Ferrari to bank on Alonso
With 'team orders' now legal in Formula One, Ferrari's Felipe Massa will have to raise his game right from the start of the season in Australia next week.
Otherwise, the Brazilian risks again playing a supporting role to 'Team Alonso', just as his compatriot Rubens Barrichello rode shotgun for 'Team Schumi' in the days when Michael Schumacher ruled Maranello.
It may be too late already for a driver who has started 81 races for Ferrari, ranking him fourth in the team's all-time list.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso could have been lining up in Melbourne with a third title to his name had Ferrari not bungled their strategy and wrecked his chances in last year's final race in Abu Dhabi.
The team know that they owe him one and Alonso will be on their case more than ever.
Image: Fernando Alonso
Photographs: Getty Images
'Felipe, Fernando is faster than you'
Massa, the only driver at the three top teams who did not win a race last year, was told crushingly at the German Grand Prix last July that Alonso was faster and effectively ordered to move aside and let him win.
Team orders, banned after an even louder howl of outrage over Ferrari's manipulation of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix in Schumacher's favour, have now been made legal although teams can still be punished heavily if deemed to have brought the sport into disrepute.
Any recurrence of the "Felipe, Fernando is faster than you" instruction will come as a body blow for a man who was seconds away from winning the title himself in 2008 before a serious head injury in Hungary ruled him out of the reckoning in 2009.
Image: Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa
'We must make a good start'
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo at the end of last season judged Massa's 2010 performance as a 7- compared to Alonso's 9.5 and suggested jokingly that the Brazilian had been substituted by a lookalike.
He has already made clear that he expects his team to be fighting for both titles this term.
"Believe me, I often still wake up at night thinking of the race in Abu Dhabi, so it goes without saying that we must absolutely look to the future," Montezemolo said back in January.
"We must make a good start, both in terms of reliability and, above all, on the performance front. Last year, we lost the championship in a first half that found us failing to live up to our expectations," he added.
The 150 Italia, now on its third name after the threat of legal action from Ford who were seemingly concerned that someone might mistake the 300kph machine for the U.S. company's best-selling F-150 pickup truck, should do what is required.
Image: Felipe Massa drives his Ferrari during a practice session
Ferrari have done more kilometres than any other team in pre-season testing while their pace has appeared to be on a par with champions Red Bull.
On the long runs, rather than single laps, the sport's most glamorous and successful team with 16 constructors' titles and 15 drivers' crowns, may even have the edge.
"Hopefully we are not too far away from Ferrari to start with," Red Bull's Mark Webber told reporters in Barcelona last week.
"I think Ferrari look very strong, I think people are under-estimating where Ferrari are. We hope that we are somewhere near competitive," added Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
Image: A Ferrari car races ahead of the Red Bull car
Ferrari have been boosted by the arrival last year of former McLaren chief engineer Pat Fry and Red Bull strategist Neil Martin.
Australian Chris Dyer, the former head of race track engineering who was blamed in the Italian media for the Abu Dhabi debacle, has been effectively demoted.
Alonso and Massa have both been pounding around the Spanish test tracks like irredeemable workaholics, with the Spaniard putting in 141 laps -- a double race distance -- on one day in Barcelona last week.
"I am pleased with how the winter testing has gone," said Alonso, who won on his Ferrari debut in Bahrain last year and also triumphed controversially in Germany before further victories in Italy, Singapore and South Korea.
"On average, we have done around 100 laps each day, which demonstrates we have the reliability which is a priority when you are dealing with a new car," he told the Ferrari website (www.ferrari.com).
"Overall, I think we will arrive in Melbourne in a 100 percent state of readiness, but whether or not that will be enough to win, we will not know until we are there in Australia," added the Spaniard.
"I feel confident, just as I did last year going into the start of the season. We are in good shape."
Image: Pat Fry