Alonso had first come under the radar at Minardi when at the age of 17 he had dominated the 1999 Euro Open by Nissan championship. It was said by Adrián Campos that in his first test session in a single seater car, he had already match the record of the previous year's champion, Marc Gené.
Gené, who himself was considered a Spanish racing prodigy had since graduated to Formula One whilst Alonso went on to take the title in the same series as Gené had done in the previous year. With Alonso considered to be even quicker than Gené, Minardi had offered Alonso a test in the Minardi at Jerez on the 13th December 1999. Alonso immediately impressed, his best lap times were 1.7 seconds than the other Minardi test drivers, including race driver, Marc Gené.
Minardi were so impressed with Alonso that they signed him as a part of their line-up almost immediately. Unlike most drivers, Alonso had a very limited budget and therefore was completely reliant on his reputation and skill alone to determine his place in motor racing. His manager, Adrián Campos who at the time was attempting to purchase the Minardi team had signed him to the team until the end of 2004.
However he would begin his first year with the team as a test driver where he would compete in International Formula 3000 with the backing from the team's title sponsor, Telefonica. His role in Formula One was limited, the team was in the middle of a financial crisis and throughout the season Minardi was looking for a new buyer.
With Telefonica confirmed to be exiting the team at the end of the season, for a time Alonso's career looked dire as both he and Minardi had no funds. Nonetheless, Alonso was proving himself in Formula 3000. Although only a teenager, Alonso was proving he could match the older driver's in the series and had made a habit of being able to fight through the field from the back of the grid. Despite a number of crashes, Alonso had made his mark by the end of the season. He finished second at the Hungaroring before winning the season finale at Spa-Francorchamps.
Although only having done two seasons in single seaters, Alonso had taken victory in his first season of F3000 and was expected to be placed into a race seat at Minardi for 2001. During testing he had regularly outpaced both Minardi's race drivers, Marc Gené and Gastón Mazzacane.
Nonetheless there was continuing dispute as to whether Minardi would even be in Formula One for 2001. Although they had found a buyer, the team had still failed to secure an engine deal and there was significant potential that they would not be prepared for the new season.
Whilst his manager, Adrián Campos was insisting that he remain at Minardi, Alonso's excellent F3000 results had garnered the attention of the top teams in Formula One. The world champions, Ferrari were even said to be interested in Alonso's services. Ferrari were pushing to sign Alonso for the Prost team that would be running Ferrari engines in 2001.
However it was Flavio Briatore who capitalised on attaining Alonso's services for the new season. Briatore had an interest in Alonso ever since 1999 and with Minardi on the verge of collapse saw an opportunity to free him from his five year deal with the team. Briatore convinced Alonso that the Renault owned Benetton team should take over his Minardi contract. The new terms being that he would now be employed in the services of Briatore's management team as well as now being under contract with Renault until 2004.
With Minardi unable to guarantee a secure future, Alonso was able to break free of his contract and instead pledged his loyalty to Briatore and Renault. Notably, however there was no placing for Alonso in the Benetton team for 2001 as they had already contracted Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button as race drivers as well as Mark Webber as reserve driver. Therefore Briatore in fact thought it best to loan him out to Minardi for 2001 allowing Alonso to gain Formula One experience whilst a potential opening for 2001 would allow him to move into Renault team.
However the alternative possibility which was to position Alonso in a second season in Formula 3000 was for a time looking to be the more likely option. Following the conclusion of the 2000 season, Minardi had yet to find a buyer or an engine supplier ahead of the new season. With the team out of operation, Alonso had yet to complete the necessary mileage to qualify for an F1 superlicense. During December 2000, Alonso was given a large amount of running in the Benetton B200 in order to prepare for the new season.
Although by the end of the year, he had qualified for a superlicense, his future had still yet to be decided. On the 7th January 2001, Alonso had stated "In 10 days, more or less, my future will be clear. I'm waiting on news from Minardi. To be ready in time for Australia, work on the car has to start next week."
It was looking increasingly likely that Minardi would not be on the grid in Australia, however on the 30th January 2001, it was announced that Paul Stoddart's European Aviation had purchased a majority stake in the Minardi team. Whilst Briatore had been trying to negotiate the supply of the Renault owned Supertec engines to supply Minardi, Stoddart instead opted to run the cheaper Ford engines for the new season.
The Ford was already two years old and that paired with a chassis that was developed during a time of very little funding, Minardi were expecting a dire season in 2001. Alonso had his first Formula One test of the year on the 3rd February at Vairano. However whilst most teams had began testing their 2001 cars, Minardi had yet to even complete their 2001 challenger and Alonso was still driving the 2000 model.
Whilst the paddock had known for months that Alonso was the prime candidate to be racing for Minardi in 2001, he wasn't confirmed in the team until the 7th February. The day earlier at the Benetton car launch, Flavio Briatore had confirmed to the world that Alonso was indeed contracted to Renault until 2004. A day later, Minardi had also officially announced that he would be driving for the team in 2001. Paul Stoddart commented "We've had our eye on Fernando for some time," commented team chief, Paul Stoddart. "Any driver who can come into the ultra-competitive world of F3000 and, in only his second season of single-seater racing, win at a circuit like Spa is clearly a bit special. He is going to be a great addition to the team."
On the 21st February, CART driver, Tarso Marques whom had last raced in Formula One during 1997, incidentally for Minardi was announced as Alonso's teammate for the new season. The same day, Minardi had finally launched their 2001 challenger, the Minardi PS01. Both Alonso and Marques were able to do 30 laps between them at the Vairano circuit before preparing to ship out the car to Australia for the first round of the season.
It looked to be a difficult season for Minardi. The team was expected to be well and truely last in the standings, running the new Michelin tyres as well as a two year old European badged Ford Cosworth engine as well as a nearly completely untested car.
Round 1: Australian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Australian Grand Prix
Whilst the PS01 had completed its shakedown in Vairano, the car was not officially unveiled until the 28th February. The car had a very low-key launch in Melbourne, Australia where a small assortment of the press where present at the Victorian parliament house to see Alonso, Marques, Paul Stoddart (team principal), Giancarlo Minardi (founder) and Gustav Brunner (chief designer) unveil the new car.
Paul Stoddart had incredibly modest expectations of his two drivers stating "If I am standing on the grid with two cars in Sunday's race, that's the reward that we need." He would then go on to say "the perfect scenario for me would be for one car to finish on Sunday, that will be like winning the world championship." Stoddart had even more modest season expectations where he said "Starting so late, with no testing, a building programme that was impossible to achieve - 10th or better in the constructors' championship is the best we can expect." This would mean that Minardi were hoping to be simply the second slowest team on the grid.
Neither Alonso or Marques had ever been to Melbourne before and the Albert Park track would be totally unfamiliar. Nonetheless, Alonso was in good spirits stating "I feel fantastic, I have confidence. For sure, I think the team will improve this year, but for us I think the first three or four races will be very difficult because we have not been able to do any testing for any time this winter."
Having been asked as to whether he had completed any driving on the Albert Park circuit, Alonso stated "yes, I have driven the course on computer games, on Play Station, but I have also done some laps around it on a road car."
Despite the troubles of his team, Alonso immediately was able to demonstrate his own talent by putting his Minardi seventeenth fastest in the session. At the end of the day, Alonso had set times better than Luciano Burti, Gaston Mazzacane, Enrique Bernoldi, Jenson Button and teammate Marques.
Marques had suffered a major engine blow out at the start FP2 which ended his session and presented some serious concerns for the team. Nonetheless, Paul Stoddart was ecstatic with Alonso's performance stating "The miracle continues!". Speaking in the Friday press conference, Stoddart spoke about Alonso stating "fantastic. He was a little bit nervous as well before the first session, and he's now cool, calm and collected."
Alonso was equally satisfied following his first day of practice noting "this morning the car had some understeer, but the engineers worked really well to sort it out.In the afternoon session I was definitely luckier than Tarso and had the opportunity to improve the car further. Now the car has changed and it looks more competitive. We will probably only make a few changes now to improve the car further. The potential is definitely there and I believe we will have a good car for the weekend."
However the team were wary about their performance considering the engine problems that were encountered on Marques's car. Stoddart confirmed to the media in the Friday press conference that the team had used "the worst ones" during Friday. He further elaborated stating "we know that we have to wait until Barcelona before we cure the problem. We know what the problem is, so it's not going to be an issue, but it just takes time to manufacture new components and cure the problems. So hopefully by Brazil, we will have a small improvement; but by Barcelona, that problem should be gone altogether."
During the Saturday practice session, Alonso further improved setting the fifteenth fastest time. His teammate, Marques, was once again slowest following spinning into the gravel trap.
Marques had been the first Minardi to take to the track, however immediately began to report "nervous brakes", it was clear he was struggling and was way off the pace of the competitors. However, Minardi were saved humiliation when Alonso entered the track and immediately went 3.6 seconds faster than his teammate.
