Reuters: Ferrari are laying the foundations for a new era of Schumacher-like dominance with Fernando Alonso and aim to be winning regularly again within a year, according to team boss Stefano Domenicali.
Speaking to Reuters before the Italian Grand Prix, a race that Alonso won from pole position last year and one that holds a special importance in the heart of all Ferrari fans, Domenicali made clear the Spaniard was central to his team’s future fortunes.
Ferrari enjoyed unparallelled success with Michael Schumacher in the early years of the century, with the seven times champion winning five titles in a row for the Maranello team, and believe Alonso can bring back the glory days.
It took Ferrari five seasons to crown Schumacher a champion with them, the German joining in 1996 after two titles with Benetton and having to wait until 2000 for his third.
Alonso, also a double champion with Renault, joined in 2010 and narrowly missed out on the title. This year, with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel dominant, the 30-year-old has won only once — also Ferrari’s sole win — but is signed up until the end of 2016 at least.
“I was part of the group since 1991 so I know very well the story,” said Domenicali of Ferrari’s travails after the end of their Schumacher era in 2006 and the hard years before that spent turning around the team in the 1990s.
“Before doing a fantastic season, we took six or seven years before being competitive, to win in a continuous way.
“So we are putting down once again the basis to be strong for a long time,” he added.
Domenicali said the current situation differed from Schumacher’s time because the landscape of Formula One had changed markedly since the days when there was no limit on spending and teams blew fortunes on the test track.
The current cost constraints have meant that “apart from one single specific situation with (Red Bull designer) Adrian (Newey), there are no more big egos that make the difference,” said Domenicali, tipping his cap to Newey, who has designed title-winning cars for three teams.
“Now it’s a matter of team work that has to be really working close together in the best way.
“So I think that now we are in this process to build up the team and I think that in one year we will be hopefully ready to start again another long series of victories.”
As part of that, Ferrari brought in Pat Fry from McLaren last year with former technical director Aldo Costa leaving the company. Australian Chris Dyer was also replaced as head of race track engineering.
The key to it all, however, is Alonso.
“Fernando is a big asset for us and he is another responsibility that we have because if he trusts the team in such a way to be part of us for such a long time, it means he really believes we can do a good job together,” said Domenicali.
“We want to give back to him this trust and we want to win together.”
The Italian was quoted recently in the German media as saying that there were only two team leaders among the current drivers in Formula One — Alonso and Schumacher, now with Mercedes and making little impact in an uncompetitive car at the age of 42.
Domenicali made clear he had meant no snub to 24-year-old Vettel, who is cruising to his second successive title, and was referring to specific qualities.
“What for me is a leader is someone that really has achieved something very important and is showing something unique,” he said.
“Sebastian for example is a fantastic driver. He has won a world title and I would say that he is going to win the second one and is becoming a leader. He’s younger.
“When you don’t say that he is a leader it doesn’t mean that he is not good. The way that he is driving and the way that he is behaving is really very close to be there,” continued the Italian.
“Numbers, age and experience make the difference in that respect. Sebastian will be the next one.”
If Vettel, winner of seven of 12 races so far this season, was once dubbed ‘Baby Schumi’ by the German media, it is Alonso who is the great German’s heir apparent at Ferrari.
The Spaniard, like his predecessor, has spoken of Ferrari being his ‘second family’ and both have known how to mesh the team around them.
“Fernando is very similar (to Schumacher) in the way that he is fitting in the team,” said Domenicali.
“I think that his period of getting into the team was much shorter than the one that it took Michael to get in, maybe because of the characteristics of the personality, the language and so on, but I see them very similar on a lot of things.
“The more that I know Fernando, the more I can compare them,” he added.
“Of course to win seven titles is something almost impossible in the future, in my view.
“But if we at least start again to win for Fernando the first title with us, then we will see. The downhill will be easier. That is of course our aim.