#818 2009 Japanese Grand Prix

2021-12-27 23:00

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#2009, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Gaia Dimitri,

#818 2009 Japanese Grand Prix

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2010. The best season in years. At least according to the premises. On one side the Latinos, the ones in red, known f


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2010. The best season in years. At least according to the premises. On one side the Latinos, the ones in red, known for sangria and mojito, who smile and chat and joke around and get emotional. On the other side the goths, the steel-coloured ones (not silver), known for vodka, who never laugh and talk sparingly and work nonstop and instead of celebrating they shake hands, composed. On one side Spaniards, Brazilians and Italians: Ferrari, in other words; on the other side English, Germans and Finns, McLaren. All of them in pursuit of revenge. The first official step of 2010 is on Wednesday, September 30, 2009: Fernando Alonso joins Ferrari for the next three years. The second is Kimi Raikkonen's move to McLaren. The contract has not been signed yet but the parties have already reached an agreement and the sponsor (Banco Santander) is acting as guarantor. Start winning again, then. Everyone says so. Alonso says so and above all Ferrari says so, but Raikkonen and McLaren also say so. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's team principal, is thrilled, it can be said that Fernando Alonso is the first driver taken under his management (Massa and Raikkonen were left to him by Todt):


"Fernando is a driver who not only has great talent but is also a winner, as he has demonstrated many times in his career, even in difficult conditions. His contribution will be very important to bring Ferrari back to the level it should be, which is to fight for the top; with Massa he makes a perfect pair".


Alonso is eager:


"Now I have to stay focused on this season finale. After that all my energy will be dedicated to next season: I'm sure that, together with Felipe, we will be able to bring great satisfaction to Ferrari and its fans all over the world. I can't wait to start working with my new team".


In addition to being a very fast driver Alonso is also an excellent developer (just like Schumacher) and it's on this characteristic that they are betting a lot at Maranello. A little background story is revealed by Domenicali himself.


"With Fernando we had started a conversation looking towards 2011. Then there were the circumstances to bring it forward to 2010 and we seized the opportunity".


Crashgate, the scandal that catapulted Flavio Briatore out of F1, would have pushed the Spaniard to Ferrari. Räikkönen also played a significant role in this, having found a suitable arrangement for his talent, he did not make a fuss (he had another year left on his contract and if he had been unwavering, it would have meant trouble):


"With Ferrari we decided everything by mutual agreement. I'm sorry to leave a team where I spent three fantastic years in which I won many races and even a World Championship, which was the goal I set for myself at the beginning of my career. I always felt at home and I will always cherish great memories".


The Ferrari-Alonso agreement livens up the drivers' market. The next news could be the Barrichello-Rosberg swap. The Brazilian would go to Williams, the German would become Jenson Button's teammate, who is close to re-signing with Brawn GP. Felipe Massa will remain at Ferrari, while Kimi Raikkonen might return to McLaren. Giancarlo Fisichella has two options: to be a test driver for Ferrari or to move to a customer team, like Sauber. Alonso's place at Renault should be filled by Kubica.


"My football dream is Real, my track dream is McLaren".


Fernando Alonso, December 19, 2005, Woking.


"Driving a Maranello single-seater is a dream for everyone in this profession and I am lucky enough to be able to realize it today".


Fernando Alonso, September 30, 2009, Suzuka. Reading these words hastily one risks being misled and thinking that Fernando Alonso is an opportunist or, for the more sentimental ones, a traitor. And instead the truth is different: Fernando is simply a man who embodies two rare characteristics in one: determination and the ability to say the right things at the right time. This, at times, can create some minor mishaps (like, for instance, the Woking oath being reinterpreted today). Usually, though, it leads to success. And success is the specialty of the driver chosen by Ferrari for the refoundation after the disastrous 2009 season. Discovered by Minardi, launched into Formula 1 by Flavio Briatore, Alonso has won two world titles and 21 Grand Prix. Those who worked with him describe him as a kind of maniac with an extraordinary ability of team building. One who presents himself to mechanics and executives not as a mere driver but as a project in which they can be protagonists. Just like Schumacher. After making the ritual statement about his lifelong dream of working with McLaren, Fernando said goodbye to all the journalists and locked himself in the garage with the mechanics. He stayed there for a couple of days and when he emerged, it was late at night, he sent an email to Ron Dennis. It was five pages long, says who had to learn that email by heart. And in the subject line he had written:


"If we want to win the World Championship we must...".


