Formula One is the truly the pinnacle of auto racing, not to mention a gold mine for conspiracy theories, industrial espionage and driver mystique. However, every now and again the planets lineup to deliver a special nugget of gold that can’t be ignored. In this case it’s a Spanish doubloon named Fernando Alonso.
Alonso’s career hasn’t been magical but rather sheer talent, hard work and a ferocious attitude as an inveterate competitor. I wouldn’t want to play Chess with the guy for fear of a singing sword being unleashed at a most inconvenient moment. This driver plays for keeps.
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and others are no less worthy competitors, however they don’t carry the cache’ of Alonso as a Ferrari driver. No brand on Earth is more recognizable than Ferrari. The Scuderia Ferrari is much more than a team, it’s an Italian national institution and Alonso’s presence does nothing to diminish that mindset. His style, manner and skill have caught the attention and adoration of the Tifosi as strongly as Michael Schumacher or Gilles Villenueve did in their days with Ferrari.
Alonso has always been one of those drivers that could be referred to as complete. He began his Formula One career at Minardi, a struggling feeder team at best, but consistently took a car that was far from competitive and made it perform beyond its ability. This feat didn’t go unnoticed by the faster teams.
Flavio Briatore, the flamboyant media gift that just keeps on giving, became Alonso’s manager and placed him as the test driver for Renault. This was a move that taught the Spanish youngster the technical side of set-up, how to work with true engineers and the most important thing of all, many miles of seat time.
When Alonso replaced Yarno Trulli at Renault becoming teammate to Giancarlo Fishichella he not only out performed him, he repeatedly went head to head with Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen without fear. While with his tenure at Renault he captured two back-to-back World Championships at a time when Schumacher was in his prime.
Ferrari knew what they were seeing and, as they do as a matter of process, began the strategies that would ultimately see him reach the Prancing Horse stable.
If we were referring to an artist, you could say that despite winning races and being competitive, his season with McLaren would have to be considered his ‘blue period’. The personal relationship between British driver Lewis Hamilton and Alonso soured quickly. Alonso’s accusations that Hamilton’s engineers were taking the Spaniard’s set-ups and using them for the Briton proved to be true.
Ron Dennis, McLaren’s principle at the time, had invested in Hamilton since the driver was fifteen years old and he had every intention of using whatever means possible to elevate the youngster, even at the expense of Alonso’s future with the team.
Once again, Alonso made a decision that would put him in more fitting surroundings, to Ferrari. Raikkonen was no longer a viable driver as a leader or technical benefit. The Finn’s only desire was to climb into a car and drive. Alonso was more like Schumacher and Jean Todt knew it all too well.
The cost of buying out Raikkonen to get to Alonso was immense, but necessary. Ferrari had a long- term plan and Alonso was the last piece of the puzzle. Massa was quick and a hard fighter but he lacked an ability that Alonso possesses. Alonso stated firmly that he was worth one half second to any team. Certainly a bold statement, but true. His days at Minardi had taught him to take his equipment just slightly beyond what it was purportedly capable of handling.
The future for Fernando Alonso is set. He has become the undisputed team leader at Ferrari and is consistently scoring points for the Italian team that early in the 2011 season found itself in an engineering nightmare. Exhaust blown diffusers, rule changes, no testing, battling against a nearly perfectly balanced car in the Red Bull RB7 and its apparent domination.
The 2012 season will usher in another era, the teams all go to a new formula. They won’t abandon lessons learned in past years, there’s no such thing as a totally clean slate in auto racing, however the new V6 turbocharged engine formula coupled with a complete ban on all blown diffusers give the Spanish driver his next opportunity, a third World Championship.