Marques thereafter appeared to be unsettled and could be seen overdriving the car to little avail. Alonso, however was managing to put in some consistently fast lap times, noting "I was not at all concerned, except that in qualifying you can only do your best lap once with each set of tyres, therefore I could not take too many risks given I hadn't a spare car at my disposal."
Marques. meanwhile would lose control of his Minardi at turn three and end his session in the gravel. Following a big accident at turn five by Burti's Jaguar, Alonso saw an opportunity to move up from the back row of the grid. He thereafter commented " I pushed a bit harder only towards the end of the session when I was sure I had qualified. But I missed a braking point, losing almost half a second."
Alonso would put his car nineteenth on the grid, placing his car ahead of Mazzacane's Prost as well as Burti and Marques. However, he made a mistake on what was seemingly set to be his fastest lap. Alonso had believed he had the speed to match his FP3 times that would have put him fifteenth fastest. He reported at the end of the session "I feel a bit disappointed but overall I am pleased."
He would have possibly had the chance for further runs, however had to return to the pits to allow Marques to comandeer his car. The team did not have a spare and therefore Marques had to take Alonso's in a desperate attempt to get within the 107% qualifying time.
Despite having another run, Marques was still unable to achieve a time fast enough to qualify and his best time was still 2.6 seconds slower than Alonso's. Despite the car's lack of testing, Alonso believed he had the pace to match the Arrows, Benetton's and Prost's.
In the warm-up, Alonso was once again demonstrating competitive pace and ended the session sixteenth fastest. He remained consistently faster than the Arrows, Benetton, Prost's, Burti's Jaguar and teammate Marques who once again was at the bottom of the field. Although he had failed to qualify, Marques had been granted special permission by the stewards to enter the race.
The goal for the team was to ensure that both cars made it to the finish. However, given the engine problems the team remained pessimistic of their chances ahead of the race. Whilst the Minardi did not appear to have the race pace of its competitors, Alonso had a solid race to which he noted "today's objective was to finish the race and that is what happened, so it couldn't have turned out better. The team worked flat out over the weekend and the result is a clear demonstration of that. My car went really well over the whole race, allowing me to push hard until the end."
Alonso finished the race in twelfth, two laps down on race winner Michael Schumacher, however he managed to finish ahead of both Benetton's whom had encountered technical issues. Teammate Marques had a very early engine failure which raised concern for Alonso's car, however he appeared to continue throughout the race without problem.
Although he was in the slowest car, Alonso was able to keep Irvine's Jaguar behind him, until the lap after the safety car. Thereafter he had Verstappen and Button behind him after Verstappen had an early stop and Button had a stop-go-penalty. During the race, ITV's Martin Brundle commented, "the future of grand prix racing is safe, you've got Räikkönen, Alonso and a lot of young drivers in this field that are showing absolute brilliance at a very early stage. It is very reassuring to know that a lot of young drivers on their way through already." Murray Walker further added "a brilliant young driver in Fernando Alonso. He is in fifteenth position at the moment in his first grand prix, in a car that has had to be put together with enormous speed and accuracy."
However Alonso notably gained some notoriety in the race. Having completed his second pit-stop, Alonso exited the pits right in front of the battle for second between Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. As was described by Barrichello in the post-race press conference "he didn't look at the blue flags at the end of the straight, he just wanted to keep on going fast, and obviously I had no space to go and I had to go kind of on the grass." Not only that, he was also recorded speeding in the pit-lane when coming in for his stop.
In response, Alonso was apologetic noting "I am sorry for getting in Barrichello's way. I was rejoining the track after stopping in the pits and visibility in the mirrors was very low. I only saw him at the last moment, when it was too late to let him pass."
Nonetheless, the race had been excellent for Alonso where he closed in saying "The car just went better and better as the fuel load lightened, so much so that I was able to improve my lap times in the closing stages of the race."
Paul Stoddart was ecstatic with his team's performance, noting Fernando not only showed today what he is capable of, but also proved that the Gustav Brunner-designed European Minardi PS01 chassis will need to be taken seriously this year. I feel for Tarso as, without exception, every technical problem the team encountered this weekend was on his car." He concluded the weekend with an enormous endorsement of Alonso, stating I think Alonso is easily going to be the rookie of the year and is going to go on for bigger and better things in F1,"
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Race Lap-by-Lap RecordEdit
|1||At the first corner, Alonso drops to twenty first behind Mazzacane and Burti|
|Irvine spins at turn three, promoting Alonso to twentieth|
|Mazzacane then retires, promoting Alonso to nineteenth|
|2||Bernoldi spins out, Alonso moves up to eighteenth.|
|4||Major accident between Villeneuve and R Schumacher. The safety car comes out and Alonso moves up to sixteenth.|
|Teammate, Marques retires from the race.|
|During the safety car period, Alonso is in between the two Jaguar's of Burti and Irvine.|
|15||After nearly 25 minutes, the safety car comes into the pits.|
|On the restart, Alonso is six tenths behind Burti, four tenths ahead of Irvine and 8.438s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|16||Alonso loses sixteenth to Irvine, however regains the place when Verstappen comes in to the pits.|
|Alonso is 5 tenths behind Irvine. He is 13.648s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|17||Alonso is 8 tenths behind Irvine. He is 17.269s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|18||Alonso is 1.5 seconds behind Irvine, 1.1 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 21.556s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|19||Alonso moves into fifteenth when Button comes in for a stop-and-go penalty.|
|Alonso is 2.1 seconds behind Irvine, 1 second ahead of Verstappen and 25.343s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|20||Alonso is 2.2 seconds behind Irvine, 1.4 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 29.044s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|21||Alonso is 1.9 seconds behind Irvine, 1.5 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 32.643s behind race leader, M Schumacher.|
|Murray Walker reminds viewers that Alonso is "still running".|
|26||Fisichella has a problem and enters the pits. Alonso moves up to fourteenth.|
|Häkkinen crashes out and Alonso moves up to thirteenth.|
|33||Alonso enters the pits and is lapped by M Schumacher. Verstappen retakes thirteenth.|
|As he exits the pits, he blocks Barrichello in second position who runs wide onto the grass. This allowed Coulthard to overtake Barrichello into turn three.|
|38||Trulli retires and Alonso moves back into thirteenth.|
|42||Montoya retires, Alonso moves up to twelfth.|
|44||Alonso makes his second pit-stop. He exits the pits and maintains his position ahead of the Benetton's. Murray Walker mistakenely thinks he is "out of the race."|
|58||Alonso finishes twelfth behind Irvine and ahead of Fisichella.|
Round 2: Malaysian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix
In finishing the race, Alonso had exceeded Minardi's expectations in Australia. However whilst he had a strong performance, teammate Marques, was hampered by reliability problems throughout the weekend. Furthermore, a lack of a spare car had compromised the qualifying as Alonso was forced to give his car up to Marques who had earlier spun out of the session.
For Malaysia, the team would have a benefit of a third car on hand throughout the weekend. The problematic chassis that had been run by Marques in Australia would be designated as the spare car, whilst Marques would run the less troubled chassis operated by Alonso in Australia. Alonso meanwhile would compete in the newly constructed chassis for the Malaysian race.
Malaysia began much problematic for Alonso than it did in Australia. In FP1, an electrical problem developed after two laps which forced him back into the pits. He was thereafter forced to sit out the remainder of the session. Gustav Brunner described the problem as being "difficult to trace" and he therefore had to sit out of the first 40 minutes of FP2 as well.
Alonso was able to return to the track for the final 20 minutes of the session, thereafter he reported "once the problem was sorted out, I was able to run eight laps more over the last 20 minutes. The car was then much better, which allows me to be confident for tomorrow's qualifying."
Despite his troubles, Gustav Brunner was impressed with his performance stating "he was then running a car that hadn't had any set-up work done on it, and he actually did very well to set the time he did." Paul Stoddart closed by stating "we're particularly pleased that both drivers have adapted so quickly to a track they've never been to before, and I feel comfortable that we'll see a significant improvement in the team's performance tomorrow and for the race."
After the session, Alonso attended his first FIA press conference. At the forefront of the press for the first time, when he was asked if he felt pressure in being in Formula One at such a young age, Alonso simply said "no, I don't feel pressure."
However during qualifying, Alonso would experience difficulty for the first time behind the wheel of the car. He had a strong FP3 in which he ran faster than Jean Alesi's Prost and Button's Benetton, however in FP4 his car began developing a mechanical problem. Therefore for qualifying, it was decided Alonso would run in the spare car.
Alonso did two runs in the spare car, however after being dissatisfied with the handling of the car he switched to his race car for the final run. After the session, Alonso noted "The cars behaved quite differently and it affected my concentration. I couldn't get into a good rhythm and made some mistakes, with the result that I just didn't put a quick lap together." Although he struggled and was on the back row of the grid, he remained ahead of Marques whom had a lot less problematic weekend. It had not looked the best weekend in Malaysia, however Stoddart was optimistic stating "As ever, tomorrow is another day. Both our drivers are strong racers, so we remain hopeful of a good result in the race."
