Fernando Alonso's 3rd at 2014 Chinese Grand Prix No Sign of a Ferrari Resurgence

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 19:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari looks on during final practice ahead of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 19, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Lars Baron/Getty Images

As Fernando Alonso claimed Ferrari’s first podium of the 2014 Formula One season at the Chinese Grand Prix, your thoughts may have turned to Stefano Domenicali.

Domenicali resigned from his position as team principal of Ferrari a week ago, paying the price for the Prancing Horse’s average start to the season, which reached its lowest ebb when Alonso and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth and tenth, respectively, in the last round in Bahrain.

Insult was added to the injury in Sakhir when Alonso, who has a tendency to allow his emotions to get the better of him, performed a mock celebration as he crossed the finish line, raising his right arm from the cockpit in “victory.”

It proved to be the last act of Domenicali’s six-year tenure as the boss of the most successful team in the sport’s history, a period which saw Ferrari regress from serial world championship winners to mere contenders, now driven by hope rather than the unwavering expectation that defined the era of Michael Schumacher’s domination.

That Alonso saw fit to “celebrate” a ninth-place finish for a team with 221 race victories to its name was the final straw for Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, whose displeasure was barely contained in Bahrain.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 06:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari prepares to drive during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 6, 2014 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It was, nevertheless, cruel Ferrari should return to the podium in the race immediately following Domenicali’s departure. The record books in the years to come will show the team instantly performed at a much higher level when the Italian was removed from the equation.

Even Alonso himself, despite dedicating the result to his former team principal, spoke as if the result in Shanghai could be a turning point for the Italian outfit, telling Ferrari’s official website:

After a difficult start to the season, this podium is a confidence boost for the whole team, providing extra motivation for all those who are doing their best to close the gap to the front. And I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano, as everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts.

We have definitely made a step forward, because compared to two weeks ago, we have partly closed the gap to the leaders, but we are well aware there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep our feet on the ground.

Alonso stressing the need to “keep our feet on the ground” after finishing a distant third, over 20 seconds behind the race-winning Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, is indicative of just how Ferrari have fallen in recent years—and how it’ll take much more than a change at the top of the hierarchy to return the team to their former glories.

Ferrari’s positive achievement in Shanghai, you see, was neither the consequence of boardroom reshuffling nor the introduction of significant technical upgrades, but the direct result of the phenomenon that is Alonso Power.

Alonso Power has often been the only thing that has carried Ferrari through the five seasons that the Spanish driver has spent at Maranello, Italy.

He has almost single-handedly dragged the team along with him to success, even on the occasions when he has publicly aired his dissatisfaction with their poor performance levels.

Although the effect of Alonso Power was disguised in recent times by Ferrari’s substandard cars, the Chinese Grand Prix proved that it is still alive and well.

His intentions were clear from the very start of the grand prix when he remained undeterred, keeping his foot planted to the floor and his steering wheel still, despite being assaulted by Felipe Massa, his former teammate, on the run towards Turn 1.

And when he emerged from the opening sequence in a podium position, he sure as hell was not giving it away.

Alonso’s defiance of logic was evident in the timing information provided by the FIA. Ferrari’s lack of straight-line speed was reflected in Alonso’s 16th position on the speed trap recordings.

The No. 14 Ferrari was recorded as travelling at 321.9 kph—almost 15 kph slower than pace-setter Nico Rosberg, who passed Alonso for second place in the latter stages of the race.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari drives during the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Despite that deficit, however, Alonso still managed to record the ninth-fastest time of anyone in the third sector of the lap at Shanghai, which features the longest straight in Formula One. And despite failing to record a sector time worthy of more than fifth place on the timesheets in the grand prix, he still recorded the fourth-fastest lap of the race.

It was a truly staggering performance, made all the more brilliant by the troubles encountered by Raikkonen, the driver running on Shell fuel and a couple of energy recovery systems with no added Alonso Power.

As his teammate battered his way towards the front at the first corner, Raikkonen, after qualifying outside of the top 10 for the second time in four races, was seen having the type of lock-up that has defined his 2014 season thus far.

The 2007 world champion, who rarely has allowed his emotions to get the better of him, has never appeared as downbeat as he has recently. Raikkonen’s body language in his post-race interview with Sky Sports in Bahrain showed a driver beyond frustration, beyond disappointment.

What should have been the most spectacular inter-team battle of the season has turned out to be a one-sided mauling, with Raikkonen anonymous in each of the opening grands prix of the year in contrast to his tenure at Lotus between 2012 and 2013, when he made the status as the grid’s dark horse his own.

The Finn’s lack of pace in comparison to Alonso has forced a reassessment of Raikkonen’s abilities as a world champion, and while Alonso can be relied upon to plaster over Ferrari’s troubles, it is Raikkonen’s car that can be interpreted as the real indicator of the team’s performance deficit.

And on that evidence, Ferrari have a long way to go.