Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has confessed that he is enthusiastic about the prospect of competing at Monza for the first time as a Ferrari driver next weekend – but off the back of the Spa-Francorchamps DNF that hit his chances of clinching a third drivers' crown this year, he has conceded that another rough time of things in the Italian Grand Prix would represent 'a hard knock for team morale'.
Alonso returned from the annual mid-summer F1 break determined to close down and ultimately overturn the 20-point deficit separating him from the top of the title standings – but after making a mess of qualifying and subsequently being run into by Williams rival Rubens Barrichello on the opening lap of the Belgian Grand Prix, the Spaniard went on to choose the wrong tyres in the changeable weather conditions and finally throw any chance of scoring potentially vital points into the tyre barriers with barely a handful of laps to run, meaning he now lies some 41 markers adrift of championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Reflecting that it was far from the weekend he had been hoping for, the 29-year-old is adamant that he and Ferrari are now overdue a change of luck – particularly at the start of races, when his car has all-too-often seemed to be a magnet for trouble.
“It was not the Belgian Grand Prix we were expecting, that's for sure,” he wrote in his official Ferrari blog. “I think the key moment in my race came on the very first lap. I had made a good start and made up a few places; the car was responding well and there was every chance of finishing up on the podium. Unfortunately, I had to come back to the pits almost immediately and that changed everything. I could have done without going off the track [towards the end], but it did not make a great difference – the rain meant that any chance I had of making up some places through our strategy evaporated.
“It seems that this year, the opening laps have not gone too well for me. In five races out of 13, I have found myself slipping to the back, either because of our own mistakes or because of circumstances beyond our control, as was the case in Belgium. I have always said – and I repeat it now – that over the course of the season, good luck and bad luck tend to balance one another out, so let's hope that from now on it is payback time! The first 'final' went badly, but there are still six to go.”
Monza, of course, will be the first of those, and the Oviedo native argues that the result of the race may well prove crucial to Ferrari's chances of glory in F1 2010. In no mood to throw in the towel, he recognises that as the Prancing Horse's new talisman performer, there will be significant pressure upon his shoulders to break the Scuderia's
bad luck bogey on home turf over the last four years, having claimed just a brace of third places since Michael Schumacher triumphed there back in 2006.
Alonso, by contrast, has
ascended the top step of the podium at the fabled Autodromo, courtesy of his victory for McLaren-Mercedes in 2007 – and as he endeavours to lift his team's spirits in front of the adoring and demanding tifosi
, the 23-time grand prix-winner is remaining staunchly positive.
“There is no denying that the Monza race will be very important,” he acknowledged. “At our home circuit, we will have to do everything to avoid losing any more points – a good result here would be a great boost. If things go badly, it won't be over but it would be a hard knock for team morale.
“Racing at Monza for the first time as a Ferrari driver will definitely be a nice feeling. Our team is made up of 95 per cent Italians, and you can feel the passion and the will to do well for this special event. I can't wait to be there and look forward to seeing the grandstands packed with fans – we need their support.
“Going into these [last] seven races, I had said that whoever did the best job in them would take the title. Clearly, there are now three of us who need to make up for ground lost at Spa. With this points system and the way races swing one way or another, I am convinced we still have a significant chance. There are 150 points up for grabs, enough to turn the situation around. We must remain calm and concentrate, to try and make up the difference as soon as possible.”
Prior to its appearance at Monza, of course, Ferrari will have to face the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris on 8 September for a disciplinary hearing into the Hockenheim team orders controversy – the outcome of which could yet deal a fatal blow to Alonso's title hopes altogether...