F1 OPINION: In Defense of Fernando Alonso and the Future

Two time World Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso
Two time World Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso Image: Sky Sports

It seems to be the cold shoulder du jour when Alonso’s name comes up these days. How quickly we forget. But for 5 incidents, not of Alonso’s making, Alonso could, arguably, be a four time champion. Would have, could have, should have.

Cases in point: (1) Ferrari blundered the team strategy in 2012 at Canada allowing Hamilton to overtake on new tires keeping Alonso out on old rubber. (2) Romain Grosjean set in motion a crash at Belgium that could have beheaded the Spaniard. (3) Kimi Raikonnen took out Alonso at Japan on the first lap. (4) and probably most important in the end, Red Bull’s Adrian Newey had simply created the best car. (5) Fernando Alonso took a heavy hit during the McLaren ‘Spygate’ nightmare, but did he really deserve it?

Of the 5 instances cited, the last is the most insidious reason. Ron Dennis. Can anyone tell me that Ron Dennis didn’t deserve to have his feet held to the fire for giving Lewis Hamilton special treatment over Alonso? Can anyone tell me that if you were in the same position as Alonso that you wouldn’t threaten Dennis over the 780 Coughlin papers as they regarded Ferrari secrets? If you’re playing in an arena this large and you don’t, you are the jailhouse bitch. That’s not Alonso.

Alonso didn’t seek out this information, it was passed to him by De La Rosa. He never went public with it, but when presented with threats from the FIA he did what anyone would do, he cooperated. To not do so would have stopped his career in it’s tracks.

It seemed like a remediated love-fest, but was anything but.
It seemed like a remediated love-fest, but was anything but. Image: Sky Sports

In an interview with AutoSport he said as much: “I did not leave McLaren in 2007 because of Hamilton.” He added: “It was a surprise for the sport, because he was very strong. Unfortunately for the team it was not easy to handle the pressure that was created in these circumstances [of two fast drivers]. Political aspects emerged similar to Verstappen today – he was the symbol of the moment. The result was that we lost both the constructors’ and drivers’ title, due to a situation which was mismanaged.”

“The car was a winner immediately. Starting from scratch was the way to go because 2007 was the year of change as the Bridgestone tyres had different characteristics and the car was very different car to drive, with a lot of over-steer. We had to change the way we drive. All this helped Hamilton and he was competitive immediately. With the best car we lost both championships. And that was a good reason for me to change teams,” explained Alonso.

The real fall came when, during a qualifying round, McLaren’s upstart star Lewis Hamilton refused to let the team’s world-champion driver Fernando Alonso pass him. Alonso retaliated by blocking Hamilton in the pit lane to hurt the rookie’s time. Alonso was immediately penalized — instead of beginning the grand prix in pole position, he would have to start from sixth place. At a press conference that afternoon, Alonso and Hamilton launched into a public argument over what had happened.-Wired Magazine

We can all say that sharing information between teammates is normal, but it isn’t. Not even in NASCAR.

What about Ferrari? What about it. He outperformed every teammate that they presented. They did not, however, present him with a winning car or probably more accurately a winning strategy.

Make no mistake, Ferrari has, as with all top teams, had it’s dark period. But with Alonso it was wearing thin. He has always been driven by the credo “Never give up”, but towards the fifth season with the Prancing Horse, that became more of a tagline than a rule to live by.

Alonso clams that 70 HP would have McLaren back in the winners circle.
Alonso clams that 70 HP would have McLaren back in the winners circle. Image: Sky Sports

Alonso had lost faith in the Red car from Maranello and it’s culture. He had to look elsewhere. The irony was that it become McLaren who courted him. Many think it was the other way around, but it wasn’t. Many, many promises were made by Dennis and, more importantly, Honda.

Alonso made it plain that it had to be a factory effort he was seeking and not a customer car. He had assurances and a fat contract to go with it. But was McLaren up to it? No. When you look at a racing package it’s not only the chassis but the power-plant. They have to work in tandem, if not, they are worlds apart and to date that has been the case. There’s no need to try and disseminate the reasons that Honda has left everyone in the lurch, the reasons are many: Culture, late to the hybrid party and an unwillingness to relocate the power plant R&D from Japan to England where Formula One is a cottage industry- all good reasons.

However, I’ve had first hand experience in seeing Honda come back to life. I was standing in the Rahal IndyCar compound at Mid-Ohio when Bobby Rahal informed Honda he would not return with them for the following season. The next season they dominated. Honda can pull off a miracle. Being a three time IndyCar Champion, I would not purport to question his wisdom. Racing is a bitch.

With McLaren’s options running thin, as in only one choice to stick with Honda the real question becomes: Will Alonso stick with them? He has choices, which are all valid when you are arguably the best racing driver in the world.

IndyCar would love to have him as well as the WEC, but will that satisfy him? Doubtful. Can Honda give a great chassis the horsepower it needs to be competitive? I suppose we’ll all know soon enough.

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