In the wake of the Malaysian Grand Prix the fiery Formula 1 pairing very much in the spotlight at present is Sebastian Vettel versus Mark Webber, but another fascinating battle is brewing at Ferrari.
The sport’s journalists are poring over statistics, wondering if there was ever another time when Fernando Alonso – Ferrari’s undisputed and imperious number one – had been out qualified by his teammate so many times on the trot.
Some referred to Jarno Trulli at Renault in 2004, others to Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, but – actually – the five times in a row defeat in China next weekend would be historic.
In short, after a long slump punctuated by a near-fatal 2009 crash, Felipe Massa is back in the sort of form that almost saw him win the title in 2008.
On the record, Spaniard Alonso insists he is happy that Massa is now strong again.
“It’s the best news for the team, because we need to have a competition between the two drivers and now I think all the data that we have is very useful to compare and to analyse to make ourselves better,” he said in Malaysia.
Behind the scenes, though, the situation could be more volatile.
“Fernando is exceptional,” Sir Jackie Stewart told Brazil’s O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, “but he does not cope well when his teammate is beating him.”
At the very least, Alonso can count on the full backing of the fabled Italian team, who have put him on a pedestal rivalled only by Michael Schumacher’s a decade ago.
“In the race, Alonso is the best driver I’ve ever had,” Luca di Montezemolo was quoted recently by Spain’s El Confidencial newspaper.
The Ferrari president said one-lap pace is more difficult to quantify through the eras, but “in the race itself, yes, he (Alonso) is the best”.
However, barely since their partnership began in 2010 has there been another time in which Massa was also leading Alonso in the drivers’ points standings.
Referring to the Brazilian, Montezemolo continued: “It is true that at the beginning of last year, something happened in his head and he could not go as (well as) Fernando did.”
“But now he is very relaxed, he has been very good, but we should not forget that there were times when he was even faster than Michael. If I have any problems, it is not with the drivers,” he added. (GMM)