This was followed by a dozen detailed points on how to modify the car, the team and even decision-making processes. How things ended up at McLaren is remembered by all, but everyone also remembers how fast the Silver Arrow was that year and the following year. Ferrari signed him precisely for these reasons. Because he can say:


"My dream has always been to drive a Ferrari".


It seems incredible but, for example, Kimi Raikkonen was unable to say such a phrase. But mainly because they hope that from tomorrow the Spaniard will lock himself in the garage. In one of his most recent interviews, Alonso had been clear in this respect:


"I don't just love racing and winning. It stimulates me to build a team, to rebuild a group. That's why I like to establish a friendly atmosphere and create a group of people who have confidence and trust in each other. I'm not like other drivers who arrive, race the Grand Prix, and then bye-bye they go home. No. I am staying there. That's why, for next year and the future ones, it's important to win but also to create all of this to have a top team".


And furthermore:


"To the Italian fans I promise that I will do my utmost, after the abstinence from world titles for the last three years I want to win more World Championships. I have never been as prepared and strong as I am now. When I won the title in 2005, and even in 2006, I wasn't at this level. I am stronger than I was then".


He's turned 28 just two months ago. Michael Schumacher wore red 27. 


Fernando Alonso claims to have arrived at Ferrari a season earlier, he thought he would arrive at Maranello in 2011, but in his case the slogan - sorry for the delay - is quite appropriate, as this marriage has been talked about for years, an endless saga, with the Spaniard winning two championships with Renault and narrowly missing one with McLaren in the meantime. The big moment has finally arrived. Alonso, what is the first thought that comes to your mind?


"That I am already behind in the pursuit of Schumacher, the greatest of them all. He started his era at Ferrari a year earlier. To do like him is almost impossible, but I would like to achieve it. That's how history is made".


So are you promising five world titles?


"I guarantee my utmost. After all I've arrived in the strongest team, which always gives one hundred per cent and never gives up. Ferrari is a dream, the only team more important than its drivers. I have plenty of time at my disposal, because if you wear the red suit, you can't lose motivation, you would race forever. From now until the end of my career I'll try to bring home as many triumphs as possible".


The contract is for three years.


"The contract says that, but it's just the beginning. Moving on won't be a problem. I don't like to talk about the future because of my character, but I believe this will be my last team. In Formula 1 there's nothing more than this".


Will you be taking any trusted men with you?


"Why should I? I find the best technicians, nothing is lacking at Ferrari. This year they were not exciting, Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing worked better, but I'm convinced that in 2010 it will be the car to beat again. The hierarchies are always the same, Ferrari and McLaren, with the others chasing".


You often quarreled with Hamilton in the same box, now as a teammate you find Massa, with whom you had serious disagreements years ago at Nürburgring.


"Past history. Felipe is a friend, we will cooperate, he will help me in getting to know the car. He is more experienced, he already has great chemistry with the team, I will try from the beginning not to let him beat me. And then I'm lucky to be reunited with a great friend like Fisichella".


Whose seat you will take.


"He already knew that he would be the third driver in the next season. It's nice to know that someone like him is developing the car. Our relationship at Renault was splendid, not a single grudge in two years".


How did Flavio Briatore take your move to Ferrari?


"I heard from him a few days ago, he was in a great mood, at the beach. He was very happy for me, he understands that my career could have a definitive turning point".


And what did he tell you about his banishment?


"We didn't talk about it. But he didn't seem like a broken man. He was at the beach, calm, relaxed".


