile lead may be extended or severed. It's a different sort of battle in a warfare where the weapons are horsepower and history has yet to be written.

Sunday Indo Sport

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