Winning is all that matters! Tetchy Alonso calls on Ferrari to bounce back
The idyllic ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio would seem the perfect place for Ferrari to come to terms with the mountains they must climb to recover from a disastrous 2011 campaign.
For 22 years the iconic Italian team have set up base camp amidst the backdrop of the Dolomite mountains to preview the coming Formula One season.
Moving mountains: Alonso is set for his third season with the Italian team
A spot of skiing followed by some hearty fare in a remote picture book refuge is deemed the perfect preparation for the rigours of a gruelling grand prix calendar for drivers and team members.
But even in such an isolated location the weight of expectation from an expectant nation of motorsport fanatics is never far away.
The tifosi gather at the foot of the slopes to greet their heroes as they arrive from a moonlight descent, battling for an autograph or a picture with Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa.
Even team principal Stefano Domenicali is afforded star treatment, mobbed as he is by hordes of fans chanting his name. It is hard to imagine Domenicali's McLaren counterpart, Martin Whitmarsh, ever being granted a similar reception.
Snow joke: Ferrari managed just one grand prix victory in 2011
As if to heighten the level of expectation yet further, Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, wafts his way into town, surrounding by nervous looking Ferrari staff tip-toeing around their figurehead, to outline his requirements for the year.
'My hope and that of all our fans is to have a car that is competitive right from the start,' he says.
'Each one of us, whatever our job, must contribute to upholding the name of our country around the world. We are putting in a lot of effort on the preparation of the car and so too are the drivers. We are confident and have high hopes.'
The message is delivered with a smile but no one at Ferrari is any doubt that a repeat of last year's performance, in which a dud car meant that even with the immense talent of Alonso only one victory was achieved, will simply not be tolerated.
Tetchy: The Spaniard is desperate to add to his two world titles with Ferrari
Such pressure perhaps explains why Alonso, despite counting the Trentino region of Italy as one of his favourite retreat on the planet, was decidedly tetchy during a press conference on Wednesday.
The crisp mountain air was doing little to take Alonso's mind off the huge responsibility that comes with being Ferrari's lead driver, the double world champion seemingly eager to be getting on with matters other than speaking to the media and frolicking in the snow.
'There is a desire to return to the Ferrari dominance of the past decade,' said the Spaniard who has committed the remainder of his top-level career to Maranello.
'Winning is what crowns our ambitions; it's the only gratification you can be totally satisfied with.'
The pursuit of that aim led Domenicali to claim that in over 20 years with Ferrari he has never come across a driver who has spent so much time at the Maranello factory as Alonso.
Indeed, such is the regard in which Alonso is held by all at Ferrari that, even in the absence of wins and world titles, his position with the Italian marque remains rock solid.
Under fire: Massa knows he must improve this season
The same certainly cannot be said for Massa, whose career has been in terminal decline ever since Lewis Hamilton snatched the 2008 world title away from the Brazilian at his home grand prix on the final corner of the final race of the season.
Massa is under no illusions as to what is expected of him if he is to stand any chance of retaining his seat beyond the end of the coming campaign.
'I want to be going in a good direction,' said Massa. 'I want to win races. To have a season perfect from beginning to end and by having that I'd be in good shape. That is what I want for me – and for the team.
'You must always have the mental strength. We are all use to this. I am stronger today than in the past.'
That remains to be seen and should Robert Kubica make a full recovery from the horrific injuries he suffered almost a year ago in a rally crash – the Pole's recovery having been hampered after he reopened a fracture in his right leg after slipping on ice near his home on Wednesday – many predict Massa will be making way for the former Renault driver who Alonso hailed as his most accomplished rival.
Of course, neither Massa nor Alonso can achieve their respective ambitions this season should Ferrari be incapable of handed their drivers a competitive car.
To that end, sweeping changes to Ferrari's technical staff have been implemented while, having been slow to match the innovation of the likes of Red Bull and even McLaren, a radical approach has been taken with the design of the 2012 challenger.
Renowned for the eye-catching road cars, it seems beauty will be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to their latest Formula One creation which breaks cover on February 3.
'It's not that pretty,' admitted Domenicali. 'But, and this is what counts really, our hopes are that it is at the very least quick.'
It was a sentiment echoed by Di Montezemolo. 'I'd like it to look lousy,' said the immaculately turned out Ferrari president.
'I say that provocatively because I want it to be a winner.'
If not, Ferrari's 2012 campaign will be yet another uphill struggle which could be all over even before the snow has melted on the Dolomite's peaks.