Fernando Alonso and the army of Spanish fans cheering on his home grand prix victory owed Formula One tyre supplier Pirelli a debt of gratitude on Sunday even as others cursed the manufacturer.
“Alonso wouldn’t have won with last year’s tyres today because he had a puncture and it would have deflated,” Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told reporters at the Circuit de Catalunya as he fended off criticism of the quick-wearing product. “If he’d had that type of debris into his tyre last year, it would have deflated.”
Pirelli have strengthened this year’s tyres with a high tensile steel belt beneath the tread, a change which means the tread strips away from the tyre which nonetheless remains inflated. Critics say the tyres are having too much influence on the race strategy, necessitating multiple pit stops and putting a premium on managing wear and tear rather than outright speed.
Alonso was able to make the fourth and final stop without a problem and went on to celebrate his second win in five races that moved him into third place in the championship. Team principal Stefano Domenicali said their data had showed a slow puncture on the rear left but the issue had not caused any major concern.
The Spaniard, now 17 points adrift of Red Bull’s leader and triple champion Sebastian Vettel, had to make four pitstops in a race where three was the exception and one driver – Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg – made six visits to the pitlane.
Over the 66 laps, there were 77 pitstops and two drive-through penalties in total. Hembery said four pitstops a driver was too many and Pirelli would look at the tyre compounds to try and ensure drivers had to do no more than three in a race.
“We aim for two to three, it was too aggressive today and we want to get back to what our plan was. We only had four once in the past and that was in Turkey in 2011,” said the Pirelli man.
“I know some of you would like us to do a one stop, where the tyres aren’t a factor, and you can go back to processional racing,” he added, saying that champions Red Bull would then be the big beneficiaries.
The victory for Alonso, who also won in China last month, was a big relief after a mixed start of the season with a retirement in Malaysia and then a problem with DRS rear wing system in Bahrain.
He had arrived on home soil 30 points adrift of Vettel and needing to make a decisive move to ensure his rival did not surge further ahead.
The Spaniard surged from fifth on the grid to third through the third corner, passing Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton and Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, and was leading by lap 13 while Vettel had trouble managing his tyres.
“It’s very special winning at home. It doesn’t matter how many times you can do it, how many you repeat it, it’s always like starting from zero and you have again very emotional last laps,” said Alonso, a double champion who won at Barcelona with Renault in 2006 and in Valencia last year.
“We knew we had the pace on the long runs and we wanted to have some clear air to exploit this potential in the car. We did it. Everything worked perfectly. I’m happy for the team, for the fans and hopefully this is not a one-off,” he added.
That said, there was no question about the ultimate priority.
“I’d just be happy if I finish second in all the races and I win more championships,” the winner of 32 grands prix replied when asked whether he could ultimately match the tallies of Ayrton Senna (41 victories), Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91).
Here is the full transcript of Alonso’s post race interviews in Spain:
How much did the embrace of the crowd help you today?
Fernando Alonso: Definitely it was a fantastic emotion and it really helped. You feel the support from everybody, every single member of the team taking care of every detail because we want to do well here, in front of our fans, so many people supporting Ferrari. So, we did it, we’re happy for that but we don’t want to stop here obviously.
How much today mean for your confidence that you can go on to win this championship?
FA: Nothing really changed. We know that we have five races only, some up and downs. Some races we had a good race with no problems and we more or less finished on the podium in all of them. Some races we had some mistakes, some mechanical problems as well that we don’t want to repeat. We know that we have a car to fight with the top and if we do well we can fight for the championship. If we don’t do good enough maybe we don’t fight but we want to do so.
The first time the race has been won from that far back on the grid. Obviously your third win on home soil. Can you describe the emotion you’re feeling right now?
FA: Very good again. It’s very special winning at home. It doesn’t matter how many times you can do it, how many you repeat it, it’s always like starting from zero and you have again very emotional last laps, very long last laps because you want to finish obviously as soon as possible. Extremely happy for the team to have both cars on the podium after a difficult qualifying that maybe we were not too fast yesterday. But we knew we had the pace on the long runs and we wanted to have some clear air to exploit this potential in the car. We did it. Everything worked perfect. Happy for the team, for the fans and hopefully this is not a one-off.
