Now that the 2012 Formula One season has concluded it’s time to reflect and analyse the successes and failures of the drivers and their respective teams. In the third part of the review, it’s the turn of the team of Scuderia Ferrari and its drivers, double world champion Fernando Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa.
The story of Ferrari’s 2012 season is ostensibly very simple. The technical department created a car which was very poor – being over one second slower than the pace-setting McLarens in pre-season testing – fixed the worst bits of it quickly and then Fernando Alonso dragged and hustled it to wins and podiums where it had no right to be even within sniffing distance of such glory.
In the four-part fly-away start to the season the Ferrari F2012 was a nightmare, Alonso even ending up ditching his in the gravel trap in qualifying for the Australian GP. His tempestuous reaction to an assisting marshal showed signs that he was braced for a tough, slog of a season.
In reality though, that heroic struggle by the Spanish matador was only partly true. Indeed his car was on average slower than the Red Bulls, one of which was driven by his title nemesis Sebastian Vettel, especially at the later part of the season and he did perform on the level of the great drivers all throughout the year. But it wasn’t mythical. The reasons can be explained.
The F2012 had some very nice qualities. It had good slow-corner traction, allowing Alonso to use his prowess at simultaneously braking and turning to the maximum and had stable high-speed aerodynamics.
It was also immune to temperature changes – where the Lotus could soar in blazing heat such as Bahrain but struggled at cooler tracks like Shanghai, and the Mercedes at first loved the cooler conditions but overburdened its rear tyres as soon as the track got hot – the Ferrari was great across the whole spectrum of climates.
Another significant quality of the F2012 was its highly effective DRS system which meant the Ferrari’s top speed was often at the very top of the speed trap rankings.
This was a benefit to Alonso and in most races allowed him to progress up the grid after his often poor starting grid position caused ironically by the effectiveness of the DRS system itself. This is because the car responded so well to the DRS flap opening, that in qualifying where DRS use is unlimited, the car suffered from poor stability as the air struggled to reattach to the rear end.
This lack of stability was not to be found in the soaking conditions of the Malaysian GP, a race where DRS use was banned. At this race, Alonso conjured a masterpiece of a wet-weather win, taking full advantage of the superb stability of his Ferrari.
A great, measured, controlling win was taken by Alonso at Hockenheim and a charging and forceful 11-to-1 win at home at the European GP.
From these glorious peaks, the Ferrari drifted away from the pace of the Red Bulls and McLarens and Alonso struggled ever harder to cling onto his diminishing championship lead.
It was the Japanese GP though that was responsible for the season’s biggest case of what-if, in Alonso’s only major mistake all year, as he cut across in front of Kimi Raikkonen and was punted out at the first corner. As his team mate Massa finished second, Alonso, who lost the title by three points after 20 races, blew a probable 18 points.