It may only be round two of a 19 race season, but Ferrari’s decision to leave Fernando Alonso out with a clearly damaged front wing in Malaysia was a risk that may well prove to be costly at the end of the year.
It was clear to anyone watching that the entire structure of Alonso’s front wing had failed when he tapped the back of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull at the second corner of the race. It may have survived a little longer than it did before the inevitable failure, but it was a needless and unnecessary gamble to try and stay out until the track dried enough for slick tyres.
In a way you can understand Ferrari’s thinking in keeping the car out. If the front wing had managed to hang on until they could pit for dry tyres they would have effectively saved Alonso an extra pitstop and fixed all their problems in one go. However, with the consequences of a front wing failure potentially so catastrophic, it was something that was not only foolish to attempt but at the same time potentially very dangerous.
Alonso couldn’t have known just how badly damaged his front wing was. A Grand Prix driver cannot see that area of his car from the cockpit, so he had to trust firmly in what Ferrari were telling him. He may well have thought that the wing was not in as bad a state as it was and asked to stay out, but it was at that point that Ferrari should have forced him to come in.
In deciding to play a game of high-speed Russian roulette Ferrari not only risked Alonso finishing the Malaysian Grand Prix, but also risked his safety. As it was, when the front wing went underneath the car the Spaniard slid harmlessly into the gravel, but had that wing failed in a different place then the consequences could have been much more severe. While you want to see teams taking gambles in order to improve their chances of success, risking a massive accident is not something you want to be seeing.
That’s not to mention the cost Alonso’s retirement yesterday could have on the championship battle. Having lost out on the title by just three points last year, and by using consistency as the biggest weapon in their challenge for the championship, Ferrari should know better than anybody the value of finishing races and picking up every point they possibly can.
Had they pitted at the end of lap one, it’s almost certain that Alonso would not have won the race. He probably wouldn’t have got near the podium, but given the remaining 55 laps to fight his way back through the field, it’s likely he would have fought his way back into the points.
No matter how early or late in the season, a 7th or 8th place finish is much better than not reaching the end of the race, and with the championship likely to be decided by a small amount, picking up four points is much more valuable than not scoring any.
As it is, the speed of Ferrari’s car means that, providing there are no more mistakes in the next few races, Alonso should be able to recover the ground lost to the likes of Vettel and Raikkonen in Malaysia, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that their decision to leave that car out with a clearly damaged front wing was reckless and unnecessarily risked the safety of both Alonso and the other 21 drivers on the track.
If, at the end of the season, Alonso loses out on the championship by a similar margin to last year, then both he and Ferrari will look back at this race and ask themselves one question. Why didn’t we pit?
It’s something everyone else doesn’t have to wait to ask.