Fernando Alonso trusted trouble-torn teammate Felipe Massa with the responsibility of testing the 2013 Ferrari and, amazingly, instead opted for a training break in Dubai.
It paid off. And in more ways than one, as the whole face of Formula One was wreathed in smiles over the breakthrough it afforded Massa, one of the sport’s genuine nice guys.
The 32-year-old, whose confidence was at its lowest-ever ebb last year with one disastrous show after another and who narrowly escaped being kicked out by the Italian legends, got off to a Spanish flier by topping the times in the new season’s first test in Jerez.
And, from far-off Dubai, double-champion Alonso hailed the resurgent Massa. “Felipe is one of the best drivers in the world,” he said. “At Ferrari we all help each other and I was happy to let him do the test in Spain.”
Everybody with concerns for Massa’s career hopes that his performance in the new car, the F138, was not a false dawn — but the smile on the besieged Brazilian’s once-troubled face when he outsped Jenson Button, triple-champion Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull back-up Mark Webber was its own glowing tribute to his success.
He had watched and marvelled as Button registered his McLaren’s threat and set the mark with a stunner of a lap of 1 minute 18.8 seconds and generously described it as ‘incredible’.
But, bursting with confidence, he topped it by a full second, even after a spin, as a fulsome warning to F1’s front-runners as they warm up for the upcoming challenge.
And he was moved to comment: “Last year we had a big struggle, but compared to the car we had then this one is on a totally different planet, a real beauty. I know we will be able to make a strong challenge in the championship.”
It was all great news for Alonso, just what he wanted to hear as he cycled, ran and swam around Dubai, happy to leave the chores of testing to his revitalised partner.
Niki Lauda, the ex-champion and now a boss at Mercedes, was puzzled by Alonso’s choice to sit out the Jerez date, saying: “I can’t fathom it out. An odd decision.”
Now he, like the rest of us, knows just why. It was an act of Alonso astuteness to give his loyal and popular pal a chance to redeem himself flat-out and under pressure.
— The writer is a motorsport expert based in the UK