Who will take your place at Renault?


"If I could suggest a name, I would say Kubica. He's my friend and he's strong".


Raikkonen at McLaren.


"I don't comment on the rumors. Kimi has improved a lot in Ferrari, I'm convinced that with another car he will still fight for the title. If it will be McLaren, so be it. Have a good battle".


If you had shown up for the meeting with Todt seven years ago, you would have been at Ferrari for a lifetime. Any regrets?


"None. I don't want to talk about the past. I will only say that I was a boy back then. Now I'm experienced and mature. I'm joining Ferrari at the right moment. And to win a lot".


Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton speaks spitefully:


"Did Alonso really claim that joining Ferrari fulfills his childhood dream? He said the same thing when he arrived at McLaren. It seems that when he was a child he dreamt a lot".


Fernando Alonso is also under scrutiny by the FIA, after dedicating the podium to Flavio Briatore in Singapore. The driver could end up under investigation and face an official reprimand. Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, speaks as an ex:


"I had a one-year contract, but in F1 that means nothing. Now I could focus on Rallying".


On Friday, October 2, 2009, the first practice session sees Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton set the early pace, with lap times rapidly falling as the track dries out. The second half of the session is dominated by local driver Kazuki Nakajima, who narrowly misses out on setting the fastest time after McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen sets a time three tenths of a second quicker in the final phase. Championship contenders Rubens Barrichello, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button finish 10th, 17th and 18th respectively. The rain increases markedly for the second session, which sees very limited running in the first hour with Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi being the only drivers to set times. Owing to poor visibility and limited tyre allocations, many of the drivers elect to do only a handful of laps; Nico Rosberg does just seven in comparison to the twenty he had done in the first session, a pattern followed by many other drivers. Heikki Kovalainen and both Brawn GP drivers elect not to take to the circuit. Adrian Sutil goes on to set the fastest lap of the session with Sebastian Vettel in second, both of them some seven seconds slower than Kovalainen's first session time. Saturday's third and final practice session starts with contact between championship leader Button and Alguersuari that sees the Brawn driver require a replacement front wing. The session is largely dominated by Alguersuari's Toro Rosso stablemate Buemi, with fellow Red Bull compatriot Sebastian Vettel a close second until Jarno Trulli sets a time six hundredths of a second quicker on his final lap. 


The hour-long session is dry, with Trulli's 1'31"709 almost ten seconds faster than Heikki Kovalainen's FP1 time and 17 seconds quicker than Adrian Sutil in FP2. At the end of the hour, championship contenders Vettel, Barrichello and Button are fourth, seventh and ninth respectively and separated by just over two hundredths of a second; just one second ultimately covers the top 16 drivers. Elsewhere, Timo Glock returns to his seat whilst Romain Grosjean out-paces Renault teammate Fernando Alonso. Red Bull's Mark Webber crashes near the Degner Corner, damaging his car to such an extent that he is unable to take part in qualifying. As the damage is heavy enough to require the chassis to be re-built, Webber has to start the race from the pit lane. Filed the upteenth chaotic day of a Formula 1 increasingly shrouded in uncertainty, with qualifying dominated by red flags (three), due to incidents involving Alguersuari, Glock and Kovalainen, and yellow (one, but very heavy), as Buemi's accident results in grid penalties for Sutil, Barrichello, Button, Alonso and Buemi himself, with a regulation that does not allow timely decisions, to the point that several drivers go to bed without knowing from which position they would start the next day, as there is no official starting grid. Putting aside another episode of a poisoned World Championship, with the double diffuser contested at the beginning of the season and legalized only after two races, the long war between the FIA (in a few weeks the elections for the successor of Mosley with the clash between Todt and Vaatanen) and the teams, Briatore's banishment, the final chapter of the Singapore scandal (Piquet crashing voluntarily to favor the victory of his teammate Alonso) which involved Renault, there is a desire to turn the page and focus on 2010. An eagerness particularly strong in Ferrari and McLaren, the two historical queens, both annihilated this year by the exploits of Brawn GP and Red Bull. The two teams have been working on the next season for a while, convinced they can re-establish the old hierarchies. The Maranello team has already announced its new lineup. With Raikkonen gone, for the rebirth they are counting on Alonso and on Massa's comeback, who has resumed racing with karts in Brazil. This is the first step, the Spanish driver hoping to emulate Schumacher, the Brazilian guaranteeing a second career even more brilliant than the first. But on Monday, October 5, 2009, more pages will be written in the new book. Luca Marmorini, coming from Toyota, will experience his first day of work with Ferrari. He is the new head of the engine department, replacing Gilles Simon. In the meantime the project for the new car, on which Ferrari has been pouring its heart and soul since July, is progressing, abandoning the development of the current car. Stefano Domenicali, the Sporting Director, was clear:


