Spanish red 01

It’s a Sunday just like the one about to happen except dating back a few years: May 12, 2013 to be precise. The Spanish Grand Prix is the fifth on the calendar, like this year. Ferrari have all the cards on the table to be competitive all year long: another similarity with the current season. All the rest comes from the art of Fernando Alonso. Get set and go.

The two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton start from the front row, but from out of nowhere a red missile streaks ahead; leading the race up the hill that follows the chicane at the end of the start-finish straight. The particular move that puts him there is an inspired invention from the Spanish driver: he goes to the outside of the sweeping uphill right-hander and somehow keeps his Ferrari firmly pointing straight, despite the crazy lateral forces persuading otherwise. As the cars crest the hill, Alonso has stamped his authority on his home race. He stays there all the way to the chequered flag, raising the hopes of all Ferrari fans – who will then go on to suffer the most painful of disappointments at the end of the year, with an another second in the championship for Alonso: a mammoth 155 points behind Sebastian Vettel, who is champion for the fourth consecutive year at the height of Red Bull’s powers.

But in a strange twist of fate, that May 12 was the opening move of a ballet that would see Vettel eventually take Alonso’s place at Ferrari. After that resounding success in Barcelona, Fernando would not taste champagne again for the rest of the season: nor would he throughout the following year, which turned out to be his final season at Maranello. Not only that, but his 2013 victory in Spain, up to now, is Alonso’s final one in Formula 1.

Ferrari too embarked on a win drought after the success at Barcelona: the situation was enough to convince Alonso to pack his bags (although interestingly, not enough to discourage Vettel from taking his place).

The win in Spain is yet another tumultuous snapshot of Ferrari’s history in Formula 1, as the only team to have participated continuously in the sport since it was inaugurated in 1950. So we’ve chosen just a few key moments of Ferrari’s history in Spain, each of which defines an era.

Let’s start in 1974, on April 20, and the fourth race of that year’s Formula 1 season. The race took place at Jarama, just outside Madrid. Ferrari’s new driver that year was a certain Niki Lauda, and he had arrived at Maranello over the winter; recommended also by Ferrari’s other driver, Clay Regazzoni, who had previously been team mates with Lauda at Team Surtees. Lauda wasn’t overly given to displays of emotion, and yet the passionate Italian tifosi soon took him into their hearts. In South Africa, four weekends earlier, the Austrian had taken pole position and led the first nine laps. At Jarama, he was on pole again. But this time, he backed that up with victory. At the time, a young Luca di Montezemolo was sporting director of Ferrari. For him, the last few laps were a source of anguish, as at the time there wasn’t any telemetry to tell the pit wall what was happening: he had to talk to the race director to be sure that victory was in the bag. 

Spanish red 02

The race was the beginning of a triumphant era for Lauda and Ferrari. Niki won again in Holland at the end of June, but he was then hit by a series of technical problems that put his team mate Regazzoni in the hunt for the title, which he lost at the final race in America, where Emerson Fittipaldi was crowned.

Lauda would get his revenge the following year, dominating to claim the championship, which he captured once more in 1977.

It all added up to 15 wins over four seasons, including those gained during the agonising 1976 season, following his fiery accident at the Nurburgring on May 1, his bloodied return at Monza in September, and the title that dramatically went to James Hunt under torrential rain at Fuji in October.

The 1981 season was another significant year for Ferrari and Spain. It was at the height of the turbo era: a technical solution that Maranello was practically last to arrive at. Ferrari’s turbo required a delicate approach: its power output was prodigious, but the violence with which it was delivered meant that the unit could only really be provoked on the straights. Naturally Gilles Villeneuve loved it: a man synonymous with risks that often defied logic. Gilles took Ferrari’s first turbocharged victory in Monaco on May 31. Three weeks later, the grand prix circus arrived in Jarama. In terms of chassis, the Ferrari couldn’t perform miracles: full power was reserved only for the straight. And so, Villeneuve danced round the corners while putting the hammer down on the straight: a tactic that enabled the fabled Canadian to somehow keep a committed band of pursuers behind him. When the chequered flag fell, the four drivers behind Villeneuve were separated by barely one second. But the victory in Spain would be the very last one of the season ¬– for Ferrari and for Gilles. The following year, the French Canadian would lose his life in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. It was a poignant end to an incredible story.

One final memory: June 2, 1996. Ferrari was still a long way from recapturing its glory days. But the team had a new ace up its sleeve: Michael Schumacher. The rain fell hard on Montmelo that day. Locking out the front row of the grid were the two Williams-Renaults of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, who would fight for the title more or less to the wire. But the conditions for the Spanish Grand Prix were horrendous. The water on the track was centimetres deep in several places. The cars slithered all over the place like uncontrollable boats. The only driver who had gone for a much taller ride height, reducing the risk of the car aquaplaning on its belly, was Schumacher.

A masterful display ensued: Alesi’s Benetton and the Williams of Hill and Villeneuve were passed as if they were standing still. By the time Schumacher took the flag, he was 45 seconds clear of anyone else. Unlike the victories for Alonso and Villeneuve, his triumph in Spain was not an end but a beginning.

Following that win where he walked on water, Schumacher would go on to claim 71 more with Ferrari. It was an axis that would continue into the mid-2000s, with five drivers’ titles and six manufacturers’ title going the way of Maranello…

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