Melbourne, 18 March –At last, a start that lived up to expectations. After some less than favourable debuts at the Australian Grand Prix, a second place for Fernando Alonso and a fourth for Felipe Massa means this championship has got off to a positive start, even if the season looks like being more closely contested than ever.
It was a very intense weekend for everyone, including the engineers, mechanics and drivers, with the chaos caused by the rain, and the long time spent waiting in the pits, before the stewards made the right decision, the only one they could have taken, to postpone qualifying to Sunday morning prior to the race. A cool head was called for, firstly on Saturday to deal with the hostile weather and the very difficult track conditions in the first part of qualifying and then on Sunday, when once again, the team was faced with the task of making the right tyre choices for Q2 and Q3 on a track that was constantly changing. Then in the race came the need to manage the traffic, the tyre degradation, the strategy and the many pit stops, which all went to make the first Grand Prix of the year extremely absorbing.
The final outcome for the Prancing Horse, after a chaotic weekend in which it was easy to make mistakes, was definitely positive. The race pace demonstrated by the F138 is encouraging and the car has confirmed it is competitive, with both drivers contributing to getting the team to head the Constructors’ classification, for what that’s worth after just one race. However, the qualifying performance is still something of an unknown, given that the weather did not allow for an accurate assessment and the gap between the top teams is yet to be deciphered precisely. The team has its feet firmly on the ground, aware that it’s going to take plenty more effort to be the most competitive.
Once again this year it seems that race strategy and tyre performance will be decisive factors. On a tricky circuit like the one in Melbourne, where some traffic related issues affected Fernando’s and Felipe’s race, the decision to bring forward the pit stop and the choice of going for three stops was the right decision, especially when it came to getting ahead of the cars that started outside the top ten and were therefore running the harder tyre and had got ahead of the Ferraris. When it came to the pit stops, the Prancing Horse mechanics and drivers carried on with the same great performance level they had shown in 2012, with an average pit stop time of under 2.5 seconds for the six stops in total.
Fernando and Felipe did not have an easy time of it at the start: running in every conceivable type of track condition, they always kept a clear head. Both men ran attacking races at the most opportune moments, especially when tyre management could make the difference. Statistically, the Albert Park track has never been good to the Brazilian driver, but Felipe showed he has maintained the form he demonstrated in the second part of last season. For the umpteenth time Fernando produced a majestic performance, thus continuing an incredible run of good results at this circuit where he has always finished in the points, except for his very first time when driving a Minardi.
The next round is the Malaysian Grand Prix, held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and, after working into the early hours last night, to pack away all the equipment, a large number of the team are already on their way there. Other personnel will leave tonight and tomorrow morning, while back home in Maranello everyone continues to work flat out on the development of the F138.