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Alonso 'under much more pressure' at Ferrari than Schumacher was

24 September 2010

Flavio Briatore has given Fernando Alonso a vote of confidence as the F1 2010 World Championship battle reaches fever pitch, contending that the Ferrari star is 'always driving on the limit' to compensate for a car that is not quite up to the standard of those of his four title rivals, and suggesting the Spaniard is 'under much more pressure' at the Scuderia than Michael Schumacher ever was.

Alonso is the man with the momentum behind him arriving in Singapore this weekend for the top flight's third-ever night race in the Far-Eastern city-state, off the back of his superb triumph in front of Ferrari's adoring tifosi in the Italian Grand Prix a fortnight ago.

Whilst the double F1 World Champion arguably did have the fastest car in the field at his disposal at Monza, it has rarely been that way in other races this season, with Red Bull Racing and occasionally McLaren-Mercedes generally setting the pace. That, Briatore argues – allied to the sheer weight of expectation upon Alonso's shoulders – has done nothing to facilitate the Oviedo native's task this year.

“First of all, Ferrari is a very special team,” the 'Singapore-gate' protagonist told the official F1 website. “Nowhere else is a driver under more pressure than at Ferrari. Mistakes by a Ferrari driver make more headlines, but on the other hand, nowhere else are victories celebrated with such fanaticism. When Michael joined Ferrari it was not a winning team, so he had less pressure and the team gave him all the time in the world. In the end it took him five years to win the title.

“Fernando can achieve that already in his first year – and that is actually what is expected from him, so he is under much more pressure than Michael was when he joined Ferrari in 1996. Regarding Fernando's influence, his character is such that he creates permanent pressure – asking the maximum of everybody every day – for the sake of success. Fernando is always driving on the limit. He has to, because yes his car is good, but the Red Bull and the McLaren are probably better.”

Alonso, of course, is not the only driver managed by Briatore who is involved in the fight for F1 2010 glory, with current world championship leader Mark Webber – who similarly remained staunchly loyal to the Italian in the wake of the spectacular fall-out from the well-documented race-fixing scandal this time twelve months ago – also coming in for warm praise, whilst the Australian's Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel is described as a world champion in-the-making, only perhaps not quite yet.

“Mark was always strong [in the head],” Briatore stresses. “He simply didn't have the car to show it. Give him a good car and he drives that car on the limit. Now with the Red Bull he has one of the best cars, so he is strong. Both (Webber and Alonso) would deserve [the championship], because both are extremely strong. I personally don't have a favourite. What matters to me is that one of the two wins the title.

“My impression [of Vettel] is that he's too thoughtful and not relaxed enough. He is a fantastic driver with a very special talent. Before every race I would tell him to go out and have fun! He is so young and he's still got so much time – time is on his side. With his talent, he will definitely be world champion – I don't have the slightest doubt about it – but at the moment, he's running through a normal development phase and has to learn from his mistakes.”

Briatore went on to congratulate his former team Renault for the 'excellent job' done this year to turn its fortunes so dramatically around – conveniently glossing over the fact that it was he who contributed in large part to the global ignominy that nearly swallowed the Enstone-based outfit whole in 2009 – and he opined that the French manufacturer's CEO Carlos Ghosn is 'one of the best in his field'.

He also rubbished rumours that he is to return to the F1 paddock with 2011 tyre-supplier Pirelli as 'bullsh*t' – 'Who cares about tyres?' he quips with characteristic irreverence – and when asked if he is evaluating a comeback to life in the fast lane, the 60-year-old is unequivocal in his response.

“Hardly,” he fires back. “I have won seven titles with different teams. I want to have fun with what I'm doing – that is my motivation, not the need for a job. At the moment I am happy with what I am doing – being a dad, husband and taking care of my investments. I enjoy all of it. It's very satisfying being a dad. I am more relaxed than ever before in my life – life can be so beautiful.

“At the moment I wouldn't have fun in F1. I do like to remember that time – F1 was a big part of my life and some people have grown dear to me – but now I watch the races like every normal spectator, when I'm at a track, but mostly I watch on TV. Races are always spectacular when something extraordinary happens – for example, when it starts to rain. Then things take off. If the 'extraordinary' is missing, then it's mostly a holding position from the start to the chequered flag.

“Very often, people in the paddock seem to forget that it's only the fight of the drivers for positions that draws the crowds – not the work of the engineers. That doesn't knock anybody's socks off. Fans are not interested in the fact that it takes 600 people and $200 million to get a reasonable car on the grid. They want to see their heroes fighting each other. What people want to hear about are stories about the drivers, stories about Ferrari. That is what people want.”

Briatore also has outspoken opinions on two of the hottest topics of the campaign – the Hockenheim team orders furore, and Schumacher's distinctly underwhelming return to active competition at the highest level with Mercedes Grand Prix. Here is what he had to say...

“Honestly, this team order regulation is completely crack-brained,” he mused. “This rule was implemented because of what Ferrari did in Austria in 2002 – and that was a completely insane action back then, because Michael in effect had already won the title. What happened at Hockenheim was something completely different – Fernando can become champion, [Felipe] Massa cannot, so it's logical to make sure that Fernando gets the maximum points possible in a race because he is the spearhead of Ferrari. Everybody would have done the same in this situation. On top of that whole discussion, this rule cannot be controlled if it's cleverly bypassed. A rule that cannot be controlled shouldn't exist.

“[Regarding Schumacher's return], I stick to what I said. I think when he signed the contract. he honestly believed that it was the right decision – the same way I think he already knew it was a mistake at the first serious test. Then he awoke to the fact of how alarmingly fast these youngsters are today. At 41, you simply cannot keep up with [Nico] Rosberg and all the other guys...”


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