"We have taken on a great responsibility, but it will be a winning choice. Ferrari cannot stand by and watch for two consecutive years".


A car with a larger fuel tank (during pit stops there will be only tire changes from now on, no more refueling), a new weight distribution with the elimination of KERS, tires (front ones narrower due to regulations) capable of handling a higher weight, because there will be a full tank of fuel at the start. Special attention will be given to the brakes, which are very stressed in the first laps (because of the influence of the weight) and are at risk of breaking. But above all an aggressive car, already designed with the double diffuser, at the limits of the regulations. A similar response is expected from McLaren, with Hamilton having already declared war on Fernando Alonso. There are two unknown factors: Mercedes which might prefer Brawn and Raikkonen who has not signed a contract yet. The Finnish driver has set a price (20.000.000 euros), below which he doesn't want to go below, and it seems he has issues with some sponsors as well. Without meeting his conditions, he could bid farewell to F1 and switch to rallying. Brawn GP itself is another question mark. Reigning champion, with Mercedes' support and aerodynamic advantage they aim to repeat their success. But 2010, with another revolution in the regulations, is a blank sheet of paper. And starting from scratch, the car may not withstand the competition with the two announced queens. On Sunday, October 4, 2009, Sebastian Vettel leads the Japanese Grand Prix from the start; aside from a brief attempt by Lewis Hamilton at passing him into the first corner, the Red Bull driver remains relatively unthreatened. The opening lap is clean, with the only major changes in position coming from Sébastien Buemi, who nearly stalls, and Jenson Button, who falls from 10th down to 12th behind the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica and the Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella. Button subsequently reclaims those positions within the opening laps.


Hamilton slots into second place while Jarno Trulli assume third. Further back, Mark Webber, having started from the pit lane, pits three times in the opening four laps; the first two due to his headrest coming loose, and the third for new tyres after he picked up a puncture. Most of the overtaking in the early stages of the Grand Prix take place with the first wave of stops, Vettel remaining unchallenged for the lead. An incident at the Casio Triangle sees Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen collide at relatively low speed, allowing championship leader Button to sneak through into a points position. The middle stint of the race is as quiet as the first, with the only passes being Kovalainen out-dragging Fisichella in the pit exit lane, and a mistake from Hamilton allowing Trulli to pass him as he emerges from the pits. A problem with the Kers unit on his car means that Hamilton subsequently struggles to stay in touch with the Toyota driver. Meanwhile, the Toro Rosso drivers have not fared well, with a clutch problem spelling an early retirement for Buemi, whilst Jaime Alguersuari loses control after touching the astro turf on the outside of 130R which results in a spin into the tyre wall and the safety car being deployed ten laps from the end. Jarno Trulli takes second position at Toyota's home race. He also takes Toyota's last podium, as well as his last podium. He remains the last Italian to score a podium. By the time the wreckage from Alguersuari's accident is cleared away and the track considered safe for racing once more, there are just five laps remaining. Vettel continues to put as much space between him and second place as possible, while ninth-placed Kubica threatens Jenson Button in an attempt to wrest the single championship point for eighth place away from him. Button prevails after deciding not to challenge teammate Rubens Barrichello for seventh. 


