“The signs from today are positive, as we were quick in both the morning and afternoon and the car seems to be well balanced on light and heavy fuel loads. But it is always premature to try and draw conclusions on a Friday when everything seems to be going well, because in the past we have seen how our competitors can take off in qualifying. We have a great deal of data to analyse this evening, especially because the rain in the morning meant we had to squeeze almost all our planned programme into the second session when it was dry. The feeling is definitely good and even though we are aware it won’t be easy, we are sure we can fight it out with the best. I don’t expect any great surprises compared to Bahrain and I think the top group is now defined, with Red Bull, Mercedes, ourselves and Lotus, although we need to see how much McLaren manages to improve, while also keeping an eye on Force India, who have been very strong in qualifying and the race”.
No prizes for guessing that Fernando Alonso was called to this afternoon’s FIA Press Conference at the Catalunya Circuit, in the build up to his home race. The Ferrari man went from laconic to loquacious as he faced the media and the overall vibe he gave out was a positive one.
“I think it motivates you to race at home and you find an extra 10% in everything you do, in every detail of the weekend, starting with tomorrow’s practice,” began Fernando. “You try and do everything well, because you know a nice podium finish makes you happy, the team happy and many people in the grandstand happy. It’s a special weekend and after all these years here, it is more motivation than pressure. I want to make everyone enjoy Sunday afternoon.”
Alonso was asked for a comment on the fact that only two winners in twenty two Spanish Grands Prix have not started from the front row. “This year, we have seen that race pace and tyres are the key factors, more so than previously,” he explained. “Obviously it’s good to start from the front, because you know your chances are high and you can almost touch the podium if you qualify on the front row. We need to have a normal weekend, finding the right balance between qualifying and the race. But, the first really important qualifying will come in two weeks time in Monaco, when we know it is extremely important.”
As to his hopes for the weekend, Fernando is optimistic and he outlined the reasons why: “last year we were 1.5 seconds behind the others and thanks to the weather and luck we won in Malaysia. But this year, we finished second in Australia and we won in China, because we have a very different package. This gives us optimism and confidence that we can have a good championship, if we deliver consistent results. We are some points behind at the moment, but it’s a long championship and we have seen many examples of people fighting back: last year, Sebastian was 43 points behind us after the summer break and arrived in Austin leading the classification, so in five or six races you can recover 45 to 50 points if you get some consistent results. This year is the first time I have arrived here with a competitive car but we still need to do everything right and put together a good weekend if we want to fight for the top places. We will also need to see how the car responds to some new parts we have here. But we can say we are approaching this weekend with a positive mentality, not a defensive one like we did in my first years with Ferrari.”
Pirelli has altered the characteristics of the Hard tyre which will be the Prime this weekend and Fernando seemed relaxed about dealing with a further unknown. “We will try it for the first time tomorrow and learn something and we will know more after the race, but I don’t think the new tyre will benefit one team more than another,” he said.
Finally, it was time to switch from F1 to Football and the recent European semi-finals, which saw both Spanish teams go out of the competition. “It was sad for the two Spanish teams, especially for Real which is my team, even if they played better in Madrid than in Germany, but there was too much to make up after the first game,” said Fernando. “I think the final will be a close game.” As both these defeats came at the hand of German teams, and Vettel was sitting on the Ferrari man’s right in the press conference, the man from Oviedo was asked to assess Spanish-German sporting relations! “We don’t have too many games together, apart from this week’s semi-finals. In other sports, we don’t play much together, because the sports at which we are good, like tennis and basketball, the Germans are not so good and the sports they are good at, skiing for example, there are no Spanish competitors,” was Fernando’s assessment, before adding with a hint of irony, “in Formula 1 we are always a minority because there are four or five German drivers but I’m happy if the Germans keep winning at football!
Maranello, 30 April – For a long time Spain’s motor racing tradition was primarily on two wheels. Still today the Iberian Peninsula is one of the most fertile lands for motorcycle racing but in the last 25 years the performances of two drivers have led to a boom in interest in four-wheeled sport: Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso. Both are double world champions – Sainz in the WRC and Alonso in Formula 1 – but Fernando still aims to add to his haul.
