Spanish GP preview: Fernando’s time to shine?

AlonsoWhile Formula One has already provided plenty to talk about in 2011, the big shock of the season so far has been the under-performance of Ferrari, specifically Fernando Alonso’s struggle to get points on the board during the first three races.

But after a strong showing from the Italian team in Turkey, it seems we’ve got a glimmer of a title fight on our hands. And, following news this week that Alonso has pledged his future to the team, expect Ferrari (who, by this point have probably forgotten that Felipe Massa even exists) to give the Spaniard all the preferential treatment he needs to get him back to winning ways. Alonso, it seems, could be Ferrari’s new Schumacher.

The similarities between the two men’s careers so far are certainly striking. Both won back-to-back titles in their fourth and fifth years in the sport – Schumacher with Benetton, Alonso with Renault, the team it morphed into. Then, after four frustrating seasons in which they narrowly missed out on a third title (Schumacher to Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen, Alonso to Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel), both find themselves firmly ensconced at Ferrari. Schumacher of course went on to dominate the sport for the next five years – which is, curiously enough, the same length of time Alonso has just committed to the Italian team after signing a new contract earlier this week. So, if the parallels continue, could we be in for an era of Alonso dominance?

If we are, it’ll certainly be a much tougher fight. During their untouchable years, Schumacher and Ferrari enjoyed the clear benefit of having the fastest car on the grid – an advantage that now undeniably belongs to Red Bull. And then there’s Sebastian Vettel, the man who’s dominated every qualifying session of the year so far, who looks after those quick-wearing Pirellis better than anyone else and who himself has been constantly compared to Schumacher, with the German press going as far as branding him ‘Mini-Schumi’.

Still, with Ferrari’s 150° Italia looking like a new car last time out in Turkey, we reckon Alonso’s home GP could be the turning point of his season, and a key moment in his  mission to emulate Schumacher. He may have only won the race once, but that’s still once more than Vettel, who admittedly did well to roll his Red Bull home in third after suffering brake problems in 2010.

What do you lot think? Has Vettel got a second title in the bag already, or can Alonso channel the spirit of Schumi and usher in a new period of Ferrari dominance? Or could there be more surprises to come from McLaren? While you ponder, here are our predictions for qualifying:

1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Mark Webber
4. Lewis Hamilton
5. Nico Rosberg
6. Jenson Button
7. Felipe Massa
8. Michael Schumacher
9. Vitaly Petrov
10. Rubens Barrichello

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