Alonso eyes Ferrari resurrection

Source:Agencies Published: 2014-5-9 23:48:01

Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates as he crosses the finishing line to win the Spanish F1 Grand Prix on May 12, 2013 in Spain. Photo: CFP

 Fernando Alonso returns to race on home soil this weekend hoping for an unlikely resurrection of the form and pace that delivered his and Ferrari's last victory.

That came a year ago in the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya where the two-time world champion, from fifth on the grid, won ahead of Kimi Raikkonen­, then of Lotus, and ­Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari.

The Spaniard, who also won his home race with Renault in 2006, can expect an improved car and huge support from the local crowd.

A repeat of the 2013 result would delight not only local Spanish fans, but also deliver a Ferrari one-two as ­Raikkonen joined the Italian "scuderia­" this season for a second time.

It would also please Williams fans, too, as the much-improved British team is now home for the likeable Massa.

A year ago, the race may have been won by Alonso, but the qualifying­ round was dominated by the fast Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who took the front row.

Rosberg led for 10 laps, before he fell away and finished sixth behind the two Red Bulls - a scenario that is less likely this season since Mercedes have won all four of the opening "flyaway" races ahead of this opening round of the European part of the season.

The return to the sport's European­ roots, and its most fer-

vent fans, sees the teams back in their palatial paddock "motor­homes" and represents something of a fresh start.

This year has seen not only Mercedes domination with Hamilton­ reeling off three straight wins following Rosberg's opening triumph in Australia, but also a solid consistency from Alonso in the chasing Ferrari.

Vettel gets change

It has also witnessed Red Bull sliding out of contention for victories, a scenario that may change this weekend.

Quadruple F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, who won in Spain in 2011 and finished fourth in Barcelona last year, will have a new chassis for Sunday's race.

Vettel's teammate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who has out-qualified the German in three of the four races so far, is expected to have a new chassis some time in July.

Chief designer Rob Marshall said that the change, replacing the central tub that the driver sits in, had been scheduled at the start of the season.

"Drivers don't always want to change them - they can get attached to a particular chassis and when they are on a good run they like to hang on to it for as long as possible,­" said Marshall.

Team principal Christian Horner said last month that the champion was very sensitive to the car's handling, and how it entered the corners, and was still looking for "the feel that he needs from the car."

With just one podium appearance, Vettel, who won the last nine races of 2013 on his way to a fourth title in a row, is enduring his worst start to a season since he joined Red Bull in 2009 and he has been asked to move aside for Ricciardo in the last two races.

Nico Rosberg (left) of Germany and Mercedes celebrates with teammate Lewis Hamilton of the UK at the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix on April 6. Photo: CFP

 Mercedes to improve

Aware of a threat to their supremacy - they lead the title race with 154 points to Red Bull's 57 while their drivers also head the drivers' standings with Rosberg on 79 and Hamilton on 75 - Mercedes have also focused on improving performance.

The Spanish race comes three weeks after the Chinese Grand Prix and that gap has allowed everyone to work on developing their machines.

Mercedes have struggled to compete in the "development race" since returning to F1 in 2010, but both Hamilton and Rosberg believe they have what is needed to stay on top.

"We're not sitting comfortably - we know we've got more work to do," said Hamilton.

Hamilton has never won a Grand Prix in Spain.

"We are quicker on the straights, but the Red Bull is very, very quick though the high-speed (corners), which tells me they maybe have a little bit more down-force than us.

"Last year there was a massive gap. We've definitely closed that up, but I think we can do a better job, so we're going to keep pushing."

Rosberg said, "It's taken four and a half years, but we really have a strong team now. Starting with Toto (Wolff) and Paddy (Lowe) at the top, I think we have a good structure all the way."

Rosberg was on pole in Spain last year but has also never won there.

"This year's development race will be much more extreme than we've seen in recent years, because the regulations are so new."

Talking about their in-team duel, Hamilton added, "Nico is driving really­ well. He's pushing me very hard and keeping me on my toes.

"We're going to see from race to race. There are going to be times when he's going to be quicker and I'm going to be quicker, as we saw last year.

"What I'm really trying to focus on is those circuits where I am maybe weaker, or not as close to him. I want to close that gap. (It's) damage limitation (for me) on those races and I think Bahrain was one of those races."

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