Formula One half-time report 2012: Ferrari

Remember when, some years ago, some ancestor of Mars Curiosity suffered some catastrophic brake failure during its landing phase? A long enquiry at NASA came to a terrible conclusion and what one assumes was the face palm to end all face palms: the numbers had been entered in the wrong format. The probe was thinking in kilometres, the data was in space-miles. Doh!

A similar thing apparently happened at Ferrari many years ago when the team discovered the data it was putting in to its wind tunnel was in different units to the data is was getting out. It wrecked that season and fed us all the dummy that Ferrari, despite the history, the myth, the talent, the success and the money, could still get it wrong. One wonders whether, after a disappointing pre-season test and a frankly scary debut for this year’s F2012 car, Ferrari was more than happy for us all to believe that. It certainly wasted no time propagating the story that this year’s car was a disaster.

Well, it clearly it wasn’t, and clearly isn’t. Not entirely. Fernando Alonso is the man Red Bull or McLaren will need to beat if one of their drivers are to win the 2012 World Championship. How that’s happened is why we are giving Ferrari an ‘A Plus’ here.

In terms of showing the Right Stuff, which in F1 terms and especially this year, means not wasting a single Lira on making the car go faster (okay, Euro, but we’re trying to future-proof this), Ferrari has not been beaten. F1 engineers need a stable base from which to work. That is, they need to know not only what works but also why it works and this year, with four temperamental little divas keeping the car in contact with the track, that’s proved just about impossible. Even for those teams who started the season with a fast car. That’s you McLaren (we’ll come to that tomorrow).

The Ferrari was well over a second slower than the McLaren in Australia and might not be much faster than that now, but in the races in between, Ferrari dialled out as much of the bad stuff as it possibly could and Fernando Alonso did the rest. Make no mistake, the ‘A Plus’ is for the number five car. Felipe Massa has had, it’s fair to say, rather less impact.

Alonso’s performances this year have been nothing short of extraordinary. In fact, it now seems extraordinary that we began to forget just how exceptional the man was, and is. Maturity has made Alonso a nicer bloke, too. Hell, even he and Lewis Hamilton are best buddies now. He’s pragmatic and phlegmatic and also the best F1 driver on Twitter and Instagram (tune in to @alo_ofical for tweets about leaving his Mum’s fish stew on the stove or holiday pics with the kind of holiday companions an F1 driver should have).

When the heavens opened in Malaysia he made the best of what was still a wildly underperforming car, but his wins in Valencia and Germany were particularly mighty (Valencia admittedly benefitting from a dodgy batch of alternators at Red Bull and Lotus). But that’s been half of Alonso’s genius this year; if you are always, always, on it, you’ll take the win when the chance is there, and still reap a decent harvest of points (164 to date), when it’s not.

If Massa had been any good, the drivers chasing Alonso (Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen) would be even further behind (and Webber is 40 points adrift). Then again, if Red Bull and McLaren had such an obvious number two on the payroll things could be even worse.

The F2012 might or might not be any good, but it is reliable. It could be that Fernando Alonso might already have this one wrapped up and that, Sunday Afternooners, is an astonishing achievement. Let’s make it an ‘A Plus Plus’.

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