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GP Week : Issue 214
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Although there wasn't a lot of action in são Paulo on sunday, there were plenty of things happening up and down the field to keep the Brazilian fans (and me on my sofa) entertained. The most interesting battle, I thought, was the one for sixth place between Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso during the closing laps. Kimi was on a different strategy from Alonso's and his tyres were 17 laps older, so you would expect Alonso to have been able to dart ahead with ease. But the Finn, looking much more at home in the spooky- handling F1AT than in any other race this year, was clearly in no mood to step aside. Amazingly, this was allowed to go on for four or five laps, with the much slower car being not-so- subtly waltzed from side to side to impede Alonso's charge until the inevitable happened and Nando used his greater tyre-power to squeeze through on the inside at Turn 1. This raised some awkward questions. For example, surely someone at Ferrari realised that the duel would attract close TV scrutiny, and with it the world's attention, to the fact that two men with three world championships between them were sweating bricks over a lowly sixth place more than a minute behind the leaders. In the sanctified red of Ferrari, for goodness sake! This was almost unprecedented. When can you last remember two Ferrari drivers engaging in combat without a word being barked over the radio to the perceived number 2 to move over in favour of his more favoured team mate? Ferrari, unlike more generous rivals like Mercedes, has always abhorred in-fighting between its drivers. Quite why I can't say, although it probably dates back to pre-radio days and the fear that a clash of wheels between undisciplined drivers would result in a pile of expensive scarlet rubble for rival teams to mock. On this occasion, and bearing in mind the fact that Alonso has an uncanny knack of staying out of trouble, there was radio silence from the Ferrari management. There would be no directions from that stone-faced Marco Mattiacci, because Fernando Alonso was being punished for having committed the crime of leaving Ferrari. Fernando is not the first driver to have quit Ferrari of his own free will, and I doubt he will be the last, but as far as Maranello is concerned it remains an unforgiveable sin. It's been like that since the days of Enzo Ferrari himself, a man who believed that driving for the Scuderia was a special privilege. New recruits, among them Alonso, acknowledge this with starry-eyed enthusiasm when they first step through the factory gate. But the reality was always rather different, and ever since Michael Schumacher went into temporary retirement at the end of 2006, Ferrari has lurched back into the sort of slump which had been an embarrassingly common feature of the Ferrari saga for three decades before the Old Man died in 1988. A celebrated victim of Ferrari's spite almost 40 years ago, under circumstances similar to Alonso's, was none other than Niki Lauda, who had joined up in 1973, rejuvenated the Scuderia in partnership with Luca Montezemolo and won the second of his two Ferrari titles in 1977. "Towards the end of the '77 season, when Mr Ferrari called me for negotiation, I had just signed the contract with Bernie [to drive for Brabham-Alfa]," Niki (pictured, in '77) told me a couple of years back. "Normally when I signed a contract, it was just him and me. This time, though, everybody – engineers and senior management – was there. As soon as I walked in I realised it was going to be tough, with so many top people sitting there, because this time I was going to say, 'no’. That's all I could do. "'What do you want?' he said. 'You're world champion and you're doing a great job, so we'll pay you anything you want'." "I said, 'nothing'." "'What do you mean? We'll pay you anything you want. Just say how much'." "'No, I don't want to continue'." "For him, this was absolute hell, because he was expecting to pay me whatever I asked, to continue. What I told him was unexpected. "Something I remembered about that meeting, something I will never forget, was leaving the room and walking downstairs, where Sante Ghedini (the team co-ordinator) was waiting to take me back. I felt wonderful, like walking on a cloud, because suddenly there was no pressure on me. It meant no more problems with the internal Ferrari politics, with the media and all those things I had been forced to accept for four years. "The pressure of being a Ferrari driver in those days was so tremendous that leaving the building left me feeling very strange, as though a heavy weight had lifted from me. I had got used to it, and now it was gone. "One problem I had, though, was a couple of days later when I came for a regular test. I walked out of the airport and suddenly my loan car was gone. No more car! Ghedini was waiting to pick me up himself, and he explained that my car had been taken away." Such is the fate of a recusant Ferrari driver. It will be interesting to see what indignities the sport's oldest and most revered team has in store for Fernando in Abu Dhabi in a couple of weeks. It may well be something much more undignified than depriving him of a Fiat runabout ... pARTING jUST AIN'T EASY OPINION OPINION MIKe DooDSon