Ahead of the race, Alonso's race car continued to be problematic and on his installation lap of the warm-up, his car ground to a halt. He was thereforce forced to use the erratic spare car for the remainder of the session and for the race. He continued to note that he "had a few problems trying to find the right chassis set-up."
Worse was to come for Minardi when most of their pit-wall equipment which included the team radio and telemetry was destroyed in the heavy rain of the warm-up session. The two Minardi cars entered the race severely compromised due to a lack of set-up development. After the race, Alonso noted "The hardest time, though, was when it started to rain and my car did not go well in the corners. I was forced to change tyres many times and, as a result, I had to pit five times, which is quite unusual."
It was amazing that the Minardi cars finished considering their compromised set-up as well as problems such as an overheating gearbox, tyre degradation and a lack of radio communication. The cars finished thirteenth and fourteenth, with Alonso three laps down on winner, Michael Schumacher. However, he had consolation as still being a lap ahead of Marques.
Stoddart commented on the troublesome event stated "Fernando must have come close to setting a record for the number of pit stops in a race; however, the team took the decision to let him continue racing despite a mechanical problem that necessitated all the non-scheduled stops."
Alonso was philosophical about the weekend, noting "the positive side of today's race is that I accumulated a lot of experience in these conditions, and I feel sure I will be better prepared for Brazil as a result. I felt more comfortable in my car as every lap went by."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Race Lap-by-Lap RecordEdit
|0||After Fisichella fails to slot into his correct grid position, the start is aborted and Alonso moves up to twentieth on the grid. Montoya then has troubles and is wheeled off the circuit. He is further promoted to eighteenth.|
|1||At the start, Alonso takes the inside line as teammate Marques takes a wide entry into the corner. Alonso is forced to slow by the spinning R Schumacher and in doing so allows Bernoldi to pass. Alonso then overtakes Irvine who dramatically slows whilst Räikkönen fails to get off the start-line.. Alonso is seventeenth at the end of the lap, behind Mazzacane.|
|2||Panis retires from the race and Alonso is promoted to sixteenth. He then drops back down to seventeenth when R Schumacher moves past him.|
|3||Heavy rain suddenly afflicts the circuit.|
|Marques who is fifteenth gets the first call into the pits for wet tyres. Alonso has to complete a further lap in the wet conditions.|
|Those that continue on dry tyres are forced to complete an incredibly hazardous lap. Montoya, Bernoldi, Heidfeld and Villeneuve all spin out of the race.|
|The safety car is brought out.|
|Alonso is seen having a spin, however survives the lap to pit and put on the monsoon tyres.|
|4||Behind the safety car, Alonso is last of the surviving runners in fifteenth with teammate Marques ahead of him.|
|6||Alonso among the lapped runners passes the safety car to rejoin the back of the field.|
|8||The sun is out after a brief downpour.|
|10||The safety car comes into the pits.|
|On the restart, Alonso is 1.9 seconds behind Marques and 13.315 seconds behind race leader, Coulthard.|
|11||Alonso is 1.2 seconds behind Marques and 21.008 seconds behind race leader, Coulthard.|
|13||Button spins and Marques moves past. Alonso is 5.2 seconds behind Button and 34.413 seconds behind race leader, Coulthard.|
|14||Alonso is 4.7 seconds behind Marques and 38.819 seconds behind race leader, Coulthard.|
|20||Whilst many of the runners had taken a gamble for dry tyres, Alonso entered the pits for intermediates.|
|On his out-lap, Alonso is lapped by race leader, M Schumacher.|
|25||Alonso moves into thirteenth ahead of Button and Mazzacane whom have pitted for dry tyres.|
|27||Alonso moves ahead of Marques and into twelfth. Marques was still on the wet tyre and was suffering from severe degradation.|
|28||Alonso moves out of the way of the three way battle for fifth between Verstappen, R Schumacher and Häkkinen|
|Alonso slipstreams Häkkinen down the main straight.|
|31||Marques has a tyre blowout and falls a lap behind Alonso in the pits.|
|32||Alonso is the last person to pit for dry tyres and drops to fourteenth behind Button and Mazzacane.|
|Fisichella retires and Alonso moves back up to thirteenth.|
|55||Alonso finishes the race thirteenth.|
Round 3: Brazilian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix
The weekend had got off to some positivity with the announcement that the team had signed Prost's Deputy Technical Director, Loic Bigois as new Head of Aerodynamics at Minardi. Heading into Interlagos, Alonso would once again be attending a track that he had never raced before.
However, Interlagos was the home territory of teammate, Tarso Marques. Not only had Marques previously raced the circuit in Formula One back in 1996, he had also raced the circuit extensively in his junior career. Having been outpaced by Alonso in the opening two races, Marques had a point to prove coming into his home race.
In the opening practice session, Marques looked incredibly quick. On his home turf, the Brazilian had set a time that put him sixteenth fastest. Alonso was much more in the background and bottomed the time sheets as he attempted to learn the new circuit. Discussing the session, Alonso noted that his objective was to "pile up as many laps as possible in order to learn the new track."
For the second practice session, the two driver's made set-up changes on the car to varying effect. Alonso noted " we started to test some new solutions to find a good set-up, and in fact we believe the car's behaviour has improved a lot." In contrast, Marques reported "in fact, the car's behaviour actually deteriorated".
This differing of opinion on the car's performance was indicative of the results, Alonso had suddenly found a competitive set-up whilst Marques was unable to find any extra pace from his first session form. Nonetheless, Paul Stoddart was optimistic of his team's pace, stating " "There's every reason to feel pleased with today's performance and it was good to see both Tarso and Fernando mixing it with the Arrows, Prosts and Benettons. Considering that one second is all that separated Fernando from a top-10 position today, it shows just how close the performance of the whole field is here in Brazil. Both cars ran reliably, with only routine set-up changes being made, so we're looking forward to a good qualifying session tomorrow and a competitive Brazilian Grand Prix."
During the morning practice sessions, both drivers reported improvements in the set-up. Alonso noted "focusing on finding some improvement on the front end of the car, and it actually began to go better lap after lap." Alonso continued to outpace Marques, although his teammate once again had suffered an engine failure on his car. Nonetheless whilst the Minardi's were still consistently the slowest team, they had the demonstrated capability to challenge the Arrows, Prost and Benetton cars.
During qualifying, Alonso reported to be "quite happy with my qualifying result" in which he finished nineteenth ahead of Button, Mazzacane and Marques. However he had believed that he had the pace to go faster than Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton as well. Albeit, bad positioning on his final qualifying run had meant that he was placed in traffic.
Nonetheless, he had outpaced his teammate once again, particularly valuable was that it was on his teammate's home race and a course in which he was experienced at. Marques, however had been having a difficult weekend in which reliability had hampered him ahead of qualifying in FP4. Nonetheless, the team were left wanting more, Stoddart noted "the closeness of the times once again demonstrates just how tight the World Championship is this year. It's a shame, however, that what was potentially Fernando's fastest run was spoiled by traffic. If it hadn't been for that, he would undoubtedly have ended up ahead of both Benettons."
During the morning warm-up, Alonso was demonstrating rapid pace in which he was lapping faster than not only his teammate but the Arrows and Benetton cars. However throughout the session, he notably had issues with the " throttle potentiometer of my car, which affected the behaviour of the engine." Towards the end of the session, Alonso lost control of the car and spun into the gravel.
His problems of an inconsistent power output in the engine continued throughout the race. However it was in fact an electronic problem that forced him into retirement. It would turn out to be a frustrating result, in a race where there was a multitude of retirements, Marques had managed to climb into ninth position by the end of the race. Although Alonso had been much faster, it was Marques who delivered the team's first top ten finish of the season.
Nonetheless Paul Stoddart had sympathy for Alonso stating "but he did everything we could have asked of him this weekend." Alonso also remained unfazed and noted "sometimes problems occur in motor racing and it isn't always possible to finish every race. The only positive thing you can do in such circumstances is to start focusing on the next event, and that's what I'm doing."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 4: San Marino Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 San Marino Grand Prix
The gap between Brazil and San Marino had seen extensive testing from nearly all the teams. The one team that had not been doing testing was Minardi ironically. The team, still on a limited budget could not afford to go testing. It therefore led to the potential that they would fall further behind their nearest competitors in the development race.
On the positive, Imola was the first track that Alonso had previous experience on. Notably, his teammate had never raced on the Imola circuit. Furthermore, although he had only competed in three races, Paul Stoddart was already trying to secure his services for the 2002 season. However both Alonso and his Renault management were hesitant to re-sign for the Minardi team so early.
Alonso notably having a clause in his contract that required Minardi to have a competitive engine in future years in order for him to re-sign with them. Paul Stoddart, determined to keep his star driver announced to the press ""I can say we are talking to two engine manufacturers who are currently on the Grand Prix grid."
