It is difficult to see 2013 as anything other than an abject failure for Ferrari, as for a fifth successive year the Maranello-based outfit failed to take home either championship. Despite the fact that the team’s 2013 challenger was a substantial improvement over its much maligned predecessor, the Scuderia dropped to third in the Constructors’ Championship, while for a third time in four years Fernando Alonso had to play second best to Sebastian Vettel.
Ferrari, in contrast to the nightmare that had been pre-season testing in 2012, headed into 2013 in much higher spirits, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa posting encouraging times with the new F138. While Ferrari topped only two of the twelve days of testing, feedback from the drivers suggested that the Maranello outfit had eliminated many of the problems that had plagued the F138’s predecessor, with the new car deemed an improvement in almost every area. While talk of wins was discounted by the Ferrari hierarchy, the Scuderia jetted off for Australia with the expectation that they would at the very least be involved in the fight at the front of the field.
Fourth and fifth on the grid in Melbourne demonstrated that Ferrari had not been wrong, the F138 was certainly a handy machine, if perhaps not the quickest car in the field. Alonso followed up fifth after a delayed qualifying session with a trip to the podium come race day, coming home in second behind a dominant Kimi Raikkonen. Felipe Massa’s strong drive to fourth, after running as high as second early in the race, meant that Ferrari left Australia with a haul of 30 points, handing them the early lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
After the impressive display in Australia, the Scuderia could have been forgiven for being quietly confident ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix, as Massa and Alonso lined up in second and third on the grid respectively. However, these illusions were immediately shattered once the race got underway as Alonso’s race ended prematurely in the gravel on the outside of turn one on lap two, after the Spaniard’s front wing, which the team opted not to replace following contact with Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap, collapsed under his front wheels. Massa, on the other hand, recovered to fifth, following a poor start. At least demonstrating Ferrari’s strong race pace in the dry.
Ferrari bounced back in perfect style in China, as Alonso mastered the heavily degrading Pirelli tyres to see off the threat of Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to take his and Ferrari’s first victory of 2013, to kick-start both his, and the team’s championship hopes.
After a malfunctioning DRS confined him to eight in Bahrain, Alonso – always exceptional in front of his home crowd – struck back in Spain, producing a stunning display to take his second win of the year, and his first victory at home since 2006. The 32-year-old pulled off arguably the start, and passing manoeuvre of the season, storming past both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton around the outside of turn three on the opening lap, before seizing the lead from Nico Rosberg’s fading Mercedes 13 laps later, much to the delight of the Spanish crowd.
Felipe Massa continued his steady start to the year, with third in Spain, for what was would be his first and ultimately only visit to the podium in 2013. However, a crash strewn weekend in Monaco, with two accidents in the exact same spot, followed by a shunt during Q2 in Canada, and a mysterious off in Germany – which was later tied to a gearbox issue – raised questions regarding the Brazilian’s future, not only at Ferrari, but in Formula One itself.
Alonso, meanwhile, continued to rack up the points in the sister Ferrari, even if the early season pace of the F138 seemed to be fading in comparison to the Scuderia’s rivals. Back-to-back podiums for the Spaniard, with a second place finish in Canada, followed up by a smart drive to third at the tumultuous British Grand Prix, – coupled with a retirement for Sebastian Vettel – saw Alonso close to within 21 points of the German as the season approached the half way mark.
However, the Hungarian Grand Prix was to mark a low point for Ferrari in 2013, as Alonso and Massa came home fifth and eight respectively, with the Maranello outfit admitting that not only had the team lost ground in the development race with Red Bull, but also to Mercedes and Lotus as well. Not only were there worries on-track for the Scuderia, but Fernando Alonso got himself in trouble off of it as well, after his comments that his perfect birthday present would be a car other than the F138, were less than favourably received by Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, who offered the Spaniard a firm public rebuttal.
Ferrari, desperate to make up lost ground to its rivals, brought a swathe of updates to the Belgian Grand Prix, following the summer break. But while Fernando Alonso produced an excellent drive to finish second, having started just ninth on the grid, the Ferrari was still clearly no match for the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, as the German won in emphatic style around the Ardennes.
Alonso would extend his string of podium finishes in Monza, with second in front of the Tifosi, even going so far as to take a selfie as fans massed under the podium. However, Ferrari’s announcement the following week that the Spaniard would be partnered by the returning Kimi Raikkonen – the Finn having raced for the Scuderia between 2007 and 2009 – from 2014 onwards, would overshadow this excellent result.
In fact, as the F1 circus arrived in Singapore, rumours were already beginning to circulate that Alonso, displeased with the notion that he may have to share his team with Raikkonen, was looking for a way out of Ferrari, with some publications even linking the Spaniard with a return to his former team McLaren. Although the 32-year-old did much to dispel these rumours with a third consecutive second place finish, as he benefited from a fortunate safety car period, and not for the first time around the streets of Singapore.
Alonso would have to wait six more races before he would return to the podium, as Lotus took up the mantle of Red Bull’s closest challenger. An uncharacteristically scrappy race in India aside, the Spaniard continue to rack up the points, but even his efforts could not stop Mercedes easing ahead of Ferrari into second in the Constructors’ Championship. A spirited drive to fifth in the United States would secure the 32-year-old the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship for the third time in four years, and demonstrated that a fightback from Ferrari was on the cards, with second in the Constructors’ Championship still very much up for grabs as the season entered its conclusion in Brazil.
With just 15 points separating Mercedes and Ferrari, Fernando Alonso would produce one of the drives of the year in Interlagos, but despite running second for a large part of the race, the 32-year-old would have to settle for third at the chequered flag, behind his old friend Mark Webber. Felipe Massa, making his final appearance for Ferrari after eight long years, ended his time in red with a seventh place finish, after he received a correct, but somewhat cruel drive-through penalty, issued for cutting the white line on the entrance to the pitlane. Ultimately 21 points for the Scuderia in Brazil would prove to not be enough to displace Mercedes from second in the Constructors’ Championship, meaning that the Italian squad were confined to third, six points adrift of the Brackley-based outfit.
2013 will not be a year long remembered inside the hallowed halls of Maranello, as Ferrari squandered an excellent start to the season – which saw Alonso take two wins from the first five races – to end the year in third overall, losing out to not only the all-dominant Red Bull, but also the ascendant Mercedes. To often did the Ferrari’s under perform on a Saturday, which left Fernando Alonso, despite all his brilliance, with too much to do come race day. While Felipe Massa, who heads to Williams for 2014, could never consistently replicate his form of old, meaning that Alonso was once again left to carry the team. Add in a number of blunders committed by the team throughout the year, and Ferrari should feel fortunate that it even finished third in 2013.
However, the Scuderia enter 2014 with a fine platform for success, as they approach Formula One’s new era with all of the benefits of being a manufacturer, with the highly rated design input of James Allison – who was pinched from Lotus during 2013 – as well as boasting arguably the strongest driver pairing on the grid, with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who have collected the pretty sum of three drivers’ titles between them.
Images courtesy of Pirelli Media