Ferrari give first hints on 2012 plans
Fernando Alonso is a realist and after the Korean Grand Prix he was not about to get carried away by his flying finish to the race.
The Ferrari driver lit up the track in his late chase of the fight for second place involving Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Jenson Button but, as Alonso pointed out, what was happening was a familiar story for Ferrari this year.
"Yes, we are very quick at the end of the stints and can finish in the same bunch as the leaders," Alonso said, "but we have to use that performance just to get us back what we have lost by not qualifying well and not being so quick in the early laps."
When asked what was needed to improve things, Alonso replied: "We need to be more imaginative and aggressive with the concepts of our car."
A lot is resting, then, on the 2012 Ferrari, and an all-new front wing used on Alonso's car in Korea gave some crucial clues about the lines the technical team in Maranello may be thinking along for next year's car.
Totally unrelated to the family of wings used on the car previously, it retains only the same nose-cone and central pillars; all the downforce-producing surfaces were completely new.
"This was a development experiment for our 2012 car," confirmed team boss Stefano Domenicali.
"After our trouble early in the year with correlation between our wind tunnel and the track, it was important for us to know that what we are seeing in our tunnel is now matched to the track as we prepare for next year. The early data looks good and aligned well."
As a development wing for an entirely different car, it is unlikely to have been optimised for this year's F150.
So it would be wrong to read too much into the fact that the new wing did not transform the car - or even make it noticeably more competitive than when fitted with the old-spec wing, as used on Felipe Massa's car.
Massa out-qualified Alonso for the fourth time in six races, the Spaniard making an error early in the lap of his final run in the top-10 shoot-out.
The two ran close together - Massa ahead - for two of the three stints of the race, Alonso only getting ahead through a searing couple of laps after Massa pitted for the second time.
This was only possible through the car's easy tyre usage; usually the car staying out will be slower than the one that has stopped first and is on fresh rubber.
Alonso was stuck behind his team-mate for the first 60% of the race and pulled out 10 seconds on him in the remaining laps - and he was a second behind Button's fourth place at the end, the pair of them only three seconds adrift of second.
That raised the question of whether Massa had delayed his team-mate and prevented a better result.
"No, I don't think so," answered Alonso diplomatically. "When I was following Felipe, I was driving pretty much flat out."
That was the official version.
Although it wasn't broadcast to the TV networks, there was radio traffic of Alonso insisting to the team early in the race that he was quicker than Massa, the inference clearly being that they should move him aside.
The message was not repeated, nor did it carry the fury of Hockenheim 2010, scene of the infamous team-orders controversy.
"I was behind Felipe because I didn't do a good job in qualifying," shrugged Alonso later.
Although Alonso finishing runner-up in the drivers' championship to Sebastian Vettel is still mathematically possible, the focus at Ferrari is very much on 2012.
Alonso's hopes that the team be more aggressive and original in its car concepts and design must be foremost in his mind and if his Korea front wing is any clue, he may be concerned.
That is because pretty much every surface of the wing, while totally unlike that of the old component, resembles very strongly that of this year's Red Bull RB7.
From the end-plates to the shape of the main plane to the big plan-area flap behind, this looks very much like an RB7 wing painted red.
Maybe that is the nature of the experiment - to closely replicate the component of the fastest car and check that its performance is consistent from wind tunnel to track, and only then begin to hone the rest of the design, which may bear little relation to Adrian Newey's 2011 title-winning effort.
But, after three years of Ferrari failing to match the pace of the Red Bull, whether that would be a good or a bad thing remains open to question.