The weekend did not start well for Alonso, very early on in FP1 he was forced to stop out on track due to a gearbox problem. However as noted by Marques, "therefore we were not able to establish a good reference point so as to know how to improve the car." In the second session, Alonso lost a further 30 minutes in the session as the problem had yet to be rectified. Despite his lack of track time, he went eighteenth fastest lapping faster than his teammate and the Arrows cars.
Nonetheless Alonso was left wanting more from the session, stating "we couldn't make a lot of improvements to the car in such a short time, so 18th position is really the best we could obtain today considering the problems we had." Stoddart commented "both Fernando and Tarso set promising times, despite not having had as many laps as had been planned. We continue to look forward to the weekend ahead, though, especially if the weather remains as changeable as it has over the past few days."
After a difficult morning practice which took place under wet conditions, Alonso noted " did not allow us to work properly on the car's settings". However Alonso demonstrated strong pace throughout FP3 and FP4 to which he noted "for the qualifying session, we went for the chassis settings we had arrived at back at the factory, which are not always the right ones."
However luckily the gamble paid off and Alonso had an excellent qualifying to go eighteenth fastest. For the first time, Alonso had felt he had extracted the maximum out of the Minardi in qualifying stating "I pushed hard over the last runs, driving to the limit, and I believe that to be ahead of both Benettons and one Prost is an encouraging result for the team, which bodes well for the development of our chassis." His performance had garnered the attention of the paddock. In an inferior car he had managed to outqualify both the cars of the team that controlled his Formula One future. Paul Stoddart further noted that his performance was "not that far adrift of the Arrows and Jaguars."
However despite his strong qualifying performance, problems began to surface ahead of the race. Alonso barely got any running in the warm-up due to mechanical troubles once again hampering his session. Nonetheless, Marques was running well and the team appeared to maintain its competitive pace for the race.
Imola was notorious for being hard on brakes and early in the race Alonso was immediately appearing to suffer problems. He noted "I started having problems very soon after the start because my car did not brake as it should, even when I pushed the pedal to the maximum, I tried to reach the pits to see if anything could be done to fix the problem, but I went too fast into a corner, spun off the track, and finished against the barriers."
Although he was suffering from brake troubles, his best competitive lap remained much faster than any laptimes Marques would complete throughout the race. Marques meanwhile would last a further 45 laps before his engine blew. After a lot of promise, it had been a disappointing weekend for Minardi to which it had its first double-retirement of the season.
Stoddart maintained the optimism in the team by stating "The team has its first test of the year at Mugello this week to evaluate, among other things, its traction control system in preparation for Barcelona. We look forward to a better weekend at Fernando's 'home' Grand Prix."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 5: Spanish Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Spanish Grand Prix
Following the San Marino Grand Prix the Minardi team got its first opportunity to conduct a proper test session of the new season. At a test in Mugello. the team conducted a three day test that focussed on developing the car's traction control device as well as the automatic shifter in the gearbox. Furthermore, the team was expecting an upgrade to their European badged Ford-Cosworth engines which would solve the reliability problems from earlier in the year.
Nonetheless, Alonso was quick to downplay the hype for his potential at his first home grand prix. He was not totally assured of the success of the recent tests, noting "we tested last week at Mugello and there were many problems with the starts and the traction control, but I hope that tomorrow we can try more things and try to confirm some things. I don't know, it will be difficult to finish the race but, for sure, and in the next races, the traction control will be good and maybe there will be less difference between Minardi and the other teams."
However he maintained some optimism for the Minardi team to which he stated "for sure, at the end of the year Minardi will be in a better position."
Unsurprisingly Alonso was the first car out of the pits in FP1, however frustratingly for the Minardi team, their upgrade package for Barcelona was seemingly having little effect on their performance. The only car he was consistently able to run faster than was that of his teammate. Alonso had edged out Burti and Button in each of the sessions', however the Minardi's were not looking as close to their rivals as they had done in the previous race.
In the FIA press conference, Alonso had finally began to let fly his frustrations of the Minardi's lack of competitiveness. When questioned whether there was a lack of respect for Minardi drivers, Alonso asserted "when you see the two Minardis on Saturday, it's difficult to do a clear lap because everybody waits until the end of the session. For us it is always difficult because we can't overtake anybody. I hope that people have a little bit more respect for us in the next races." It was a bold demand from a driver competing in Formula One's slowest team.
However his plea was not well received from all the corners of the paddock. Notably, Jaguar's lead driver, Eddie Irvine was quick to downplay Alonso's frustrations stating "in the race I can understand their problem because they are so damn slow that they are constantly getting lapped. They might as well not be here, you're not racing in Formula One, you're just looking in your mirrors. I can understand their frustration but that's Minardi's job. It's up to Minardi to raise their game so they don't get lapped so often. It's like us. We've got to raise our game so we don't get lapped." Nonetheless it was now clear to all that Alonso was no longer willing to remain at the back of the grid beyond his first season.
There was further frustrations at the beginning of Saturday when his engine began to lose power in FP3 and required an engine change in the middle of the session. However thereafter, Alonso's mood vastly improved. A much more optimistic Alonso would then note ""the team did a great job, particularly the mechanics in my crew when they changed an engine very quickly in this morning's first free practice session. They provided me with a car that behaved brilliantly from that moment on."
After a somewhat difficult weekend until that point, Alonso then managed to put in some excellent lap times in FP4 where he would put the car seventeenth fastest on the timesheets. In qualifying he put in some excellent laps to which his best time was 1.7 seconds better than teammate Marques. Furthermore he had put the car seventeenth on the grid ahead of the two Benetton's of Fisichella and Button as well as fellow Spaniard, Pedro de la Rosa's Jaguar. At the end of the session, Alonso was full of praise for his team's work that day stating "they provided me with a car that behaved brilliantly from that moment on. As a result, we were able to test several different set-ups and get the best out of the chassis today. I feel very happy and I'm now looking forward to tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart was also impressed following his star driver's performance, stating "Fernando Alonso showed a home crowd and the world just what enormous natural talent he possesses. His final timed lap saw him post his best-ever Formula One qualifying performance."
One of the largest crowds had ever gathered for the Spanish Grand Prix to see the country's new heroes, Alonso and De la Rosa. Alonso's success and prodigious talent had attracted more spectators than usual. In fact, the growing popularity of Formula One in Spain had prompted the race organisers to announce that new grandstands would be built for the 2002 race.
Ahead of the race, Alonso confirmed that the team would not be using its new traction control on the startline due to reliability concerns. Throughout the race, Alonso engaged in battle with the Benetton cars, his defacto employers. Fisichella overtook Alonso on lap 15, however Alonso did not lose performance and a strong strategy from the Minardi meant that he was able to retake the position in the pits.
Whilst Fisichella pushed him until the end of the race, Alonso had remarkably finished the race ahead of both the Benetton cars in thirteenth position. A delighted Alonso announced after the race "I am really delighted because I believe I drove a pretty good race today! Even the lap times I was able to put in surprised all of us. For the very first time, I felt totally comfortable in my car today, and what pleased me most was to realise we were not so far from our rivals. Even if they overtook me, they didn't pull away so quickly, and in one or two cases, I managed to stay with them for some laps."
Paul Stoddard was equally impressed in which he commented "The European Minardi team is overjoyed at what has been a fantastic weekend, particularly for Fernando. His performance yesterday in qualifying was outstanding, and today he proved fully capable of holding his own in the race, finishing ahead of some well-known competition."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 6: Austrian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Austrian Grand Prix
Following Spain, given Alonso's pace there were questions as to whether Minardi had drawn even on the performance of Benetton. Although Benetton's recent slump could have been attributed to its restructuring process under its new Renault management, there was no doubt Minardi had made progress since its near dissolution at the start of the season.
Alonso was now becoming a man to watch whilst in contrast there were already rumours that Marques's sacking was imminent. Paul Stoddart desperate to keep Alonso in his team was furiously negotiating for a Renault or works Ford engine for the 2002 season. However his cause was not at all helped when his Technical Director, Gustav Brunner was announced to be leaving Minardi with immediate effect. Brunner had announced he was joining the Toyota project that would be entering Formula One the following year.
Whilst Minardi's long term future had been weakened, Alonso put his focus to the next race at the A1-Ring. Whilst their main rivals, Benetton, had conducted some extensive testing, Minardi had only managed a single day of testing before the Austrian Grand Prix. Alonso, working with new Technical Director Gabriele Tredozi conducted a small amount of work at Ferrari's test track, Fiorano.
It had been a reasonable Friday for the Minardi team to which both Alonso and Marques appeared quicker than the Benetton's of Fischella and Button. Although Benetton had conducted a lot of testing following Spain, Minardi appeared to keep their advantage from the previous race. Nonetheless it wasn't a perfect day, Marques had a radiator problem whilst Paul Stoddart noted "like all the other teams, we didn't get a lot out of the first hour simply because the track was too 'green'."
Marques reported a radiator problem whilst Alonso alluded that the team were unable to find any gains. He noted "We tested several new developments today, but in the end, decided to go back to our baseline settings since we didn't achieve the sort of gains we had been looking for. The track was very dirty in the first session and I was running with quite a lot fuel throughout the day, so the lap times are not particularly interesting from my point of view."'