He later protests to the stewards that Williams' Nico Rosberg had been speeding under the safety car - though Rosberg is acquitted after a stewards' hearing found mitigating circumstances. Vettel ultimately wins the race from Trulli and Hamilton with Kimi Räikkönen in fourth. Mark Webber, although down in last and 2 laps down, takes the fastest lap on the last lap by 0.002 seconds to deny Vettel a Grand Chelem. His victory and subsequent ten championship points means Vettel stays in contention for the drivers' title, 16 points adrift of Button, who keeps a 14-point lead over Barrichello going into the penultimate race. Vettel is confident he can make up the large points difference, saying his Red Bull team has the momentum, while Button admits he would be focusing on an error-free end to the season to try to clinch his first Driver's title. For a couple of hours they thought they had won the World Championship. Nico Rosberg, Williams driver, but probable future recruit, was under investigation, and the Brawn team had already put champagne in the fridge. If disqualification had occurred, the Brawn GP team would have won the Constructors' World Championship. However Rosberg was absolved. So, it was not meant to be. But if half a point – so much is missing for Ross Brawn to have mathematical certainty of victory, the matter concerning the World Drivers' Championship is just a bit more delicate. Rubens Barrichello (two points for seventh place) and Jenson Button (one point for eighth) were forced to bow to Sebastian Vettel, the absolute master of Suzuka. Taking the title away from Jenson Button (+16) or from Barrichello (+2), remains a challenging task for the German, with only two Grand Prix to go: a fifth place in Brazil would be enough for the Englishman to put him permanently out of the running. But so be it. The young German wants to give it a try:


"Raikkonen had a seventeen-point disadvantage to Hamilton two years ago, he didn't give up and in the end he was rewarded. I have to always win, then the rest is not up to me".


Sebastian Vettel thinks about the car and sighs:


"Here in Japan it was fantastic. If it had always been like this, this season there would have been no contest".


But he, perhaps, should have been flawless like yesterday too. In Suzuka in fact Red Bull Racing was just too competitive. Jarno Trulli, who managed to finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton, has no doubts:


"He was uncatchable".


The Italian finds solace in achieving his best result of the season right at the home race of the Japanese Toyota:


"But I've had enough of second places, I miss winning too much".


There are rumors that you will be removed from the team:


"But I am very calm about the future".


You must already have an alternative plan in place. Jenson Button remains serene as well:


"We needed points for the World Championship and I got them".


He and the car have been struggling for a while, but he'll reach his goal. Rubens Barrichello, on the other hand, will arrive in his Brazil still in the running arithmetically, but he acknowledges:


"Fourteen points are a lot, it's over now".


In the meantime the recovery operation is underway. After his full immersion in Brazil with the karts - "I feel like new" says Felipe Massa beaming - now Ferrari wants to see for themselves. The certainties of a second career equal to or better than the first are many:


"I'm not far from regaining the form I had in Budapest before the accident".


The confidence is enormous but the situation needs to be handled in the best possible way. On Sunday evening Felipe Massa leaves Brazil and on Monday he will be in Maranello, after a stopover at Malpensa. There's a driver ready to take him to the land of Ferrari, where in the evening he will meet Stefano Domenicali and the team's sporting management. The summit will immediately lead to a tough work schedule, that will keep Massa in Italy until the beginning of the following week. To avoid controversy, Ferrari has already requested (and obtained) permission from the FIA to allow the driver to carry out a test similar to the one done by Schumacher on July 31, 2009, at Mugello, using a 2007 car with no components of the current one. The FIA has said yes and the test could take place as early as Wednesday or Thursday. Stefano Domenicali says:


"Massa will undergo medical, physical and attitudinal tests, and he will begin to work with the simulator for several hours. Right now the thing that matters the most to us is that he regains the right confidence. He doesn't have to prove anything to us, he just needs to understand in which stage of his recovery he is. As soon as everything is ready he will be back in the car".


