As Lewis Hamilton qualified only 12th for today's Italian Grand Prix after admitting that he drove "like an idiot", and the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber crushed their opposition, the pressure on Ferrari ramped up even further as Fernando Alonso angrily declaimed his team after managing only fifth place on the grid for the race he must win if he is to stay in the world championship hunt.
Not only was he out-qualified by team-mate Felipe Massa after some slipstreaming tactics went awry, but both were upstaged by Nico Hulkenberg – in a Ferrari-engined Sauber – who qualified third.
Monza, the sport's 'cathedral of speed', is always a pressure cooker for Ferrari. Such is the passion with which the tifosi follow the Scuderia that when they win, their joy knows no bounds; when they lose, tempers flare and the criticism can be vocal.
But it was Alonso's criticism that was most brutal yesterday. Ferrari have been losing for a long time. Sure, they have won races and been in the title fight many times since Kimi Raikkonen snatched his crown from beneath Hamilton's nose in 2007, but Dietrich Mateschitz's bull has gored the prancing horse for the last three years and will almost certainly do so again this season.
In the final qualifying session the plan was for Massa to go out ahead of Alonso and give him a slipstream tow to enhance his chance of a front-row position.
Instead, Alonso was released too late by his crew and could not keep up with the team-mate he usually calls too slow whenever he finds himself behind him.
According to Italian sources, Alonso either said to his crew over the radio: "You are scemi, you ruined my qualifying," or else used the word 'geni'. Scemi means morons, geni means geniuses, so either he was being harsh or sarcastic. Either way that did not go down well with team president Luca di Montezemolo, watching on the pit wall, who had already rebuked Alonso publicly after the recent Hungarian GP when the Spaniard replied, when asked what he wanted for his birthday, that he wanted a car like the Red Bull.
Whether Alonso's latest outburst of frustration increases the team's desire to lure Raikkonen back as his 2014 team-mate remains to be seen, but sources say that they have already accepted they have lost another world championship, barring a miracle this afternoon, and that once Monza is done their focus will switch to developing next year's car for the complex new regulations.
Meanwhile, as Vettel and Webber smiled, Hulkenberg looked bemused. "I don't know where that came from, either," the Sauber driver admitted. "I never expected this after such a difficult Friday. But today the car just got better and better and we had the right decision to take fuel for one timed lap. That made this nice surprise happen."
Surprisingly, this was only Vettel's fourth pole of the season, and he was as pleased as you would expect of a man in the best car. Pole is very important here, given that over the past 13 years the winner has started from the prime position on 10 occasions. The equivalent figure for Monaco, surely the hardest track on which to pass, is only eight.
"It's a very difficult track on which to get the lap right," Vettel said, "but we got it together and I'm very, very pleased with the result."
Webber was not unhappy, and as he faced his final grand prix in Europe, he said: "Brazil will probably be a bit more emotional, when I finish my F1 career. But if I'm getting the tissues out, I've made the wrong decision."
Hamilton admitted with tears in his eyes that he had screwed up. He had run wide exiting the very fast Parabolica curve on his first run in Q2, and eventually got bumped out of the final qualifying session as improvements by McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez pushed him down to 12th. A final chance at redemption was spoiled when he encountered his former friend Adrian Sutil in the first chicane. "It was generally a really poor qualifying session," he said. "I didn't put one single lap together in Q2. I just drove like an idiot. That is the worst I have driven for a long, long time. I'm sorry for the team."
Though the stewards investigated Sutil for possible impedence, Hamilton added: "It doesn't matter. I should have done it on the lap before anyway."Reuse content