As the dust settles on the 2011 championship and the teams are gearing up for the first February pre-season tests, the drivers are getting back into the rhythm of things, picking up their exercise regimes and preparing themselves psychologically for the next season. This, of course, includes the driver’s favourite pre-season game; the mind type. And, arguably, there are few better at it than Fernando Alonso.
During this year’s WROOOM!! event at Madonna di Campiglio, Fernando was asked if he knew anything about Robert Kubica’s recovery, and took the opportunity to suggest that Kubica is “the best driver” in F1. This little comment seems, at a first glance, to have been voiced for the ears of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Surely, however, such minor comments cannot unsettle drivers of Vettel’s or Hamilton’s calibre. And, in reality, Alonso’s much more cunning than that.
Alonso’s main concern, just like every other F1 driver’s on the grid, is first and foremost his team-mate; in that case, Felipe Massa. Alonso knows that his reputation and his chances of winning the championship begin from inside Ferrari, by having a psychologically beaten team-mate and ensuring that Ferrari is working for him, and him only. Which is why when he was (naturally) asked if he would like to be team-mates with Kubica, his reply was “I am happy with Felipe”.
Although at face value this sounds as a very politically correct answer, if I were Felipe I’d be devastated. A condescending answer like that, from a driver who has been dominating Felipe for the past 2 years, is a serious psychological blow. It shows to Felipe that he prefers him in the team, not because he is nicer or prettier or faster (he has already established that Kubica is the best), but apparently because he has the upper hand. If Alonso were to say “yeah, I want to see Kubica in Ferrari”, this could potentially motivate and anger Massa to prove himself in 2012. It would also be the “wrong” answer to give as it could reverberate badly within Ferrari. By being condescending, he was able to register a psychological blow against Felipe, without actually anyone picking up on it.
A master at work; on and off the track.