Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.
Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.
For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.
Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.
Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.
From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.
And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.
Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.
Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.
In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.
But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.
The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.
And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.
Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.
Jules Bianchi, the young Frenchman who drives for F1 backmarkers Marussia, deserves a seat in a top team. More specifically, he deserves to drive for Ferrari.
Bianchi has impressed all the way through the single seater formulae. But since making it to Formula 1 at the beginning of 2013, he has consistently demonstrated the skill and maturity €required to merit a drive with Ferrari, the organisation that has backed his rise to Formula 1.
Bianchi is part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, and therefore has the support of Formula 1’s most famous team as he builds his career in motor sport. While that’s a great position for any young driver to be in, it’s becoming more and more clear that the question needs to be asked: Why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari?
A Formula 1 driver in a slow car has one major aim – to beat his team-mate. To say Bianchi has beaten his team-mate at Marussia is to make a quite ridiculous understatement. Bianchi has obliterated his team-mate – Max Chilton – since the first time he sat in the cockpit of a Marussia F1 car.
But more than that, Bianchi has put Marussia on the F1 map. Significantly, he scored the team’s first ever points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix when he finished 8th (he was demoted to 9th as a result of a penalty incurred during the race).
Today, Bianchi showed his class yet again, by qualifying 16th for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix. 16th doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but consider that Bianchi was over a second a half quicker than his own team-mate in Q1 and matched the Q1 lap time of Sauber’s Adrian Sutil.
Whenever difficult conditions present themselves – like in today’s wet Belgian GP qualifying session – Bianchi performs extremely well. Whenever conditions are ideal, Bianchi generally outperforms his team-mate. More cannot be asked of a racing driver in any category.
Ferrari’s drivers in 2014 are Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Both are former world champions, which is very unusual for Ferrari – before signing Michael Schumacher for 1996, Ferrari had typically employed up-and-coming drivers and until signing Kimi Raikkonen for this season, Ferrari had never re-employed a former Ferrari world champion.
Jules Bianchi is the ideal driver for Ferrari. He has talent in abundance – that much is very clear. He has shown maturity and determination in his performances in Formula 1 – indicating that he would do the same for Ferrari. Bianchi is also young and has no particular achievements that demand a high salary (he’s not a world champion or even a race winner yet, mostly as the result of not having a quick enough car) – which leaves more of Ferrari’s budget available for car development.
So why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari? Honestly, I don’t know. If Ferrari don’t come to their senses and offer him a drive for 2015, it is likely that Bianchi will be winning races for one of the other top teams next season.
Max Chilton recorded his first ever Formula 1 retirement in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix. It’s probably the most important event that has occurred in his short F1 career thus far.
Chilton has had a monkey on his back for some time now. That monkey has been his reliability. He finished every race of his debut season in 2013 and followed that up by finishing the first six races of 2014 – a run of 25 consecutive race finishes, which is impressive for any driver in Formula 1.
The problem was it became his claim to fame. Chilton was the driver who finished every race. It’s certainly not a problem to finish races. Finishing is essential to results. But finishing is not a result in itself. Winning is a result. Finishing on the podium is a result. Finishing in the points is a result. Finishing ahead of your rivals is a result. Finishing ahead of your team-mate is a result.
While Chilton was notching up his impressive run of race finishes, his team-mate, the ever-impressive Jules Bianchi, was notching up results that displayed his immense promise as a Formula 1 driver. He comprehensively outperformed Chilton in 2013 (the debut season of both drivers) and most recently scored the Marussia team’s first ever points by finishing 9th at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Where do Chilton’s 25 consecutive race finishes rank next to Bianchi’s 2 point in Monaco? Nowhere. Nobody cares that Chilton has been reliable to an unlikely degree. It’s results that count, not race finishes.
And that is why it’s crucial that Chilton had to retire from a race. After 25 consecutive finishes, it’s likely that he felt some pressure to make it to the finish line simply so he could avoid failing to finish. But that’s not the point of racing. Results are the point of racing.
Chilton can now focus on results. He starts with a clean slate at the next round in Austria. It’s a neutral venue, in that it’s not his home race, nor is it the home race of his team or any major partner of his team. There’s no specific pressure. It’s just another race where he gets to go out there and do the best he can with the car his team prepares for him.
Perhaps we’ll see Chilton really start to challenge Bianchi in the near future. Until now, he’s hardly done so. But the freedom that comes with getting that monkey off his back can only do him a great deal of good.
Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
It’s unusual for racing cars to have gender. If pushed, a driver might describe his car as female. Sebastian Vettel would certainly have done that in previous seasons – he named one of his cars Kinky Kylie – but this year’s F1 cars look… let’s say… male. Caterham’s CT05 embodies this “maleness” to a greater degree than most.
The rules governing the height of the nose for this year’s cars have resulted in some unusual-looking solutions being produced by the various teams. The front of Ferrari’s F14 T, for example, looks like a vacuum cleaner. Mercedes have produced the most “normal” looking F1 car, while Red Bull have produced a car that looks quite good until the small bulge at the end of the nose is noticed.
McLaren, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Williams and Force India have all come out with cars that have some variation on a thin extension of the nose that looks remarkably phallic. Some of them have attempted to hide the fact that their nose looks a bit strange by employing creative paint-jobs. Others have tried to minimise the size of the protrusion and, at least in the case of Williams, succeeded to an extent.
But Caterham have made no attempt either to limit the size of their “ant-eater” nose, as it is diplomatically known, or to disguise it with clever paint-work. Instead, they’ve let it all hang out. It’s so striking a feature that there has been almost no comment on the rest of the car thus far. The nose is the only talking point.
On first viewing, it appears that the rest of the car looks much as expected. The rear-exiting exhaust, larger side-pods, and missing rear beam wing are all visible from a fairly cursory glance at the car. Caterham have included what became known as a “monkey seat” last season in the rear-wing centre upright. This is a small wing just above the exhaust of this year’s car. It is permitted by the regulations, but it remains to be seen to what extent it will be used by the teams this season.
The other noticeable change is in the livery. Last year, the rear of the engine cover was yellow, while the rest of the car was its now typical green. But for this season it seems the yellow is gone. The car is all green, at least at this stage of the season. Perhaps the livery will be developed at a later stage.