Ferrari’s dramatic U-turn on driver policy has created potential dynamite for 2014 – so how will they avoid an implosion and ensure this new superteam can deliver championship success?
The decision to pair Kimi Raikkonen with Fernando Alonso at Ferrari is as risky as it is exciting. Both drivers are far from tame, easy-going characters and both will be doing all they can to position themselves at the head of what is a highly political team.
Ferrari has been a one-driver team for years and has not had two top drivers since the paired Alain Prost with Nigel Mansell in 1990.
Back then, Mansell was the established team leader but Prost arrived as world champion and effectively took over that mantle. The relationship was tense from the start and the combination of blatant favouritism and Mansell’s paranoia led to a breakdown, most notably at the British Grand Prix when the Briton claims the team swapped his and Prost’s cars to give the Frenchman an advantage.
Ferrari, of course, is now a very different team, with the placid and tactful Stefano Domenicali at the helm – but even he will have his hands full as Alonso and Raikkonen go head-to-head.
They both started F1 in 2001 with low raking teams – Alonso with Minardi and Raikkonen with Sauber and for the most part they have taken the lead position in their respective teams.
Raikkonen was out-paced by David Coulthard when he first joined McLaren but then established himself as team leader. He made short work of Juan Pablo Montoya then joined Felipe Massa at Ferrari, where he immediately won the world title. In 2008, however, was out-performed by an on-form Massa and was trailing 22-10 prior to the Brazilian’s sidelining crash in Hungary. He had clearly lost his motivation and by the end of the season he was out of F1 until returning with Lotus last year.
Alonso, meanwhile, tested for a year with Renault before stepping up to the race team alongside Jarno Trulli in 2003. He matched the one-lap specialist in qualifying and out-scored him in races then beat Jacques Villeneuve when the world champion stepped in for three races. He then won two world titles, in 2005 and 2006, driving alongside Giancarlo Fisichella before pitching himself head-to-head against Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. The Briton was young, unflappable and, Alonso felt, favoured. On track they both scored 109 points but off track Hamilton won the war and Alonso cracked. He returned to Renault, beating team-mates Nelsinho Piquet and Romain Grosjean, then moved to Ferrari where he has been team leader alongside Massa ever since.
So both have shown mental fallibility against stronger team-mates, which makes next year’s balance of power very interesting indeed.
So what areas can Raikkonen, Alonso and Ferrari work on to make things work?
Alonso and the team have had some very public disagreements in recent months in a tit-for-tat war of words, and that doesn’t bode well.
Internal politics has always been at the heart of any Ferrari breakdown and in decades gone by potentially strong line-ups have been destroyed by tension running through the team.
To make this new partnership work, there needs to be a stable political environment. Domenicali is as open as they come, but he needs to exert a firmer influence on the rest of the team.
It’s unrealistic to imagine the pair will work together very closely for the good of the team – you’ll never get that when you pair up two top drivers - but the relationship will have to be carefully managed because any intra-garage politics could make things quickly fall apart.
Ferrari is a very different team to the one that booted Raikkonen out back in 2009, but there are still plenty of team members who remember those negative days and bad memories are hard to erase.
Equally, there has been some bad blood between Alonso and the team this year, with some controversial comments from the Spaniard about the effort and talent of his team.
Both drivers will need to quickly demonstrate they are fully committed and show a positive attitude because in both cases there are already relationships to repair.
SHARE THE LOAD
Alonso and Massa built a strong off-track working relationship despite Massa’s enforced deferral on track. The pair are often seen together on PR duties, working together and each doing their bit.
Raikkonen, in contrast, has always shown a clear dislike for this part of the F1 role and part of his success at Lotus was down to the unique way they made the most of the minimum PR he was happy to do.
Ferrari is a far more focused global marketing machine, and although Alonso is their poster boy they will want Raikkonen to also do his bit on the promotional front. If he refuses, or does not commit at the level of Alonso, it could ruffle feathers.
When Raikkonen was dropped from his first stint at Ferrari the team claimed it was down in part to a lack of leadership. His replacement, Alonso, was expected to gel the team together in a similar way to Schumacher, but things have not really worked out that way.
Since their ‘Dream Team’ disbanded Ferrari’s technical success has not been on the level of Red Bull and they have occasionally lost the way completely. Instead of leading the team, Alonso has been left to drive to the limit to drag a non front-running car up to podiums and wins.
Raikkonen comes to Ferrari, you can only assume, on a level playing field with Alonso – so although Alonso has the ‘home’ advantage, the leadership position is there to be fought for.
The question now is who will emerge the natural leader.
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Alonso has worked hard to learn Italian and although his native Spanish makes it easier, his success is stark contrast to Raikkonen, who never worked on this during his first Ferrari stint and is unlikely to be booking into language lessons any time soon
English is usually the lead language in engineering meetings and communications in F1, but even so, Alonso has an advantage because he could have secret conversations with the team with Raikkonen oblivious.
He could use that to his advantage, and it is down to the team to make sure this does not occur.
DESIGN A GOOD CAR
Above all of these elements, however, the most crucial part of the partnership will already be set in stone well before Raikkonen and Alonso make their first appearance together.
The new regulations have given designers a clean sheet of paper for 2014, with new hybrid powerplants creating a very different challenge both in the engine arena and in terms of car packaging and aerodynamics.
If the new car fails to deliver, then even this superstar pairing will come to nothing - but if it does put them up front, that’s when the pressure will be on and the hardest work will begin...