The Spanish Grand Prix first entered the Formula 1 calendar in 1951, and since 1991 it has been held at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. From the 22 races that have taken place on this track, Scuderia Ferrari has seven victories – the last in 2007, the year in which Kimi Raikkonen took the world championship. That is a very strong tradition, but what has made the Spanish round really special for the whole Scuderia has been the arrival of Fernando Alonso at the team. In the last ten years the annual visit to this track has become an amazing event, mostly due to the passion of Fernando’s fans, who have transformed the grand prix into a real party. It could be no different given that the Spanish driver continues to cement his status as the national figurehead in motor racing. The big turnout of fans packing out the circuit’s grandstands from the start of free practice on Friday shows the huge passion, leading to a sea of hundreds of Spanish and Asturian flags for the whole weekend.
Alonso’s home race has always been rewarding and touching but at the same time it is very demanding. That is a mix of emotions that Fernando experienced for the first time in 2001 at his first Spanish Grand Prix. He finished his weekend with 13th place at the wheel of his Minardi – and it’s been uphill ever since. Of his 11 appearances, the 2006 victory stands out: a success he took in front of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos. In total Fernando has reached the podium six times and, in his three races for Ferrari, his record stands at two podiums and a fifth place.
“The wins at Barcelona in 2006, Monza in 2010 and Valencia last year are unquestionably the races that have given me the best emotions of my career,” said Fernando. “The warmth of the fans and the feeling you get when you race in Spain are always special, from the moment you arrive at the airport and you head to the hotel and the circuit. From the first laps on the track on Friday and Saturday morning you can immediately feel the passion of the fans in the grandstands and that sparks off extra motivation because you want to do that little bit extra to make sure they can celebrate. That’s how the search begins for that elusive tenth of a second of performance that you are always seeking when you’re in a Formula 1 car.”
Felipe Massa also has a good record at this track. The Brazilian driver took pole position and victory at the wheel of the Ferrari in 2007. Felipe also made it to the Circuit de Catalunya podium the following year, finishing second behind his team-mate Raikkonen in the last of the four one-twos the Scuderia has secured in the Spanish Grand Prix.
“I really like going to Spain,” said Felipe. “I’ve always liked both the feel of Barcelona itself and the atmosphere at the track during the race weekend. The Circuit de Catalunya is the track that we know best thanks to all the tests that we do there at the start of the year: it’s a complex, technical track where it’s important to have good aerodynamic downforce. My best memory from Barcelona came in 2007 when I won the race: it was a great victory in front of a fantastic crowd that saw me fight with many opponents – including Fernando, who was then at McLaren. Obviously I’m not happy with my last race in Bahrain and so I hope to be able to get back to fighting for the top places this weekend.”
In the 2013 championship the Barcelona round will be the only one on Spanish territory – by contrast with the last five seasons when the Formula 1 World Championship had a second race in the country, the European Grand Prix at the Valencia street circuit. Interestingly the first and the last editions of that race were won by the current Ferrari duo: Felipe in 2008 and Fernando last year after he pulled off an outstanding and unforgettable climb through the field.
Fernando Alonso: “We definitely didn’t have much luck today and that’s a real shame, at the end of what had been such a positive weekend for me and Felipe up until this afternoon. We had been competitive in free practice and qualifying and we were both expecting to have a good race. After the opening laps, when I thought the rear tyres had gone off, the pit wall informed that the DRS was stuck. It wasn’t fixed properly at the first stop and so I had to come in for another one. From then on, the clear instruction from the pit wall not to use it affected my race. I tried to recover but it was really difficult finding places to overtake without DRS. When you are far back, in the middle of a group, tyre degradation is even harder to manage. I am sure that without the problems me and Felipe had, we would have finished higher up, because the car responds very well and it is definitely our best of the last four years. But having a good race involves a lot of factors, including a bit of luck. Let’s hope it balances out very soon, maybe even starting in Barcelona, my home race. There, it will be even more important to have a good qualifying, because it’s not easy to overtake on that track and so starting from the front is vital”.
Fernando Alonso: “It’s really good news that once again we managed to do well in qualifying, which is our Achilles Heel! This is now the third time this year that we end up in the top three and, even if usually Sunday goes better thanks to our race pace, I am really pleased to see our potential already maximized on Saturday. The data seen from Friday’s long runs means we can be optimistic about a race in which our main adversaries are represented by Vettel and the Red Bull in front and the Lotuses which might be behind us on the grid, but they will definitely be in the game”.
“Because of the penalties for Hamilton and Webber, Felipe will start from fourth: I think it’s much better that I find myself alongside my team-mate’s Ferrari than Lewis’ Mercedes! We won’t discover which is the best strategy until tomorrow and it’s impossible to make predictions. But I think the best tyre for the race will be the hard and that could work in our favour, given it’s the one we have been most comfortable on all weekend”.