Stella: Schumacher is a star, Alonso is a circle

Formula 1 engineer Andrea Stella, the man behind Fernando Alonso for the past a decade, has given one of the most succinct and insightful comparisons between Formula 1 legends Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso – two men he knows very well.

Stella joined Ferrari in 2000 which coincided with the Italian team’s golden era, he started as a member of Schumacher’s spare car preparation crew at the time and experiencing that great period for the Italian team first-hand.

After a year engineering for Kimi Raikkonen in 2009, when Alonso replaced the Finn at the Scuderia in 2010 it was Stella who was assigned to be his engineer. He followed the Spaniard when he moved to McLaren in 2015 until his final grand prix in Abu Dhabi last month.

Notably, Stella worked with Ferrari when they battled Renault in 2005 and 2006, when the Reds lost to the French outfit who, along with their Spanish driver, ended the Scuderia’s golden era.

Few are better uniquely qualified, from an engineering and even personal perspective, to compare these two great drivers than Stella, fortunately, he did so in an intriguing and inciteful interview with the BBC.

He said the 49-year-old of the two legends, “If you take a circle of qualities, where Fernando is very high [in all of them] but potentially not the best in any of them, I think Michael was potentially the best in some of them, but in some others he was weaker than Fernando.”

“So Michael’s would be more like a star, whereas Fernando’s is more like a perfect circle. Michael was an attacking driver. He approached things from beyond the limit, back to the limit. Fernando is more from below the limit, to the limit.”

“So for example, Michael’s capacity to control the rear end and drive an oversteery car was just unbelievable. But sometimes this became his weakness. Because he drove a car so oversteery in free practice that when it came to qualifying, where you push that 1% more, he might have too much oversteer or too much rear tyre degradation in the race.

“So with Michael, the engineers had to have an active role in trying to control his capacity and say: Michael, where are you doing this and where is the car doing that? We need more from the car and less from you.”

“Fernando understands his own limits better, and he is very good at understanding where he is contributing and where the car is contributing. He can prepare the car for the race very well thanks to this.”

“Another interesting difference is that Michael was very analytical and dialectical. We spent so much time speaking about the car. Fernando is a concise person. When he comes back to the pits, in the first three words of his feedback, he has said 95% of his point.”

“With Michael, the technique was more about filtering the essence from the details. With Fernando, it is more using a lot of specific questions to build a detailed-enough picture from the essence.

“His sensitivity to the car is exceptional. It is just a matter of where you feel comfortable as a driver. He feels comfortable if he knows that we are attacking 90% of the problem.”

“With Fernando, when there is a problem, it tends to be spread over all the corners. Like, if there is too much oversteer, you see it is more or less everywhere. While some drivers may say understeer here, oversteer there.”

“That is a matter of awareness. You can create your own understeer, for example. Like, if the car is a bit nervous, you don’t commit to turn early enough or to turn enough. So you delay the turn-in, and then you are always going to get an understeery car mid-corner.”

“But not all drivers realise that this mid-corner balance is very much a result of what happens in the earlier 50 metres. And that’s very tricky for an engineer, because if you only go with the driver, you get lost, because you keep going after the mid-corner understeer,” concluded Stella.

Part Two of the interview:

Stella: The process of being humble is Alonso’s strength