Ferrari management have sought to swiftly dampen speculation that there might be tension brewing between Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend – a race in which the latter's ruthlessly aggressive approach forced his team-mate off the track and cost the Brazilian a better finish.
Following Alonso's jump-start and a flurry of pit-stops for both drivers in the constantly-changing conditions, the two scarlet machines were running in tandem when the safety car emerged on lap 22, sending the majority of competitors scurrying for the pits once again.
Knowing that whoever was behind out of the pair would have to queue up and lose time, however, Alonso pounced, and entering the pit-lane alongside Massa, the Spaniard risked a coming-together by unexpectedly and unceremoniously barging the sister car out onto the grass to make sure that he got ahead – and thereby was not the one to lose out. The incident only served to add fuel to the fire for those who contend that the double world champion's killer instinct means he will do almost anything to win.
The subsequent delay sent the erstwhile world championship leader plummeting down the order and outside of the top ten, from where he would recover to ninth at the chequered flag – salvaging two points as Alonso took away twelve for fourth place and, undoubtedly, the psychological advantage.
The Oviedo native has protested that 'if he was not my team-mate, there wouldn't be so much talk about it and for me it was a normal move and it definitely won't compromise our relationship' [see separate story – click here
], adding that 'when two team-mates are fighting there are rumours...if it was two different cars there wouldn't be a problem'.
Whilst clearly aggrieved, Massa too has endeavoured to play down the controversy, telling Spanish and Brazilian media that 'Alonso put his car next to mine and when I saw it I knew we could have an accident, so I thought of the team and that made me lose more than three places'.
“I ended up on a puddle of water coming out of the hairpin and slightly lost control of the car,” revealed the Paulista, who has slipped five spots down to sixth in the title standings following the race in Shanghai, three positions adrift of his team-mate. “He (Alonso) managed to get inside me, passing me going into the pit-lane. I lost some places because of it, as I had to wait for his stop to be finished.
“We have to do better and that means working on the development of the car. Right from the start, it was difficult to make the right choice in terms of what tyres to use because of the changeable weather. In the closing laps, I was struggling a lot with the tyres, but Michael [Schumacher] was suffering worse than me and I managed to pass him. We have seen how the situation can change radically from one race to the next; we need to work as hard as possible to try and get the most out of the potential at our disposal.”
Both the Scuderia's
team principal Stefano Domenicali and president Luca di Montezemolo also rubbished any talk of a rift developing between the two drivers, even if their relationship was perhaps never going to be the easiest given that Massa remains convinced that he was denied the 2008 laurels by the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal – something he insisted late last year that Alonso must have been privy to at the time.