To conclude, Paul Stoddart stated "both drivers put in lots of laps, though, and gained some useful data for qualifying. In a nutshell, it was a solid, if unspectacular, start to the weekend."
During the morning practice session, it became further clear that the two Minardi's were clearly faster than the Benetton's. Alonso also could be seen to have the potential to challenge the times of the Prost cars in qualifying. Whilst Marques had a multitude of issues that saw him fall behind the pace of the Benetton's in qualifying, Alonso meanwhile had managed to put his car eighteenth ahead of Fisichella, Alesi's Prost, Button and his unfortunate teammate.
Commenting on his session, Alonso noted ""Today was not so bad. It is the third consecutive time I have finished 18th in qualifying, meaning that we are ahead of other cars with more potential than us. This makes us feel pretty satisfied with the work we are doing. It means that what we are doing on Friday and Saturday mornings is effective and pays dividends in the afternoon qualifying. I think this is important and encouraging, both for me and for the whole team."
Considering Marques's extensive problems and under performance, Stoddard noted "On a positive note, Fernando's 18th place is just reward for what has otherwise been a difficult day."
Race day appeared to start well, both Alonso and Marques were running well in the warm-up and were challenging the pace of the Prost's as well as running quicker than the Benetton's. It had been the most competitive both cars had looked all season.
However the race would prove to be less fortunate. Marques would pull out of the race after 26 laps whilst Alonso's car would shut down in the middle of his pit stop which ensured his retirement. The double retirement was an enfuriating result for the whole team, not only had they failed to finish but they were now the only team to not have scored a point in the championship. Arrows had secured a sixth place points finish which had meant that Minardi would have to score at least two points in the season to secure their target of tenth in the championship.
All the team was dejected, Paul Stoddart and his two drivers had left the circuit without a word to the media. Instead it was left to Graham Jones, the media relations manager to clarify Minardi's disastrous weekend. Jones stated "A post-race inspection revealed Tarso's problem was a broken driveshaft," said Jones. "While Fernando's car suffered a seal failure in the hydraulic system, leaving him without a working clutch - bit of a problem when you try to pull away after a pit stop! These were first-time failures for both components, so I think we have to say it was just bad racing luck. Now it's onward and upward to Monaco."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 7: Monaco Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Monaco Grand Prix
The Minardi team had left Austria incredibly disappointed in their performance. However Paul Stoddart attempted to rally the team's recent success even if he was now engaged in a legal battle against his former Technical Director Gustav Brunner. Stoddart stated "next year's cars are a development of this year's car. Our 2002 car is finished, it was finished for another reason early." This would prove critical in the fact that any strengths of the 2002 Minardi were now in the hands of Toyota to which could be developed with a much better budget.
Nonetheless, Stoddart maintained his optimism in which he stated "I would not for one second discount us from getting a point this year. We need a bit of luck, no doubt about that, but we've certainly got the talent and the dedication. If we don't everyone will say: 'well, we didn't think they would anyway.'"
Ahead of the race, Alonso conducted a single day of testing at Fiorano before heading to Monaco for his inaugural race at the street circuit.
With both Alonso and Marques making their debut at the notorious street circuit, there were much questions about whether they would be able to handle the challenge of the circuit. Indeed for Marques he almost immediately had an encounter with the barriers during FP1. Alonso, meanwhile drove cautiously in his attempt to learn the track in which he noted "This morning, despite the track being dirty, I ran fairly well, and my engineer and I decided not to make too many changes to the car's settings."
However in the afternoon it was his turn to make fate with the Monte Carlo barriers. Having slammed sideways into the walling, Alonso limped back to the pits with a wrecked rear suspension bringing an end to his day. A resigned Paul Stoddart noted "on a sunny Monaco afternoon, both European Minardi F1 drivers sadly learned that the walls do bite around here."
Throughout the morning practice sessions, Alonso established that he had the pace to go faster than the Arrows cars and was competing near the level of the Benettons as well as the lagging Jaguar of De la Rosa and Burti's Prost.
He concluded qualifying with another solid performance, his best time being 3.3 seconds faster than the Minardi's of the previous year. Alonso noted ""today we were a bit concerned after Thursday's less-than-satisfactory performance. This morning, though, we realized immediately that the car was not feeling that bad. Since the first session I was able to put in some lap times that were close to those of the mid-field runners. I was therefore looking forward to my qualifying session, which ended in a favourable 18th place for the fourth consecutive time this season, and I feel very happy with it. We didn't even make too many changes to the set-up of the car - we just tried to push hard to get the best out of the last run, and the strategy worked well."
Marques meanwhile was still lost for pace and having yet again rounded out the back of the grid and being well off Alonso's time began to create suspicions that the "engine seemed very slow compared with Fernando's".
It looked set to be an opportunistic race for Minardi in Monaco. There were a multitude of retirements which had allowed Alonso to steadily rise through the field. Alonso commented "The car felt pretty good, but after the first 20 laps I could not select first gear anymore, so I was forced to use second gear instead. Clearly, from that moment on, my race became increasingly difficult." However he still put in a strong drive, rising as high as ninth position.
He had a good tussle with David Coulthard's McLaren whom had been stuck at the back after being caught behind Bernoldi's Arrows. However he then lost the place to the superior car whilst allowing Jacques Villeneuve past under blue flag conditions. He ran as high as ninth position, however his gearbox inevitably failed bringing him out of the race.
Marques would also go on to retire with gearbox issues to which Alonso noted "clearly, we must work on our reliability in order to improve our finishing record." Paul Stoddart echoed this in stating '"the bottom line is that it has been a very disappointing day for European Minardi F1 with both cars failing to finish."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 8: Canadian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Canadian Grand Prix
Although Monaco had been another disappointing weekend, it had become evident that the PS01 in the hands of Alonso was in fact a capable chassis that could challenge the lower-end of the midfield. However, as Paul Stoddart knew only too well, the underpowered 1998 Ford engine was hampering the potential of both Alonso and his team.
In comparison, his teammate Marques seemed completely incapable of matching Alonso despite rumblings from the Brazilian that he didn't have engine equality with Alonso. It was now being reported that Minardi were already planning to replace him with names such as Gianni Morbidelli, Tomáš Enge, Andrea Piccini and Alex Yoong being reported to be in discussions.
In the case of Yoong, it was already suggested that he had signed a contract with the team. However when Graham Jones was asked whether Marques would see out the season, his response was "absolutely". However he also noted "at any given time we are looking at and talking to all kinds of people." The only thing that was certain was that the 19 year old Alonso had now asserted himself as the lead driver in the Minardi team.
It was a tumultuous Friday practice for the Minardi team. The concerns for the lack of engine power were further elevated when Alonso was hampered by an engine problem that limited his running in the session. The problem persisted into FP2 and as was noted by Stoddart " Fernando did complete a timed run on fresh tyres, but lost track time in the afternoon session with a fuel-delivery problem. Hopefully, our problems are now behind us and we'll make good progress tomorrow." Alonso further expanded by stating "In the end, I managed to complete 10 laps, but there was only time to learn the braking points and the lines. It was not the time today to take further risks in search of a faster lap."
The team's fortunes did not improve on Saturday, Alonso's engine problems continued to persist throughout practice which had meant that he very limited running ahead of qualifying. His qualifying was little better to which he commented "during my third qualifying run, when I should have been able to achieve a better position on the starting grid, the session was stopped. Finally, I went out for the last run available, but another red light meant I missed the opportunity to do a final timed lap by a mere three seconds."
However the day was set to get worse and whilst he was still one and a half seconds faster than Marques, he would drop to the back of the grid due to a dimensional infringement on the front wing. A frustrated Alonso commented " now I learn I have been disqualified, as the front wing of the car was found not to be in compliance with the regulations, and will have to start from last place on the grid. I know it doesn't make a big difference, but I have still lost a position."
Paul Stoddart struggled to find reason for optimism in which he noted "we can only hope that tomorrow witnesses an improvement in the team's fortunes."
Alonso had beat the times of the Benetton's during the warm-up, however his hope was to be short-lived. After only eight laps, Alonso was forced out of the race with driveshaft failure. Even more frustratingly, Marques had equalled the team's highest finish that he had scored in Brazil. Although he was undoubtedly slower, Marques had picked up his second top ten finish whilst Alonso had only a best finish of twelfth.
Alonso noted "Today was a truly disappointing day. I felt I performed well during the morning warm-up. I was happy with my car's behaviour and felt confident for the race, but after a few laps there was a problem with the drive to the wheels. It is a shame, because the whole team worked flat out right through the weekend. We have just been really unlucky right from the first day."
