Today in Madonna di Campliglio the two Ferrari race drivers had their chance to talk to the media about their seasons in 2012 and their hopes for the future. Both flew in from Brazil where at the weekend they were both racing in Massa’s Desafio Internacional das Estrelas charity karting event. Neither did very well, although Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi won the event.
“It was a wonderful event,” Felipe said. “I didn’t go well, nor did Fernando, but we had a lot of fun.”
It is 11 years since the Brazilian made his F1 debut with Sauber. Now 31, he has won 11 of his 172 races and came so close to winning the title in 2008 that it was almost painful to watch. A few months later he was nearly killed by a piece of flying debris that put him out of racing for the second half of 2009. Since then he has returned but has struggled to be competitive against Fernando Alonso – and he has not won a race. He reckons that the Spaniard has been the toughest competitor he has had as a team-mate, but he is positive that he can still fight back.
“I want to return to winning,” he said. “I want to be competitive from the start and to be fighting for the championship.”
He says that the sudden improvement in the middle of last year was more because of changes within himself than changes with the car or the team.
“I just got better inside my brain,” he said. “It was a big change. It was about understanding that I could do it, even if 90 percent of the people did not think I could. It was about believing in myself and not having a good day and a bad day. I know that I can be a champion. That I can win races. I have changed my way of thinking and I am stronger and stronger.”
Massa expects that if the roles are reversed in the future that Alonso would support him, as he has supported Fernando.
Fernando did a fantastic championship in 2012,” he says. “We didn’t have the quickest car but he drove an incredible championship. I expect the same rivals as last year. I hope that we are in the top level and have a quick car from the start of the championship until the end.”
Alonso is also aiming for a World Championship with Ferrari. He has been with the team since 2010 and has been runner-up that year and again in 2012, but the ambition remains.
“Winning a title with Ferrari is the best thing that any driver could hope for,” he says. “It must be incredible to hold the world championship trophy wearing red. I am going to try to fight for that. It is nice to be voted the best driver of the year at the end of a season even if you don’t win. That helps to make up for the sacrifices and dedication but the goal is winning. F1 are all competitive people and I drive for the team with the strongest record in the history of F1 so we will fight for the title again and I want to be in that fight again.”
Fernando believes that Ferrari is in better shape than last year.
“I am more confident,” he says. “The regulations are more or less the same as last year so we won’t be 1.5-2 seconds off the pace as happened at the start of last year. Maybe it is impossible to be worse than last year. Formula 1 teams are very complex. One of the main components is aerodynamics and we had some problems with the Maranello wind tunnel for a year or two. We should be more confident using the Toyota wind tunnel all the time. There will be gains in consistency as a result. That is one thing. There are also things like infrastructure and creativity. Others have had ideas before we did,. We hope that with new people we are going to be the ones to be very innovative. We have total trust in our bosses. We must focus on the driving. What was missing lasrt year was a bit of performance at the beginning and in the mid championship. We were not super fast but we were consistently on the podium. We did what we had to do. If you can be on the podium that is good for the World Championship. Things happened and some of our rivals had reliability problems and so we were in front but pour level was not enough. You can look back and say that one decision or another changed the result but that is what happens. It always has that is sport. “
Alonso reckons a key area in 2013 will be the exhaust aerodynamics.
“It is not as important as it was two years ago because of the rules but it is still a fundamental area and we expect evolution in that area. The tyres are less important. They are the same for everyone.”
It is still early to say who the chief rivals will be in 2013 but Alonso reckons that the same teams will be in contention.
“I don’t know who my major opponent will be,” he admits. “It will be the driver with the best team, the best preparation and the best car. My chief rival will emerge. I think the strongest driver is Lewis Hamilton. That is a personal opinion not a political statement. He is the strongest driver on the grid and he will be strong next year. He is a supergood driver. He has won races every year in his career and I think he will win some races with Mercedes.
“McLaren is always a strong contender. It is a team with experience and a history of good cars and continuous success. They will be strong again.”
But Fernando says he would like a shorter racing season.
“It was a very long season,” he said. “We had events until December 20 and then holidays only over Christmas. There are some some additional days off coming up. I would like to see less races. We start testing February and we are then racing through to nearly December. It is many months and it is very difficult to remain consistent mentally and physically. F1 is a very good show but 19 races is OK, maybe even 18. That would help, with some more tests as well.”
Alonso says that if he is behind Felipe Massa in the World Championship he will support him.
“Sure,” he says. “It would not be the first time and not the last. We help each other continuously for the good of Ferrari. Felipe is one of the best drivers in the world as we saw at the end of 2012. I have been saying that for three years. There has been a big gap in terms of points, but I expect him to be much closer.”
\He also says that he does not mind who he has as his team-mate.
“We follow what the team decides,” he says. “It would not be a problem. I have learned from all of my team-mates. I have some good competition. We will see what happens in the future.”
In recent times Alonso has become the most popular F1 driver in terms of followers on Twitter, with more than 1.5 million fans following him, but he says that he sees this as a good thing rather than an intrusion.
“I like to tell fans how I am training; my feelings before and after races. I can show them F1 seen from the inside. OK, there are things I cannot show them, but what I like is to be able to tell them what is really happening because in the past there have been many crazy stories. It is better this way.”
For the moment there is not much that anyone can say about who will be competitive in 2013. The testing will start at the beginning of February.
“You get an idea in testing but we have seen cars that are quick in testing and not quick in the first race, and we have seen the other way round as well,” says Massa. “You don’t know in the first week of testing but in the second and third you begin to see who will be quick and in the last week you have a better idea who will be at the front in Australia.”