It’s been a turbulent few weeks for Ferrari. Capo di tutti capi Luca di Montezemolo has been making angry Italian noises, their team principal has jumped ship, and his replacement is a man with precisely zero experience running a race team. He does have cool shades though.
In the midst of such turmoil the Scuderia needed a strong performance in China, if only to boost morale within the ranks. Not that anyone really saw such a result coming. Their 2014 car has proven distinctly average, demolished by Mercedes-powered machinery and even struggling against the supposedly-rubbish Red Bulls.
Enter Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard’s career at Ferrari has been defined by dragging more out of a so-so car than should be humanly possible, usually resulting in a fifth place grid slot and third at the flag.
And that’s exactly what he delivered at the Shanghai International Circuit. A great start (if you’ll excuse banging wheels with old pal Felipe Massa) put him third, and he was close to overhauling Vettel for second on the opening lap. He eventually leapfrogged the German in the pits, withstood a little pressure, then ran at his own pace when the Red Bull slipped back.
Yes, he was powerless to stop Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes cruising past, but Alonso knows as well as anyone that the Silver Arrows are in another league at the moment. Late on he seemed to be under attack from Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, but Alonso had the pace to keep the Aussie at a safe distance; the fight faded and Fernando came home for his and the team’s first podium of 2014.
But for the true mark of how good Alonso was last weekend you need to compare him with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, a man who we know to be pretty handy behind the wheel of an F1 car. Fernando was more than a second quicker than the Finn in Q2, lined up six places ahead of him on the grid and finished third to Kimi’s eighth. The gap at the flag was almost a full minute. That, ladies and gents, is a Top Dog performance if ever we saw one.