Stoddard was hopeful in noting "The team now returns to Europe and will be carrying out further testing of its new gearbox and aerodynamic package. Once in place, this will assist us in addressing the recent reliability issues that have affected the team's performance."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 9: European Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 European Grand Prix
As the season progressed, the PS01 appeared to be falling off the pace of its nearest competitors. The team's objective of tenth in the championship was beginning to unravel in needing a fifth place finish to move past Arrows in the constructor's championship. In the drivers' championship, Alonso joined his teammate, Marques as well as Prost's Burti and Benetton's Button in still searching for points. After eight rounds the team had seemed to have given up hope on Marques making an improvement, it was reported that Alex Yoong was set to replace him in the team once he had qualified for a superlicense. Stoddard had asserted that Alonso would be staying with Minardi in 2002, however this was not confirmed by either Alonso or his Renault management.
Furthermore, parallels were drawn to their performance in the previous year and it was believed the team had made a step backwards. In 2000, after eight rounds Minardi had scored a best of two eighth place finishes and six retirements. In 2001, after eight rounds Minardi had scored a best of two ninth place finishes and nine retirements.
Whilst Stoddard had stated the team would be testing and would make improvements to the gearbox, the team simply participated in press demonstration runs at Donnington. Alonso, who had been the only high point of the team's season was not in attendance of the event.
After a calamitous weekend in Canada, the first day of practice was described by Alonso to be a "profitable day as we managed to work through our programme, which was focused particularly on trying one or two new things on the car. Our interest was not in setting quick lap times, but in testing these possible technical solutions. We have obtained a good result from today's free practice and will obviously try to improve further tomorrow."
The team had not appeared particularly fast, however Paul Stoddard reminded the press "the team worked on set-up for tomorrow, with Fernando in 17th place for much of the second session."
On Saturday Minardi continued their conservative approach to the weekend, although they had continued to be undistinguished, Alonso reported "a good session for me. This morning, we did a good job trying further different settings and made useful progress.
In qualifying, the team lacked pace, however continued through the session without reliability concerns. Interestingly, perhaps now suddenly aware his race seat was in jeaopardy, Marques ran much closer to the pace of Alonso in qualifying. Stoddard reported "a small mistake cost Fernando his third run, and he lost a little time in the garage while his mechanics checked out a suspected problem in the cockpit of his car, but he also drove well."
Alonso was fairly neutral in the result to which he stated "this did not influence my performance. We believe we did the maximum we could today and I can say I feel pretty satisfied with my car's behaviour." Stoddard gave reason for optimism noting "they may be starting the race P21 and P22, but their lap times are less than a second off the pace of the mid-field teams." Albeit it should be noted, the team had began to lose ground on its competitors in recent races.
Minardi's performance in the race was evident that the team were now simply trying to focus on reliability than race performance. However the team encountered engine problems. Marques was forced to retire whilst Alonso commented "unfortunately, over the last 20 laps, something happened to the engine because it suddenly started to lose power, forcing me to select gears earlier than usual. I therefore just concentrated on keeping going until the end, which was what really mattered to us today."
It was clear that Minardi were expecting a lot of retirements which explained their conservative approach, however as Stoddard admitted it " turned out not to be the race of attrition many had expected."' However Alonso was pleased to have simply finished the race stating '"to see the chequered flag was definitely a good result for us and was our main objective, given that I have not finished a race since the Spanish Grand Prix."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 10: French Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 French Grand Prix
There was more drama surrounding the Minardi team with its founder Giancarlo Minardi being investigated for illegal financial activity between 1993 and 1996. Stoddart was quick to downplay this latest fiasco in which he stated "the investigation will have no effect whatsoever on the activities of the Minardi European F1 team as it is now structured."
Stoddart further added that the team's developments were going positively in which he revealed he was in discussions with Asiatech, Ferrari, Ford and Renault for an engine supply in 2002. He further maintained that Alonso would be driving for the team in 2002.
However the biggest news concerned Alonso's teammate whom at long last, Marques had been confirmed to be on "a race by race deal" by Paul Stoddart. In response to the rumours that Alex Yoong was set to replace Marques, Alonso defended his current teammate in which he stated "I don't know really, but I think Tarso is a very good team-mate with experience in Formula One, experience in America, he's very quick. He has some problems at some races in qualifying, but I'm very happy with my team-mate, Tarso."
It appeared to be a very similar strategy as in Europe in which Minardi were focussing on reliability and consistency rather than outright pace. Alonso appeared quick in FP1 and FP2 until late in the session his car dropped down to the back. Nonetheless, Alonso revealed after the sessions "the day turned out well. We completed both sessions without experiencing any problems, which was very good, especially because we were able to test some new things. We are not so far from the other teams in terms of lap times, and I therefore believe we can hope for a good day tomorrow, too."
However in the FIA press conference, Alonso was more revealing. Alonso opened about the problems in the team to which he stated "OK, it's everything, I think. OK, our engine is very old. We need more power obviously, but also we need to work on the chassis because it's very important in some races like Canada or like Nurburgring." Nonetheless, he was optimistic of the future noting "But we have some improvement for Silverstone and maybe for Hockenheim, with a new gearbox and a new aerodynamic package. That will be good for us to come back in those circuits."
Alonso and Minardi were left further frustrated after the qualifying session. Whilst the Minardi's were largely the slowest team throughout the weekend, Alonso at least seemed likely to get off the back row of the grid. Looking to be in a consistent nineteenth position ahead of his teammate and Bernoldi's Arrows.
However as was described by Alonso, "I was happy with my car's performance today, which definitely proved to be better than we had expected at the beginning. Everything turned out well. The only reason for me to be a bit disappointed is that my very last run was hampered by Bernoldi just after the team had decided it was the ideal moment for my last run and sent me out on the track. This should have been my quickest lap, but unfortunately, I was forced to slow and, as a result, was not able to improve my time. Apart from that, though, I feel pretty satisfied and am looking forward to the race."
Paul Stoddart was much more vocal on the issue to which he furiously stated "What would otherwise have been a reasonably good qualifying session for European Minardi was marred by an intentional blocking manoeuvre by Arrows and its driver, Enrique Bernoldi, which spoiled Fernando's last run. This was orchestrated by a member of the Arrows team, positioned in the pit lane, who ensured Bernoldi's exit from his garage was timed to perfection. This unsporting behaviour undoubtedly lost Fernando what would have been his best run of the afternoon.
The tactical decisions by Arrows, Minardi's closest championship rival had garnered the attention of the entire paddock. However Arrows's boss, Tom Walkinshaw had a blunt response for the riled up Minardi manager, to which he likened Stoddart as "more appropriate to a Formula Ford environment than Formula 1. When Mr Stoddart has been in Formula One a bit longer he'll realise that all the teams make every effort not to interfere with each other's timed laps in qualifying." Bernoldi had earlier in the season gained notoriety for his infamous case of blocking the leading McLaren car of David Coulthard.
It was another undistinguishable race, Alonso was able to stick to the tail of his competitors whilst Marques was typically left well behind him. Engine trouble was to bring him out of the race in what was called "a precautionary stop" by Stoddart. Alonso was more forefront stating ""It is frustrating to retire with only five laps to the end of the race; however, the positive aspect of the day is that I was able to accumulate further miles and experience,".
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 11: British Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 British Grand Prix
Ahead of the race there were further deliberations as to whether Alonso's teammate, Tarso Marques would remain in his seat. Yoong who raced with the support of the Malaysian government was expected to be placed in the second seat in the team before the end of the season. Meanwhile there were further questions over Alonso's own future.
The Benetton owned Renault team had been having a terrible season and whilst Alonso himself had been able to challenge his employer's cars, it had not looked good for Renault that their team had been up-staged by Formula One's slowest team. Team principal and Alonso's manager, Flavio Briatore was rumoured to have his job on the line. Briatore had been responsible for Alonso's Renault deal and if the company were to lose him it could play jeapordy on Alonso's long term future.
As for Minardi, their competitiveness had been steadily dropping back from the other tail end teams. Most of the team's conducted extensive testing between France and Britain, however Minardi was only able to complete a couple of short days at Mugello with Alex Yoong and Andrea Piccini. The team had a very tight budget to which Paul Stoddart revealed that it was critical to find a title sponsor for 2002 as he would no longer fund the team beyond 2001.
After an uneventful FP1, Alonso was the first man out onto the track, however beyond that his only publicity was two very big spins at Copse and Stowe. He could be visibly seen trying to extract the maximum out of a car that was steadily deteoriating in competitiveness.
Following the end of the session he noted " "We tried a number of different car settings, which brought some good results. One of today's objectives was to try and put in as many laps as possible here at Silverstone, and in the end I believe we succeeded, thanks to a car that is feeling more and more reliable. Tomorrow's efforts will be focused on achieving a better performance compared with today's, which was still not as good as it could be. That said, I think we are close to the maximum result for our car's present potential."
Paul Stoddart further noted "Fernando provided a boost for the team when he ran as high as 16th. We intend to carry on with the good work tomorrow and are looking forward to the qualifying session."
As for Marques, his own highlight of the session was "when I went for what should have been my fastest lap, the gearbox selected sixth gear at the wrong time and I lost the lap.