Obviously you took a lot of points today out of Sebastian Vettel as well. The start was clearly crucial, as was the timing of the first stop – you undercut Vettel at that point but at what stage of this grand prix did you feel you had it under control.
FA: Let’s see, after the last stop. Until that point you never know what can happen. We had more or less an easy race in terms of traffic etc but we know Kimi was on a different strategy but you never know how the tyres are going to behave. When we pit two or three laps later than Kimi and we were first, at that point.
In China you equalised Mansell’s victories now you have overtaken him, 32 victories. Senna has 41, do you think that’s possible? How about Prost, 51 and Schumacher, 91?
FA: No. I don’t know. I just be happy if I finish second all the races and I win more championships.
This is your fourth year in Ferrari, is there in this moment, have you got the best chance to win the Championship this year, do you feel like that?
FA: Probably yes, in terms of performance of the car. We should have won the championship, I believe, in 2010. We arrived in Abu Dhabi with seven points, or nine points ahead of Sebastian . We lost there but nothing we can change now. Last year maybe we didn’t deserve it because we were one second off the pace but even with that we manage to fight until Brazil race. So, this year we have in our hands a package that maybe is not the fastest, still not the fastest but we are working on that. But definitely on Sundays it’s a very competitive team package, let’s say. We are not the quickest over one lap, maybe we don’t set the fastest time in the race but we have fantastic strategy people, fantastic pitstops, the starts, tyre degradation. We have many ingredients to have a competitive car to fight for the championship. In the four years in Ferrari maybe it’s true that this is the one we feel more confident with but we are not happy still with the performance of the car and we want to have a good and aggressive developing programme for the next races.
Two questions for Fernando. Congratulations. In 2006 you said, when you had your first winning at home that it had been your best race in Formula One. What can you say now? And when have you realised that you can win this race?
FA: Well the first, I didn’t remember to say this in 2006. And if I say that, obviously from 2008 to 2013 I did better races. Maybe, as I said before, after the last pitstop when I found myself in front of Kimi, eight or nine seconds, and our tyres were two or three laps newer than Kimi, I realised that the race was in our pocket if we don’t do mistakes.
What about the overtake, two guys, Hamilton and Räikkönen in the third corner. Was your belief in the last moment that you can pass Hamilton because you stay very, very near of the line.
FA: Yes, I think we knew that to win the race we needed to pass people at the start. The start was very good but then it was very narrow and we didn’t have the space to move a little bit. So, I wait for a better opportunity. It came straight after turn one. I saw Kimi and Lewis running a little bit wide in turn one so I changed trajectory and I had a clean exit in turn two. I passed Kimi and I said ‘why not also Hamilton?’ I had a little bit of KERS that I saved from the start for turn three, so I used that to pass Hamilton and I think that was a lot in the race and I think also when exiting the first pitstop, we undercut and we overtook Vettel, in the strategy in lap 11 but not Rosberg. So Rosberg, we have to overtake him at the end of the straight. And that was also very close.
Historically this has always been a track where it was pretty difficult to overtake but today we have seen that there were many manoeuvres. You made history because nobody every won starting fifth, so how do you feel about it? And also, to all of you, don’t you think it’s too much with these tyres having too many pitstops and there is too much confusion?
FA: I don’t know. I’m happy to win from whatever position to start. Here, I think this historically has been difficult to overtake and starting off the front row was hard for the race but now with this year’s degradation and this year’s tyres we see the races keep changing all the time. Whatever car keeps the tyre alive normally is on the podium at least – or winning the race. So, happy for this. If it’s too much confusion for the spectators? There is no doubt. I think it is impossible to follow one race now. Here it’s good because you have the tower and I think you follow the race on the tower with the numbers and you see who is first, who is second. But in some other circuits, if I’m sitting in the grandstand, without any information: radio, telephone or something, you only see cars passing.
What are your thoughts on Monaco, because obviously the Mercedes is very quick in qualifying, they were quick in Monaco last year, do you think the problem that they have at the moment with tyres in the race is less of an issue there? Are they going to be more difficult to beat in Monaco?
