Fernando Alonso’s rise to fame was very steep. He became the young driver who finally ended Ferrari’s dominance with Michael Schumacher, who after winning the championship for 5 years consecutively, finally faced a potential opponent. The two had some very fierce battles in 2005 and 2006, post which Schumacher retired from the sport.
Alonso then moved to Ferrari, hoping to replicate what Schumacher did with the team. Although he couldn’t manage a championship with them, he none the less managed to gain the love of tifosi for his speed and commitment.
Formula One engineer Andrea Stella, having worked with both Alonso and Schumacher made revealed differences and similarities in their respective approach.
“If you take a circle of qualities, where Fernando is very high [in all of them] but potentially not the best in any of them, I think Michael was potentially the best in some of them, but in some others he was weaker than Fernando.” he said comparing the two.
“So Michael’s would be more like a star, whereas Fernando’s is more like a perfect circle. Michael was an attacking driver. He approached things from beyond the limit, back to the limit. Fernando is more from below the limit, to the limit.”
“So for example, Michael’s capacity to control the rear end and drive an oversteer-y car was just unbelievable. But sometimes this became his weakness. Because he drove a car so oversteer-y in free practice that when it came to qualifying, where you push that 1% more, he might have too much oversteer or too much rear tyre degradation in the race.
“So with Michael, the engineers had to have an active role in trying to control his capacity and say: Michael, where are you doing this and where is the car doing that? We need more from the car and less from you.”
“Fernando understands his own limits better, and he is very good at understanding where he is contributing and where the car is contributing. He can prepare the car for the race very well thanks to this.”
“Another interesting difference is that Michael was very analytical and dialectical. We spent so much time speaking about the car. Fernando is a concise person. When he comes back to the pits, in the first three words of his feedback, he has said 95% of his point.”
“With Michael, the technique was more about filtering the essence from the details. With Fernando, it is more using a lot of specific questions to build a detailed-enough picture from the essence.
“His sensitivity to the car is exceptional. It is just a matter of where you feel comfortable as a driver. He feels comfortable if he knows that we are attacking 90% of the problem.”
“With Fernando, when there is a problem, it tends to be spread over all the corners. Like, if there is too much oversteer, you see it is more or less everywhere. While some drivers may say understeer here, oversteer there.”
“That is a matter of awareness. You can create your own understeer, for example. Like, if the car is a bit nervous, you don’t commit to turn early enough or to turn enough. So you delay the turn-in, and then you are always going to get an understeery car mid-corner.”
“But not all drivers realise that this mid-corner balance is very much a result of what happens in the earlier 50 metres. And that’s very tricky for an engineer, because if you only go with the driver, you get lost, because you keep going after the mid-corner understeer,” concluded Stella.