Is Ferrari Favouring Fernando Alonso over Kimi Raikkonen?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari is followed by teammate Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

For much of the 2014 Formula One season, Kimi Raikkonen has struggled to match the pace of his Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso. At the Spanish Grand Prix, though, Raikkonen outqualified Alonso and was leading him on track for most of the race.

However, a decision by the team to put Alonso on a three-stop strategy—thought by tyre supplier Pirelli to be the best strategy at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya—while putting Raikkonen on a two-stopper allowed the Spaniard to pass his Finnish teammate at the end of the race.

Raikkonen was not pleased, saying that, "Going for a two stop strategy proved to be the wrong choice because tyre degradation meant I couldn't push all the way to the end," per the official F1 website.

The Iceman has finished behind his teammate at every race this season, an unusual situation for a driver used to being the team leader. Of course, Alonso is a two-time world champion, also accustomed to getting his way.

However, it is Raikkonen who last brought the Drivers' Championship to Maranello, in 2007 during his first stint with the team, before he was cast aside in favour of Alonso.

His return this season always had the potential for fireworks. Look no further than Alain Prost vs. Ayrton Senna—the most famous rivalry in F1 history—for the potential consequences of having two world champions on the same team.

The Spanish Grand Prix, though, was the first time this year the Ferrari teammates have been able to go head-to-head over a full race distance.

Raikkonen drove well, holding Alonso off for as long as possible, but ultimately he could not overcome the difference in their tyres. Raikkonen stopped for the final time on Lap 43, whereas Alonso's tyres were 10 laps fresher following his last stop on Lap 53.

Alonso finally gets by Raikkonen.
Alonso finally gets by Raikkonen.Clive Mason/Getty Images

There is speculation that Alonso is looking to leave Ferrari after this season—for a sample, see NBC Sports' Luke Smith. The team has not been able to provide him with the best car in the field since his arrival in 2010 and, if anything, they have fallen further behind this year.

Putting Alonso on the faster strategy in Spain could have been an attempt by the team to placate him, to demonstrate that he is still their No. 1 driver, without having to come out and say it.

It is common, though, for teams to put their drivers on two different strategies, especially in races with only a small projected difference in, say, a two- or three-stop race. That way, the team avoids getting caught out with both cars if one strategy does prove to be much quicker.

The other issue, from Raikkonen's point of view, is that Alonso was allowed to stop one lap before him during the first round of pit stops.

When mid-race refuelling was still allowed, it usually paid to stay out longer than your opponents to put in some fast laps with low fuel. Now, it is usually better to pit first, so that you are racing on fresh tyres while your opponent continues on an older set. Therefore, when teammates are battling on track, it is standard practice to bring the leader in first so that he can maintain his advantage after the stops.

Is Alonso unhappy at Ferrari?
Is Alonso unhappy at Ferrari?Clive Mason/Getty Images

That Alonso was given that privilege in Spain is unusual, but it is not the reason he beat Raikkonen. The Finn managed to stay ahead after the first (and second) stop. It was, as noted above, Alonso's fresher tyres in the closing laps which made the difference.

In the end, though, Ferrari may have created a headache for themselves for no reason. With their two drivers swapping positions, the team did not gain anything. Yes, Alonso is further ahead in the Drivers' standings, but he has no realistic chance of catching the Mercedes pair anyway.

And even if it is the case that the strategies were chosen to make Alonso happy, the final result in the race is likely to negate that emotion. Alonso is racing to win—swapping seventh place for sixth will not make a difference when he decides whether to stay at Ferrari or not.

If Ferrari do want to keep Alonso, they have to build him a championship-contending car. If they want to keep Raikkonen, they cannot treat him as Alonso's sidekick.

There is already enough turmoil in Maranello, with the sudden resignation of team principal Stefano Domenicali and the team's desperate struggle to reel in Mercedes. Creating unnecessary tension between the Scuderia's drivers will not benefit anyone...except maybe their rivals.

As Raikkonen said, per ESPN F1, when asked about the strategy choices in Spain, "I want to clear up a few things." Hopefully the team has a good explanation for him so he can concentrate on racing, instead of having it in the back of his mind that he might not be getting the same support as his teammate.

Maybe then we will see the great rivalry we expected before the season and which was hinted at in Spain.


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