The morning practice session were afflicted by heavy rain. Alonso noted that session was both a challenge for him and his team as he noted "we haven't done many tests in the wet so far this season." The team had low expectations considering their engine would be severely underpowered on Silverstone's long straights.
After the session, Alonso noted " In qualifying, we waited until the track was almost dry in order to have the same dry conditions as yesterday. The car set-up was right and, when I went for my third run, I drove what I feel was a very good lap. Of all the qualifying sessions so far, I think this has been one of my best because the whole package was good - the car, the set-up, and my fastest lap. The grid position may be the same as usual, but I still feel happy because I know we did a very good job today."
Alonso was 4.3 seconds off Michael Schumacher's pole time and on the back row of the grid, however this was nothing compared to the troubles of his teammate. Whilst Alonso was able to man-handle his car through the corners despite his power deficiency, Marques was unable to muster the speed to even qualify for the race.
Alonso would be the sole participant in the race for Minardi following Marques's failure to qualify. Despite his power deficiency, Alonso was able to maintain contact with the Jaguars, Benetton and Arrows cars ahead of him before a wheel shockingly detached from his car. Alonso managed to return to the pits to get the wheel replaced, however he was now distanced and finished the race as last of the classified finishers in sixteenth.
Following the race he noted "I think I drove a pretty good race today. From the very beginning, I managed to maintain close contact with the group of cars ahead of me and matched their pace. The choice of Michelin's hard-compound tyre turned out to be right for our race. It was quite a big shock, however, when on the lap I was due to make my second pit stop, I lost the left front wheel. Fortunately, I was close to the pit-lane entrance and was able to get to the team's box for fuel and a new set of tyres. My feeling is that the team has made good progress over recent races and is working better and better. It's a positive development and bodes well for the upcoming races."
Paul Stoddart was equally impressed to which he stated "the result is just reward for what has otherwise been a tough weekend for European Minardi. Fernando drove a storming race, from beginning to end, to record a well-deserved finish, even the loss of a front wheel on the last lap of his second stint only slowing him until he reached the pits for fuel and a set of new tyres. His pace was such that, at various stages in the race, he was able to close up impressively on Irvine's Jaguar, Bernoldi's Arrows, plus the two Benettons, and was fully competitive against all of them. If not for the problem with the wheel, which cost him virtually a lap, he would have finished three places higher."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 12: German Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 German Grand Prix
The team expected to struggle in Hockenheim even more than they had done at Silverstone. The long flowing straights of the circuit undoubtedly favoured engine power above all else. Minardi with their four year old European engine were expected to struggle significantly during the race.
Ahead of the German race, most of the teams were at Monza testing and for once Minardi would be joining the rest of the grid in the test session. The Minardi team had a major development package that they hoped would aid them on the fast circuits despite their lack of engine power. Alonso would test a revised chassis with a "slimline" titanium gearbox, revised suspension geometry and an updated aerodynamic package which would include new bargeboards, new rear wing and exhausts.
Joining Alonso in the test was not his usual teammate, Tarso Marques but instead his rumoured replacement, Alex Yoong. Yoong was now almost certainly expected to replace Marques as soon as he had completed the necessary mileage to qualify for a superlicense. However the new development package had a lot of teething problems to which Paul Stoddart noted ""Today marks the first time this year we have tested with two chassis and, although the weather caused us to finish the session early, some useful work has been done. Obviously, the problem on Fernando's car means he didn't get through his technical programme for today, but that's part of what testing is all about - locating potential problems and solving them before you get to a race weekend."
Marques had meanwhile been reported by RTL to have been so demoralised after his failure to qualify in Britain that he had become totally incontactable. There were rumours he wouldn't even bother to show up in Germany to which Minardi had contacted Luca Badoer, the Ferrari test driver and former Minardi racer as to possibly replace him in Germany.
Concerning Alonso's own future, he had finally began to open up about his future plans in the sport. Alonso was evidently considering his long term future in which he noted "I'm optimistic. I think I'm doing a good job at Minardi. The results are not spectacular at all, but people in Formula One value what I'm doing. I'm not worried about 2002. I'm more concerned about 2003 and 2004."
Renault had recently denied any reports that Flavio Briatore was set to leave the team. This therefore had meant his four year contract remained secure. Alonso admiited "I know in some time I will go to Renault, and I have to find places where I can continue to learn to get there well prepared." Paul Stoddart remained adamant that he would keep the Spaniard's services for 2002.
Germany would see the debut of the PS01B to which its upgrades had been tested in Monza. The new gearbox which was tested in the morning session continued to appear problematic to which Alonso noted "in the afternoon, we reverted to the previous version of the gearbox." Although Alonso seemed optimistic about the potential of the upgrades to which he stated " The development work carried out immediately after the test on this new unit is already proving to be effective. It is brand new, and there is still a lot of work to do to optimise its performance. In the afternoon, we reverted to the previous version of the gearbox."
Marques, whom had decided to show up at Hockenheim after deliberating his future had in fact improved his performance and was only 0.2 seconds slower than Alonso at the end of the day. Nonetheless, the team with its severe engine power deficit were well down on their competitors and were consistently the slowest cars on track.
Alonso continued to be optimistic of his progress to which he said "We improved the car quite a lot during the qualifying session." Nonetheless, the Minardi's as expected were lining the back row of the grid. Alonso further added that the new gearbox continued to be problematic stating ""when I was on the first three sets of tyres, though, I lost some time with a gear selection problem. This was rectified for the last run and we also made some changes to improve the set-up of the car."
The team were not too far off their nearest competitors, the Arrows cars, however ironically the Arrows would once again prove disruptive to Alonso's season. He explained that "unfortunately, when I went for my final attempt, I found the track blocked by Jos Verstappen's car, which had spun, and lost the opportunity of setting what should have been my fastest lap. It is a bit disappointing because today my car definitely had the potential to go faster." It was the second time in the season that Alonso had his qualifying ruined because of an Arrows. Nonetheless, Paul Stoddart was fairly satisfied in which he stated "qualifying P21 and P22, the European Minardi team is pleased with its performance today. To qualify within four seconds of the pole position time on a power circuit like Hockenheim is a good effort."
It would turn out to be a problematic race for Alonso. During the warm-up, Alonso lost control of his car and crashed the car into the tyre barriers. The Minardi mechanics were thereafter hard pressed to repair the car ahead of the race. As Alonso attempted to line-up for the grid, his car caught fire due to a fuel leak which required him to start from the pit-lane.
It was immediately evident that his car looked to be in bad shape. When Alonso started the race, his car began to suffer a driveshaft problem. However luckily for him, a multi-car pile-up on the first corner meant the race would have to be restarted. However as was noted by Alonso ""It has been a really tough afternoon because at the second start I was in Tarso's car, which was logically set up for him and totally different from mine. I therefore didn't feel at all comfortable. Frankly, it was more than I could ever have expected to take the chequered flag today."
However in a race of attrition, Alonso managed to bring the car to the finish in tenth position. Alonso was ecstatic noting "tenth is my best result so far in Formula One and today is my birthday, so what more can I ask for?".
Stoddart would note "The whole team showed true grit and determination, particularly considering both cars had to be removed from the grid due to a fuel valve problem, and Fernando then took the restart in Tarso's race car and Tarso in Fernando's after the spare car suffered a driveshaft problem on the first lap of the aborted race. We really feel for Tarso, who drove an excellent race, only to retire with a gearbox-related problem. To have Fernando arrive at the chequered flag in 10th place, though, is just reward for the effort the whole team put in today."
Marques would comment " I had a few problems under braking, as I generally use the right foot while Fernando's brake pedal is set for the left foot." Alonso had the same problem, however remained on the same lap of the two Arrows cars.
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 13: Hungarian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Hungarian Grand Prix
Marques was now certain to be replaced with Alex Yoong being confirmed to take his seat in either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix's as soon as he qualified for his superlicense. Meanwhile test driver, Andrea Piccini had conducted more testing of the new PS01B which would was expecting a more competitive outing on the tight and twisty Hungaroring track.
Paul Stoddart meanwhile was ramping up negotiations for a new engine deal for 2002 noting he was expecting to be powered by Ferrari, Cosworth or Asiatech. In terms of his driver negotiations for the following season, Australian Mark Webber was now also being lined up for a role in the team. Webber, like Alonso was employed by Renault and whom's future was in the hands of Flavio Briatore.
Alonso and Webber were tipped to be the line-up for 2002, however the enormous amounts of funds from the Malaysian government to put Alex Yoong in a race seat for 2002 would likely mean one of the Renault based drivers wouldn't be racing for Minardi in 2002. For now, Stoddart had maintained he wanted Alonso with Webber whom had yet to make his Formula One debut expected to be announced in a testing role.
There were some positive improvements to be made after the Friday session. Whilst the Hungaroring proved difficult to master as was noted by Stoddart whom stated "the curbs caught out a number of drivers, including Tarso and Fernando, but generally just resulted in a few harmless spins."