FA: Yes, definitely. They will arrive as favourites for Monaco. They’ve been on pole position for the last three races, they were on pole last year with Michael’s lap, so it would be a surprise if they weren’t on pole position in Monaco. And as you said, it’s more difficult to overtake in Monaco, so maybe they can keep good positions for longer. It’s something we need to understand and we need to do a better job on Saturday, Felipe and I, and Monaco is one of those places where we must do it.
Are you concerned that this fantastic situation with this marvellous pace of Ferrari in the race can be changed in Monte Carlo?
FA: I’m confident for Monte Carlo. Looking at the last three years, even when we were not competitive in Monte Carlo, we always managed to be on the podium, more or less, in a consistent way so that’s the aim for this year as well. We had a problem in Malaysia, the retirement, the problem with the rear wing in Bahrain and we lost some of the consistency that we need to fight for the championship. In the three troublefree races we’ve had this year we finished second in Australia, we won in China and in Spain so what we want to do is put together four or five consistent races with no problems and try to get some podiums in our pocket and score some good points, and I think in Monaco we can continue this trend. I remember in 2011 we were lapped here by the McLarens and Red Bull and we arrived in Monaco and we nearly won the race, we finished second behind Sebastian with a red flag on the last lap. We were fighting for victory so I don’t see any reason – with this car which is also competitive everywhere – not to fight for top positions in Monaco. Let’s hope so.
An impressive drive. I’m wondering if you felt under pressure this weekend after two difficult races and you’re at home. Did you feel pressure that you had to perform this weekend? Maybe you like pressure. I wonder.
FA: Not extra pressure but it’s true that, as I said just now, we need some good races and I will feel more or less the same in Monaco. We must take extra care for the next races, in terms of possible mechanical issues, driver errors, strategy mistakes, whatever. All these things happen sometimes in races. I think all the team and myself are extra focused now on this part of the championship, because we felt we lost too many points with some things that we didn’t do right and we must put everything together and avoid any more mistakes. Here, there was this extra pressure to do everything well but I don’t think it will be any different in Monaco or in Canada where we will go and approach the race to really avoid any mistakes that can arise. So good to race at home, extra motivation, little bit more pressure but I didn’t do 100 percent in the car sometimes. You are fifth, sometimes third or first, the happiness of the grandstands changes, it depends on the position but inside yourself, you are normally quite happy with the performance if you give 100percent of the time.
Have you been surprised not having Sebastian breathing down your neck today?
FA: Sebastian, not really. I think that when we started the race we knew that Kimi was probably the fastest on race pace of the leading guys. The Mercedes were a question mark. We thought that maybe they would have problems in the race but you never know until it happens really. And Sebastian… they didn’t have an easy weekend on Friday and in qualifying they were not on pole which is normal for them and then in the race, they struggle a little bit more, so, as I said, Lotus was the team that we looked at a little bit more.
Could you please compare your feelings when you seem to be very relaxed in comparison to the European Grand Prix last year?
FA: Emotions compared to last year? Valencia was very different because it’s not that we expected to win today but we were completely surprised last year when we won the race. We knew that today, if everything goes well and we do a fantastic race, we can win the race but in Valencia last year, we thought optimistic strategies pays etc, maybe our final results in the simulation were sixth, seventh, fifth and when we won that race starting eleventh and in front of everybody, it was a little bit more joy or a little bit more of an emotional win.
You had to catch up the time for one extra pit stop against Kimi. How difficult was it to balance the speed or the pace against tyre saving?
FA: Not so difficult today. We had the pace in the car, we had clean air, no traffic, only a little bit in the first stint behind Sebastian and Rosberg. Then we undercut and we passed Sebastian in the pits and Rosberg two laps later at the first corner, from that point we just pushed 90 percent, more or less. You have enough pace to open the necessary gap and you know that if you push 100percent maybe you kill the tyres, so it’s more or less normal driving, let’s say, in 2013 races. You try to control the pace and the tyres and you put in balance these two things.
Did you anticipate a third pit stop, because you set very good laps and then suddenly you came into the pits?
FA: I don’t have any answer, really. They called me in; I don’t know if it was too early or too late, because our fight was with Kimi at that point, because we were out of sync with Kimi for five laps always. It didn’t look anything special, short or long. I don’t know really.