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Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 16:22 UK

Fernando Alonso faces test threatening Ferrari harmony

Jenson Button celebrates Australian Grand Prix win

Highlights - Button wins Australian Grand Prix (UK users only)

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Fernando Alonso believes he could have won the Australian Grand Prix - even after his first corner incident with Jenson Button had put him to the back.

In the event his charge towards the front was halted at fourth place, any further progress stymied by being stuck behind team-mate Felipe Massa.

With Ferrari unwilling at this early stage in the season to ask one of its drivers to make way for the other, it created a situation in which Alonso might have fallen into conflict with his new team for the first time.

How he handles this will be a crucial test for him; Alonso has a history of not coping well with this sort of situation.

At Indianapolis in 2006 he was at odds with his Renault team when team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was running ahead of him, insiders telling of him screaming over the radio to move 'Fisi' aside.

An almost identical situation arose a year later at the same venue, with McLaren when Lewis Hamilton was running ahead of him and Alonso felt he was being held up.

Fernando Alonso (right) with Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa
Neither Massa nor Alonso are likely to get preferential treatment

In between times, he was publically critical of Renault in the aftermath of China 2006 when the team did not prevent Fisichella from taking advantage of Alonso's tyre problems.

He made a now infamous speech in which he talked of "feeling alone" in the team. Whereas the Indianapolis '06 incident had been contained within Renault at the time, this was the first public appearance of a previously unsuspected chink in the champion's armour.

It was a chink that was prised open at McLaren by Hamilton's speed.

Alonso's failure to gel at McLaren, and his ill-judged attempts at using the team's difficulty with governing body the FIA as 'spy-gate' unfolded to get internal championship priority, led to him being dropped after just one year of what was originally a long-term contract.

This in turn led to two pretty barren years with Renault in 2008 and 2009.

Having finally got himself back into a car worthy of his talent, he surely knows he cannot allow himself the indulgence of risking team unity over a relatively minor point.

Interestingly, however, Sunday's situation in Melbourne created the exact sort of circumstances that have in the past led to just that - i.e. his team's attempts at equality apparently compromising their chances of beating the opposition.

During his first race for McLaren at the same venue three years ago, he felt it would have been more logical for the team to have given him strategic preference rather than "waste" a set of fresh tyres just to beat his team-mate in qualifying and thereby earn preference.


This, he reasoned, denied him use of fresh tyres when they might have been needed the following day when fighting Ferrari.

He tends to assume dominance within the team and the only time this expectation has not been met, it triggered his 'glitch'.

Can Alonso assume dominance within Ferrari and if not will the same glitch be revealed?

At McLaren Hamilton was sufficiently competitive throughout the season that Alonso could not dominate.

At Bahrain two weeks ago Alonso beat Massa in the race, but was out-qualified by him.

But at Melbourne Alonso was much the faster driver in qualifying - and by a margin of 0.7 seconds, which is huge by F1 team-mate standards. However, too much should not be read into that at this stage.

There was a very specific explanation for the size of the gap between them on Saturday and it was to do with tyre temperatures.

In the cool conditions of qualifying the tyres were right on the knife-edge of not reaching the temperature threshold at which they suddenly 'switch on' - around 100C.

If a driver could somehow get to that threshold he would suddenly have a huge advantage over one who could not, and that is what we saw at Melbourne. No matter what Massa tried, he could not emulate Alonso's ability to generate tyre heat during the out-lap from the pits.

There may be qualifying days where this again becomes a problem for Massa but it is unlikely to happen often. It was a specific mismatch of tyre compound to weather conditions on the day.

There is as yet no underlying evidence that Alonso will be able to consistently beat Massa and thereby form a natural hierarchy between them.

He is a psychologically complex man so it is going to be fascinating seeing if he can learn from past errors.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books

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Australian Grand Prix

RaceLast updated: 15 Nov 2012 12:34 UK
Position Country Driver Race Time
1 great britain J Button 1:33:36.531
2 poland R Kubica 1:33:48.565
3 brazil F Massa 1:33:51.019
4 spain F Alonso 1:33:52.835
5 germany N Rosberg 1:33:53.214
6 great britain L Hamilton 1:34:06.520
7 italy V Liuzzi 1:34:36.378
8 brazil R Barrichello 1:34:37.067
9 australia M Webber 1:34:43.850
10 germany M Schumacher 1:34:45.922

see also
Melbourne produces an F1 classic
29 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso happy with battling fourth
28 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Button wins dramatic Australia GP
28 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Australian GP as it happened
28 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Australian Grand Prix photos
28 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
I can work with Alonso says Massa
15 Jan 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso cools talk of Massa 'war'
15 Oct 09 |  Formula 1
Ferrari confirm capture of Alonso
30 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Hamilton wants Alonso out of team
30 Sep 07 |  Formula 1
Alonso criticises Renault tactics
06 Oct 06 |  Formula 1

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