Alonso meanwhile stated "Today's efforts were focused mainly on testing the new gearbox, which is proving more and more reliable, especially after some recent modifications that have been made. Both sessions were trouble-free, and tomorrow we'll concentrate our work on some additional areas in order to improve the car's performance further."
Alonso's performances during qualifying underlined his potential when the laptimes were not governed by pure straight line speed. The aerodynamic package had evidently been successful as Alonso found himself eighteenth on the grid. Marques in comparison, after multiple spins remained the slowest of the cars.
Alonso finished the session ahead of the Arrows of Verstappen and Bernoldi as well as Burti's Jaguar. He stated "Today I really felt competitive with my car. Everything went very well, the new gearbox and the revised aerodynamic package helping the car to perform much better. Now we are in a position to fight our rivals more effectively and to try to improve our grid positions. I lost maybe a tenth of a second on my last run, but I gave the maximum I could. Perhaps I could have improved just a little bit, but frankly, I believe I pushed to the limit this afternoon."
Paul Stoddart closed by saying "two drivers drove outstanding laps in this afternoon's qualifying session: one was Michael Schumacher and the other, Fernando Alonso. The times they set in their respective cars indicate both extracted the maximum possible from the machinery at their disposal. To say the team is pleased would be gross understatement."
After an excellent qualifying, it was another tumultuous race for Alonso. Not for the first time, the brakes on the Minardi proved to be strained under pressure. Paul Stoddart noting ""in what turned out to be a tough race for European Minardi F1, the early stages of the event saw Fernando challenging for position with all the signs that we could be in for a good race."
Alonso commented "I made a good start and was able to match the pace of the other cars. Then I started having problems with the brakes, and this didn't help my concentration on driving. I just lost control of my car under braking, when the rear wheels locked. I'm a little disappointed because I think we could have had a good result here, but I am generally happy with our performance this weekend."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 14: Belgian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Belgian Grand Prix
Ahead of the race, it was confirmed that the Belgian Grand Prix would be the last grand prix for Tarso Marques in a Minardi. For the final three rounds of the season, Alonso would be partnered by new teammate, Alex Yoong. Before the team made the trip to Spa-Franorchamps, Paul Stoddart had an organised an event at Donnington Park where he and his driver's would race the two-seater Formula One cars. The event was designed to raise money for the team in which Alonso, Marques, Yoong, Stoddart and none other than 1992 World Champion, Nigel Mansell would participate in a race with a passenger onboard.
Although Mansell had been out of Formula One for six years, a recent poll in Great Britain continued to rate him as the country's greatest ever driver. Although the race was simply a bit of fun, it was clear that neither Alonso or Mansell would treat it as such. The race would go down in notoriety when Alonso whom had ITV's Louise Goodman as passenger took the lead with Mansell in toe behind him.
Shortly before the end of the race, Mansell slammed into the back of Alonso and launched over the top of his car. A frustrated Mansell exclaimed after the race, "the car in front of us just slowed right up to me out the corner!". It had been a largely embarassing day for Minardi to which Alonso had gained new reputation in clashing with the legendary world champion.
The team were able to conduct more serious work with both Alex Yoong and test driver, Andrea Piccini conducting tests at Monza on the new PS01B. Furthermore, Stoddart seemed poised to announce a new engine deal with Asiatech. However it hadn't been the deal he wanted, Stoddart would have preferred to secure Ferrari or Ford Cosworth engines for 2002.
The practice sessions had been affected by rain throughout the day. Many teams were having mechanical troubles to which Alonso noted "I was not able to finish the afternoon session due to an electronic problem developing with the clutch." The Minardi team, however were able to put in productive lap times, however Alonso downplayed their peformance stating "Today was just a routine Friday. On the basis of today, we certainly seem to be performing better in the dry than in the wet." There were commendations for Marques whom whilst in his last grand prix was running close to the pace of Alonso.
It was a catastrophic session for the Minardi team during qualifying. Although the team had looked reasonably competitive, a poor strategy would see both cars fall out of the 107% time requirement. Alonso commented "it has been a bad day for us, first of all because we did not have the time to do a proper practice in the morning due to the cancellation of one session. Later, in qualifying, we were on wet tyres in the closing stages of the session when the track was almost dry, which caused us to be slower than some other drivers who went out on grooved tyres."
After a dismal qualifying, the weather cleared ahead of the race. In the better conditions and the upgraded car, Alonso began to demonstrate his true potential during the warm-up. Not only was he faster than his teammate, he was faster than Burti's Prost, the two Arrows of Verstappen and Bernoldi and most astoundingly the BAR's of Olivier Panis and Jacques Villeneuve.
However that was until he pushed the limits a little too hard and completely lost control of the car at Stavelot. He had demolished the entire right hand side of his car, however he had emerged from the incident shaken but luckily unscathed. Commenting on the race, Alonso noted "This morning, I had an excellent warm-up. The set-up was perfect, I had a very good feeling for the car, and I put in the 14th fastest time just a few minutes before the end of the session. The accident on my final lap was certainly a spectacular one, but luckily I was unhurt, even if my car was seriously damaged."
He was required to attend the medical centre, however he was given the clearance to start the race in the afternoon. Although the team had managed to repair his car, he would not get the chance to demonstrate his potential in the race. Commenting on his race, he described " It is a shame but, after only three laps in the race, I was no longer able to select gears." He feelings were left quite clear after the race to which he stated "What can I say? I feel so sad because I was terribly unfortunate here at Spa, which is my favourite track."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 15: Italian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 Italian Grand Prix
It was all change at Minardi following Belgium. Marques whom had failed to match Alonso throughout the season had been replaced by Alex Yoong for the remainder of the season. Prior to the race in Monza, the Minardi team were able to conduct further testing at Mugello. With test driver Piccini and new race driver, Yoong testing on the first two days, Alonso stepped into the car for the final day of the session.
For the first time in Minardi's limited testing programme, Alonso was reporting success during the season. After the session, he noted "This has been the best test so far. We tried some interesting solutions in several areas and the car is now very good, as the lap times today show. It really feels like we are making progress and that gives us confidence for the remaining races. I'm pleased with the way things have gone here in Mugello." After 72 laps, Alonso was only six hundreds of a second slower than Panis's BAR.
During the Thursday press conference, Paul Stoddart seemed much less sure about his prospects of keeping Alonso for the new season to which he stated "you can ask Flavio that, but I think I have." Flavio Briatore, unwilling to confirm anything to which he stated "I don't know yet. We haven't decided. We start the season in March." It was expected Jarno Trulli would join Renault for 2002 with Button, Alonso and Webber all in line for racing alongside him.
Heading into practice, Yoong noted "I've got to show them I can do the job and try to qualify and race well, if I can show well against my team mate even better."
Although Yoong had an electronic problem, he ended the session comprehensively slower than teammate Alonso. Paul Stoddart commented "as usual, Fernando's performance was exemplary and his quickest lap, a 1 min 26.972 secs, was excellent. The team now looks forward to an exciting day tomorrow, when we can build on the progress that has been made."
Alonso further commented "as usual, our first day of free practice was focused on trying to get the best chassis set-up and testing the tyres. Here in Monza, work on the aerodynamics is extremely important, too, and I believe tomorrow we should be able to achieve a good performance from the car. To finish 17th today seems to me a good result and, hopefully, I can either retain or improve on the position tomorrow in qualifying."
Saturday proved to be one of the most calamitous days for the team in the entire season. Gearbox troubles on both cars, kept the entire team grounded during the morning practice sessions. It was to get little better in qualifying, as described by Paul Stoddart "having both cars expire soon after leaving the pit lane at the beginning of qualifying was a situation that could not have put drivers or mechanics under more pressure. All concerned more than rose to the occasion, though, and produced a performance well beyond expectations during what was a very trying hour for European Minardi. There was no choice but for both drivers to use the spare chassis, fitted with older-specification gearbox."
It was an incredibly frustrating day for Minardi to which the duo unsurprisingly lined up on the back row of the grid. Alonso noted "to qualify with the same car is not easy neither for the drivers, nor for the team because time is limited to sort out a good set-up and you have very few chances to put in your perfect lap. In the end we got it and both of us will be on the starting grid for tomorrow's race, which is the most important thing."
It would turn out to be a lonely race for the Minardi's, with barely any practice as well as a severe power deficit, it was unlikely to be a successful weekend. Alonso trailed around at the back, before his car gave out shortly before the end. After the race, he commented "we decided to start the race in the spare car, which was fitted with the older gearbox, simply for precautionary reasons, since we were not so confident about the new gearbox here at Monza following yesterday's problems. This penalised us slightly in terms of performance, but I tried to do my best in the race and, in the end, feel quite happy to have finished."
Stoddart meanwhile commented " "after what has been an eventful weekend for European Minardi F1, we are pleased with Fernando's 13th-place finish and the fact Alex, although not finishing the entire distance, ran as high as 15th for much of the race."
Weekend Teammate ComparisonEdit
Round 16: United States Grand PrixEdit
main article: 2001 United States Grand Prix