If you ask any watcher of Formula 1 what they thought about the Ferrari F2012, there would be almost universal agreement that it was an inferior car to its Red Bull Racing and McLaren counterparts—but was it?
It certainly wasn’t a car that dominated qualifying—it appeared on the front two rows of the grid on only six out of the possible 40 occasions—but it was a car that came to life in races.
Fernando Alonso managed to secure no less that 12 podium finishes, two more than world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The car was mechanically faultless, not succumbing to a single race-ending problem throughout the year—a feat only rivalled by Ferrari powered counterpart Toro Rosso.
It was a car that delivered Alonso to the lead in the drivers’ championship for over half of the season (11 weeks) and to second overall in the year-end drivers’ standings.
It was car that claimed second in the constructors’ championship, despite the ineptitude of Felipe Massa for the first half of the season.
Put simply, it wasn’t that bad of a machine.
A lot of credit is given to Alonso for taking an underperforming car and doing extraordinary things with it.
There is no doubt that Alonso is one of the top three drivers on the current F1 grid. There’s also no doubt that he extracts the best possible performance and results from his car, but he was also made to look a little better than he actually was by the woeful performance of Massa.
Ferrari cultivated the underdog status through the frequent demands from Luca di Montezemolo for improvement—for example, his statement that he was nervous about Red Bull’s pace at the European GP when Alonso took the lead in the championship and held for the next seven races.
He beseeched his team to work to get Ferrari back to the top of the heap—despite the fact that it was already there—adding to the air of desperation and crisis.
Was it all a ruse?
Of course it was.
It’s impossible to know the individual merits of the cars compared to each other. It certainly appears to be the case that the Red Bull car was strong around the newer Tilke tracks, but the Ferrari could get off the start line and exploit a slipstream and DRS better than any other car.
McLaren’s reliability issues could have cost it second place in the championship, but Ferrari’s weak second driver could equally have cost it first place in the championship.
We’ll never know, but it’s safe to assume—with the benefit of hindsight—that the Ferrari wasn’t as bad as we were made to believe.