SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - The spirit of Ferrari’s pioneering “Pampas Bull” will be with Fernando Alonso when he takes on the Red Bulls at the British Grand Prix this weekend.
Two years ago the Spaniard marked the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One victory by driving winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez’s 1951 car around the same Silverstone circuit where the Argentine had triumphed.
Alonso went on to win the race that day and will try to repeat the feat on Sunday as his team again pay tribute to Gonzalez after his death in Buenos Aires two weeks ago at the age of 90.
“For me, Alonso’s win at this track in 2011 was one of the greatest of my career,” said team principal Stefano Domenicali.
“It was a special race, because we were going through a difficult season and to win exactly when we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first ever Formula One win was like a sign of destiny.
“It is very sad that just a few days ago, Froilan Gonzalez, the man who gave Ferrari that first win in 1951, passed away and we will be remembering him during this weekend,” added the Italian.
Alonso needs a win to rein in Red Bull’s triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, now a healthy 36 points clear of him after seven of the season’s 19 races.
Ferrari have won in Britain, home of eight of the current 11 Formula One teams, more times than anyone (16 in all) and Alonso has every chance of adding to that tally.
“I wouldn’t say that Vettel is favorite for this race. I’d say it’s Alonso,” McLaren’s Jenson Button told reporters ahead of a home grand prix that has yet to reward the 2009 champion with a podium finish.
Alonso was on pole last year but Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who also won in 2010, beat the double champion into second place while Vettel - winner at Silverstone in 2009 - was third.
Webber, yet to win this season, could be a bigger threat than Vettel at what amounts to a home race for the pub-owning, countryside-loving Australian whose house is a short drive from the circuit.
“He’s always gone well at the circuit...I think he sees it almost as much of a home grand prix as Albert Park (in Melbourne),” said team principal Christian Horner.
Ferrari and Red Bull will not be the only ones fighting for the top step on Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion for McLaren, makes his first home race appearance in Mercedes overalls with every hope of a competitive performance in a team that has had four pole positions so far and a win for Nico Rosberg in Monaco.
The tires were a big problem in Spain, where the same hard and mediums will be used at Silverstone, but the team - who were reprimanded for a “secret” tire test with Pirelli since that race - are confident they will be more competitive.
“I think we’ve made some small steps just with tire cooling and brake cooling, I don’t think we’ve made a huge step but we’ve yet to find out really,” Hamilton told reporters on Tuesday.
“I definitely feel that we’ll be competitive throughout the weekend,” he added.
Lotus can also hope to be in the mix, with Kimi Raikkonen a winner at Silverstone for Ferrari in 2007 and currently third overall in the championship.
McLaren, who last won at home with Hamilton in 2008, have plenty of new bits to try out and hope to have clawed back some of the time they need to make up after a deeply disappointing start to the season.
“It would be great if the guys could get a podium out of it but I think on recent performance that could be quite challenging,” said McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale.
On current form, Force India’s Paul di Resta is Britain’s next best hope after Hamilton while Marussia’s Max Chilton will just be soaking up the atmosphere on his home debut.
Former champions Williams, a long way from their glory days of the late 1980s and mid 1990s, are still searching for their first point of the season on what will be their 600th race weekend.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Goodson.