2012's big stories: Ferrari's resurgence

Over Christmas and New Year AUTOSPORT will be revisiting some of the biggest stories of the 2012 motorsport season and our coverage of them, starting with Ferrari's miracle title bid...

It was not just for 20th anniversary nostalgia that AUTOSPORT ran a retro feature on Ferrari's disastrous 1992 car in the build-up to the new Formula 1 season.

As Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa wrestled the uncooperative F2012 around the winter testing venues, it seemed as if 2012 would bring little but pain for a team under huge pressure to make up for previous season's near-misses and underperformance.

At that stage not even the most ardent Ferrari fan would have expected Alonso to reach the summer break sat on a 40-point championship lead, or to miss out on the title by just three points. This would prove to be one of the most remarkable season-long performances in F1 history.

Early strife

Although matters improved over the course of the three tests, Ferrari still headed to Melbourne admitting that podium finishes were out of reach.

And in straightforward dry conditions, that was the state of affairs in the early rounds.

Alonso's Malaysian Grand Prix win was a glorious exception, and briefly gave him the championship lead, but was clearly down to his mastery of the wet rather than the car's pace.

By the post-Bahrain break, Alonso had drifted back to fifth in the standings and Ferrari's average qualifying position was 12th. This did not look good...

Jonathan Noble at Ferrari's pre-season camp

Dieter Rencken: Stefano Domenicali's last chance?

Ferrari defends 'ugly' design

Technical analysis: Ferrari F2012

Pat Fry: Ferrari still nearly a second off the pace

The miracle commences

Ferrari was optimistic an upgrade for Spain might do some good. It certainly did.

Alonso started second, and led much of the race before losing out to shock winner Pastor Maldonado.

It kicked off a sequence of six grands prix in which Alonso battled for victory. Still few thought that the Ferrari was truly a match for Red Bull, McLaren or even Lotus, but that did not stop Alonso winning (from 11th on the grid) in Valencia and taking pole in the rain at Silverstone and Hockenheim, converting the latter to another win.

All that translated to a 40-point cushion and title favourite status as F1 commenced its summer holiday.

David Coulthard on Alonso's heroics

Pat Fry interview: How Ferrari turned it around

Hockenheim analysis: Alonso becomes the man to beat

Under pressure

After Alonso's Valencia success, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo declared that the team should be 'worried' about rivals' pace rather than celebrating.

A difficult Hungarian GP caused more nerves, and going into the second half of the season Alonso was adamant that Ferrari was firmly the underdog.

When Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel started their dominant run, just as first-lap tangles at Spa and Suzuka erased Alonso's championship safety margin, di Montezemolo's words seemed very prescient.

Alonso: Ferrari "slowest" of top cars

Rivals say Alonso is no underdog

The Massa issue

One of Ferrari's problems was that for much of the season it was effectively a one-car team.

Rumours over Massa's future had been rife for years. With Ferrari protege Sergio Perez showing ever more spectacular form at Sauber and the gap between Alonso and Massa bigger than ever, a change for 2013 now seemed inevitable.

Yet Massa hung on. With alternatives like Mark Webber ruling themselves out and Ferrari adamant Perez was not ready, there were suggestions that he had 'lucked in'.

But his form improved too - outscored by Alonso by 131 points in the first half of the season, he only lost 25 points to his team-mate in the remaining grands prix and was arguably Ferrari's pacesetter by the concluding rounds.

Ferrari vows to protect Massa

Edd Straw: Ferrari's quest for the 62.4 per cent man

Tony Dodgins: Does Massa deserve another chance?

The samurai's last stand

The title fight appeared to be fizzling out once Vettel assumed the points lead. But no matter how long the odds, Alonso would not surrender.

He remained resolutely confident that he would win the title, and that he could outscore Vettel even when the Red Bull was far ahead on the grid. He took to Twitter to espouse samurai wisdom.

Delusion or a psychological tactic? Either way, it galvanised the team and the Tifosi.

Ultimately, it was not enough, but the championship outcome remained uncertain throughout the epic Interlagos finale and Alonso's margin of defeat was just three points.

The aftermath

Pundits and rivals alike were quick to praise Alonso, who reckoned his season had been near-flawless.

Vettel was not quite so keen on the lauding of his rival, talking darkly of 'dirty tricks' he and Red Bull had successfully resisted.

The undercurrent of the tributes to Alonso was that he wouldn't have had to be such a hero if Ferrari had delivered a competitive car.

Ferrari did not dispute this, and amid the determined rhetoric work got underway to ensure its star driver does not have to fight against the technical odds again...

Edd Straw: Alonso's 10 out of 10 season

Team bosses vote Alonso as best driver

AUTOSPORT writers' verdict on F1 2012