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.
Sebastian Vettel has made history in Brazil, becoming the youngest ever triple World Champion and only the third driver in history to win three consecutive titles – after Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
When he made contact with Bruno Senna on the first lap and found himself facing the wrong way with damage to his left side pod, Vettel could have been forgiven for thinking his championship was gone. But instead he produced a true champion’s drive from the back of the field to finish sixth, negotiating weather changes, several overtaking moves and communication problems with his team after a partial radio failure.
Fernando Alonso was Vettel’s only remaining title challenger, and the Spaniard made the most of his car and on-track opportunities to finish a superb second in the race. Unfortunately for Alonso, it was not enough to take the title, and he finished three points behind Vettel.
Nonetheless, Alonso’s class has been displayed throughout the entire season. From beginning to end, he has been the benchmark for the rest of the field. The 2012 Ferrari has just not been quick enough, particularly in qualifying, but Alonso has delivered results seemingly beyond the car’s capabilities and came tantalisingly close to snatching the title away from Vettel.
The 2012 championship has revealed two very different cultures in two very different teams. At Ferrari, there is very much a family atmosphere, with the drivers obviously working together for the best possible team result. Massa has been vocal in his support of Alonso’s championship bid for some time, and the Brazilian played a crucial role in helping Alonso to finish second in today’s race. By contrast, at Red Bull Mark Webber has never shown public support for Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes, even after Webber himself fell out of the title race. In today’s race, Webber did let Vettel through fairly easily on the track, but was otherwise not involved at all in his team-mate’s success.
Vettel’s success elevates him into a very special group of drivers – the triple World Champions. He joins Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, an illustrious group if ever there was one. Ahead in the record books are Alain Prost on four titles, Juan Manuel Fangio on five, and Michael Schumacher with seven World Drivers’ Championships. At only 25 years old, Vettel is the youngest of the triple World Champions by six years, and has plenty of time left in his career to add to his astonishing list of achievements.
2012 has been possibly the most thrilling season in Formula One history. The first seven races saw seven different winners in five different cars powered by three different engines. When the order settled down, Alonso emerged as the dominant driver, but ultimately he had no response to the technical developments that took place at Red Bull, and Sebastian Vettel’s mesmerising speed delivered four race wins in a row to take the lead in the championship. The title has gone down to the last race, and even to the last few laps, providing plenty of excitement for millions of Formula One fans worldwide. At the end of the year, Vettel is a deserving Drivers’ Champion, and Red Bull are worthy Constructors’s Champions.
Lewis Hamilton currently lies second in the championship, 37 points behind Fernando Alonso with seven races remaining in 2012. If Hamilton is to win the title, he will have to produce a strong finish to the season. And he is setting himself up for precisely that.
Hamilton’s charge for the title effectively started in Hungary. Although he had already won a race before that (in Canada), the Hungarian Grand Prix was the first in a series of extremely good results for McLaren and Hamilton. In the last three races, Hamilton has won both times he has finished. The other race (at Spa) was won in dominant style by team-mate Jenson Button while Hamilton was taken out in the first corner by Romain Grosjean.
Yesterday, Hamilton put his McLaren on pole for today’s Singapore Grand Prix by almost half a second from Pastor Maldonado. Button was six tenths off the pace of his team-mate, underlining the level at which Hamilton is performing. Championship leader Alonso starts the race down in fifth place, and will have his work cut out to minimise the potential damage to his championship lead.
If Hamilton and Alonso finish this race in their starting positions, Alonso’s lead will be reduced to just 22 points – less than a race victory – with six races remaining. While Hamilton has no way of guaranteeing that Alonso will not score more points, he is putting himself in the best possible position to challenge for the championship, regardless of Alonso’s results.
Fernando Alonso has already secured his place in history as one of Formula One’s great drivers. With two World Championships and 30 victories by the age of 31, Alonso still has plenty of time to break records in his career, and he is closing in on at least two records in 2012.
Alonso is leading the championship by 40 points with 9 races to go. The title is by no means decided, but the Spaniard’s lead is significant. If Alonso prevails in 2012, he will be (assuming the title goes down to the last race of the season) 31 years 119 days old on the day of his triumph, making him the youngest ever triple World Champion. The current record is held by Ayrton Senna, who was 31 years 227 days old when he won his third title in 1991.
Ferrari’s leading driver is also on the brink of another, albeit perhaps less significant record. Alonso has finished his last 23 races in the points, only one short of Michael Schumacher’s record of 24 consecutive points-finishes. Based on Alonso’s form so far this season, it seems probable that he will break that record without too much fuss. It is worth noting that Alonso’s current streak includes a ninth place at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, which would not have earned points during the period that covered Schumacher’s record of 24.
Ferrari have now gone four years without winning the Drivers’ Championship, but their form appears to have returned this season. With Alonso behind the wheel, there are very few records that are out of reach.
Lewis Hamilton’s future in Formula One is currently the subject of much speculation. His contract at McLaren expires at the end of the season, and he has not yet made any announcement about his plans for 2013. One possibility is a move to Ferrari, which has been generally ignored in the media due to the poor relationship Hamilton had with Fernando Alonso (Ferrari’s leading driver) at McLaren in 2007. But is it really that unlikely?
Hamilton is supremely talented. His raw speed is visible in qualifying, where he is always in with a shout of pole. In the races, his aggressive style of driving frequently translates into overtaking and if he is out in front the rest of the field has their work cut out to catch him. Hamilton is a true racer, and would be an enormous asset to any team.
Ferrari have an available seat for 2013. Felipe Massa’s contract runs out at the end of 2012 and it seems likely that the Brazilian will be replaced for next season. If Ferrari does seek to replace Massa, Hamilton must surely be right at the top of their wishlist. He will certainly bring the team victories, and is as capable as anyone of delivering championships.
Ferrari’s driver line-up is typically announced at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Although McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has expressed confidence that his star driver will re-sign with the Woking-based team for 2013, it seems a little strange that it is taking so long to be finalised. Perhaps Hamilton has signed with Ferrari and is simply keeping the news quiet until Monza.
The only potential problem with a move to Maranello is Fernando Alonso. Hamilton and Alonso were team-mates at McLaren in 2007, and they did not share a good relationship. Hamilton is a little older and a bit more mature now, and Alonso seems much more comfortable at Ferrari than he ever did at McLaren, so the Hamilton-Alonso driver pairing could perhaps work better the second time round. The two drivers have been seen talking at a few of the races so far this season, and the relationship seems relaxed and friendly. Could it be a sign of things to come?
Hamilton in a Ferrari is an attractive proposition for Formula One. He is regarded by many as the quickest driver on the grid, and Ferrari are the ultimate Formula One team. It is a match that should, sooner or later, be made.