SILVERSTONE: Fresh from climbing to the top of the drivers’ standings on his home soil two weeks ago, Fernando Alonso will seek to establish himself as a clear leader by repeating his 2011 victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Spaniard, who is bidding to become the youngest triple champion in F1 history, took advantage of others’ failings in the European Grand Prix at Valencia, but this time hopes he can steer his Ferrari to a decisive victory.
If he does win, he will be the first man this year to win three races, leaving six others stuck on one win each as the closest opening period of any F1 season conjures up more unexpected and unpredictable racing.
Alonso has been wary to make predictions this week following a factory visit by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and a warning against any perceived complacency.
But team-mate Felipe Massa said he believed, like many, that the Silverstone race on Sunday could reveal which team, if any, is in the best shape to mount a serious title bid in the high European season and the return leg of the mammoth 20-race calendar.
“It’s difficult to have a clear picture of how competitive we should be,” said Massa.
“Especially this year, we have seen results in the races that we could never have expected. Silverstone is a very different track to the last few, so we need to be ready for everything and arrive as well prepared as possible.
“Who knows, maybe Silverstone can be even better than expected for us, but if you look at Valencia, where we had 13 cars within three-tenths (of a second) in Q2, it shows you really cannot make predictions this season.
“However, we believe our car is not too bad in the high speed corners and so I feel we should discover a good F2012 when we start practice on Friday.”
In a week of tragedy that has seen Marussia test driver 32-year-old Spanish woman Maria De Villota crash heavily and lose her right eye, Formula One will also be using the Silverstone weekend as an opportunity to assess many major issues for the future – including driver safety, circuit security and, most of all, proposals to keep costs under control.
McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh told a fans’ forum this week that he believed the time had come for the ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) to make a clear statement of intent.
“All of the teams have signed an agreement, which is legally binding, but it is difficult to enforce it between ourselves – other than morally,” he explained.
“Maybe I am much too naive to be in F1 because I like to believe that people are telling me the truth. So, I don’t get excited about it, but the question now is how do we raise the level of confidence in the policing of it?”
While Whitmarsh looks at the bigger picture, he relies on sporting director Sam Michael to ensure that McLaren can deliver not only a fast car, but reliable strategy and pit-stops for their two British title contenders and former champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Hamilton, who has suffered from a series of pit-lane errors this year, endured one in Valencia that lasted more than 14 seconds, but Michael this week asserted that their problems were over.
“We identified why that failed and the design has been modified,” said Michael. “On Monday this week, we completed 800 pit-stops on the jacking systems with no faults at all.”
Michael suggested rivals Red Bull are not about to dominate the next few races, as many observers fear after seeing Sebastian Vettel pull away in Valencia before being forced to retire.
“Valencia hasn’t been a track that we have traditionally been very good at, but if you look at Silverstone, it definitely fits more in line with where the McLaren strengths are.”