There are so many aspects of this Singapore Grand Prix that are completely different to the other rounds of the championship and today, Scuderia Ferrari also jumbled up the usual order of things: instead of bringing in its two drivers to face the media one at a time, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa shared the floor together and were also joined by Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali. It was a genuine show of unity after the announcement that Felipe Massa will be replaced by Kimi Raikkonen from the start of next season.
The Finn is no stranger to the team, but for our Spanish driver, this will be a brand new relationship and Fernando was immediately asked how he found out about the change. “I was always informed about the team’s movements, even at a time when the decision had not yet been taken, he said. “However, once they decided not to keep Felipe, they asked me what I thought and I told them that in my opinion, Kimi was the best out there in the market, especially when next year’s championship will see many changes and will require a lot of car development work in January and February. I told the team it was important therefore to have a team-mate with a lot of Formula 1 experience and I am happy with the choice.”
Fernando saw only positives with the new pairing, brushing aside suggestions that two world champions in one team could make for a difficult working relationship. “My motivation will be the same, always doing my best and sometimes that will deliver the results expected of me and sometimes not, but I don’t believe any team-mate can push me more than I push myself,” he maintained. “Having two champions will make no difference. Even when I came here, people said that it would be a difficult relationship with Felipe who had been here for many years. After four years together, I can say he is one of the best friends I have here. Anyway, I consider Felipe like a world champion as well. Remember, he was a world champion when he crossed the line in 2008, so it’s not like he’s a rookie driver!”
Felipe has faced every question imaginable from the press over his years with Ferrari, but even he looked shocked when a journalist asked if he had really told a Brazilian TV company he would no longer help Fernando this year in his bid for the title. “I don’t help Fernando, I don’t help Ferrari, I don’t help anyone, I just help myself!” he exclaimed, finding it hard not to join in the laughter that came from the audience. Back in the real world, he outlined his short term aims: “I plan to do the best I can for the last seven races, coming at the end of what has been a fantastic and very long career with Ferrari. This team is part of my history, where I have spent the majority of my career, including eight years as a race driver and others as a young driver. In 2003 I lived mostly within the team and I know everyone and have many friends, so I will be trying the hardest for the rest of this year and would love to leave with at least one more win. As for Fernando and Kimi, they are both great drivers and I know both of them very well. With the two of them, Ferrari has a top quality driver pairing. They are very different in terms of personality, as am I, because we all have our own character and I hope it all works out well for both of them and the team.”
As for the long term, or at least 2014, the Brazilian reiterated that he would not be prepared to simply make up the numbers in Formula 1. “We are talking to some teams and we hope we can find the best direction for me and to find the best possible car,” he revealed. “I’ve said before I don’t want to be in Formula 1 just to be on the grid and part of the picture. I want to be fighting for the best possible results. I want to find the best opportunity to fight for wins, for the championship and for the best for me. I know I have a lot to give to a team.”
The final comments in today’s press conference came from the man tasked with ensuring that news on the driver front does not disrupt the Scuderia’s efforts over the rest of this year. Asked if having two former world champions in the team would represent a change of philosophy for the Scuderia, Domenicali explained why that was not the case. “I don’t think it’s a change of philosophy because I agree with Fernando’s comments about Felipe, in that all drivers who work for Ferrari know that the interests of the team are the priority,” he began. “It’s normal that each driver wants to do the best for himself, because it is in the nature of all drivers to want to beat everyone. That has been the way we have always operated and it will continue like this in the future.” Changing a driver is not like changing the front wing of a race car, it involves very human emotions and Domenicali admitted that the decision to replace Felipe had been tough. “It was very difficult, from the emotional point of view because I’ve known him since he was a little boy in shorts!” joked Domenicali. “I was 19,” interjected the Brazilian. “We grew up together, spending some intense moments both professionally and personally,” continued the Team Principal. And in this instance, I learned something from him, from the serenity with which he accepted the decision, something which is not so common in this world. Once again, he showed his true qualities as a human being.”