It is therefore ruled out that he will be back on track already on October 18, 2009, for the Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo.


"Felipe wants to race? Yes, on a bicycle".


As for the remote possibility of seeing him in Abu Dhabi, two weeks later: it would be an unnecessary risk. The problem is that Felipe Massa, perhaps a bit agitated by the arrival of the highly competitive Fernando Alonso as his teammate, is buzzing. When he got injured, he was the lead driver, he's not willing to give up the leadership lightly, even though he reiterates on Brazilian television that he is on excellent terms with Alonso. An early return on his part is also influenced by the matter concerning Giancarlo Fisichella.


"I was hired to replace Massa, and as soon as he is able to come back, the car is his".


The Italian however, if this were to happen before 2010, would be disappointed. He has faced too many difficulties in getting used to the Ferrari, but yesterday, aside from the twelfth place, he showed improvements:


"I lapped at the same pace as Raikkonen".


And he is convinced that he can close on a high note, in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Felipe Massa is not an impolite man, but he likes to speak his mind and after what emerged from the now infamous Singapore race he feels wronged.


"That race was manipulated, it should have been canceled, removed from the calendar. And without that Grand Prix I would have won the World Championship. The FIA should have intervened, its silence disappointed me. In Italy, when there was the Moggi scandal in football, Juventus ended up in Serie B, they penalized them, the title was awarded to Inter. I don't understand why instead in Formula 1 nothing can be changed. Renault's interference, with the order given to Piquet to crash, heavily affected the outcome of the race and its final verdict. Don't tell me we were just at the beginning, because a Safety car entered the track, ten cars had to return to the pits and I had several problems during the refueling, with the famous story of the nozzle that remained attached to my car. It's true, there was a human error, one of our mechanics pressed a button incorrectly, but who's to say that under normal conditions he would have acted in the same way? Usually we are perfect in the pits, if there's the right calm. I'm bitter, I lost the World Championship by one point and in that race my rival, Hamilton, gained six. Now however I prefer to put this ugly story behind me. If twelve months later they were to award me a World Championship on paper, I wouldn't want it. I'm not interested, even though the wound is open and it will be hard to erase the anger".


Fiery words that shook the Suzuka paddock over the weekend, with the usual array of controversies and venom. Lewis Hamilton, who is friends with Felipe Massa, was offended and immediately retorted:


"I'm glad Felipe is well, has recovered and can return to driving soon. However I didn't expect these words from him. Our fight was fair, in a very challenging season. I won fair and square and I wish the past to be a closed chapter".


On the other hand, the winner of the Singapore race, Fernando Alonso, now former Renault driver and soon to be Massa's teammate at Ferrari, sympathizes with Felipe Massa's complaints.


"I don't know the regulations, but as a sportsman I would cancel that race, erase the results. It's true, I won, but that victory meant nothing, it didn't change my life, because I wasn't fighting for the world championship. It's up to the FIA to decide, but I can understand Massa's anger, who anyway, I've been saying this for months, deserved the final triumph regardless of what happened in Singapore".


Giancarlo Fisichella also speaks out in favor of Felipe Massa:


"If I were in his place I would think the same way. That was a manipulated race, it could have ended with a different classification and maybe now we would be here talking about Massa as the world champion. He feels penalized, it's right for him to let out his anger".


Felipe Massa's fiery words are, however, destined to fall on deaf ears. Ferrari has no legal grounds to have the FIA rewrite the 2008 World Championship standings. It is Stefano Domenicali himself who affirms this:


"I understand Massa's bitterness, but there's no margin for an appeal. Ecclestone himself invited us to do so, but it would be pointless. We are not a part of the Singapore case, even though we may feel wronged. From a human perspective Felipe's outburst is understandable, but it won't lead to anything".


Lewis Hamilton will remain the World Champion. The only one to pay a heavy price will be Flavio Briatore. Expelled forever from Formula 1.


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