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 returned to the top of the podium with an emphatic victory in Bahrain. The double World Champion has had a difficult start to the season, but silenced his doubters by taking pole position yesterday and driving a faultless race to victory this afternoon. The perfect weekend for Vettel sees him at the top of the points standings for the first time this season.
Only Lotus had an answer to the pace of Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen challenging for the lead before the last round of pitstops. Unfortunately for the Finn, he was unable to keep pace with Vettel once the Red Bull driver was on fresh tyres, and Raikkonen finished the race in second, his strongest result since returning to Formula One in Australia this season. Team-mate Romain Grosjean finished third for his first Formula One podium, completing an impressive weekend in which he outqualified Raikkonen and led his team-mate in the early stage of the race. His joy was evident on the podium and again in the post-race interview as he smiled broadly during the proceedings.
Mark Webber scored his fourth consecutive fourth place, which makes it four Renault engines in the top four, a surprising result given that the Mercedes engine is considered better for straight-line speed and the Bahrain circuit has two long straights.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg could only manage fifth place today, recovering after a slow start that saw him lose a few places in the first corner. Rosberg will be the subject of two investigations by the stewards after the race, after on-track battles with Hamilton and Alonso saw both opponents running off the track to avoid contact with the Mercedes driver.
McLaren had a miserable afternoon. Lewis Hamilton had two very slow pitstops, both due to problems with his left-rear tyre, which pushed him down the order. Some good aggressive driving saw him finish in eighth, although that could change if the stewards find him guilty of passing Nico Rosberg outside the limits of the track. Jenson Button’s afternoon came to a premature end with a cracked exhaust.
Paul di Resta made a two-stop strategy work well to finish sixth, a good result for Force India. Alonso fought hard to finish seventh, with team-mate Mass scoring his first points of the season in ninth after a strong drive. Michael Schumacher rounded out the top ten after a solid drive from 22nd on the grid.
This weekend concluded the first round of fly-away races. The Formula One teams now return home, in advance of the first European race in Barcelona on 13 May.
Lotus Renault have announced that Romain Grosjean will occupy their second race seat in 2012. The French driver will partner 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen.
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation regarding Lotus Renault’s driver line-up. Robert Kubica recently announced that he would not be available for the beginning of the season, which raised the question of who would drive the second car. Grosjean’s appointment means that 2011 Renault drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna are now searching for teams for 2012.
Grosjean has driven in Formula 1 before, when he partnered Fernando Alonso at Renault for the last 7 races of 2009. Grosjean did not impress during that season, and was dropped for 2010. He subsequently competed in the FIA GT1 series briefly before winning the 2010 Auto GP (previously called Formula 3000) championship. In 2011, he comfortably won the GP2 championship, showing that he has developed strongly as a driver since his first attempt at Formula 1.
The past 2 seasons have been quite tumultuous for Lotus Renault. They have used 4 drivers (Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna), which has not been ideal. The team needs continuity to develop and that is something that has definitely been lacking recently.
Lotus Renault have gone for a mix of youth and experience for 2012. Kimi Räikkönen has been around for a long time and won a World Championship. Romain Grosjean has proven himself in the lower single-seater categories. It looks like a combination that can take Lotus Renault forward, as long as they put in the time to make it work.
Lotus Renault GP have already filled one seat for 2012, with Kimi Räikkönen coming out of retirement. The other seat is a matter of much speculation.
Russian Vitaly Petrov has a contract for 2012 that gives him a race seat. He also comes with substantial sponsorship. In his 2 seasons with Renault he has stood on the podium, and generally looks to have developed as a Formula 1 driver. However, Renault have not yet confirmed that he will drive in 2012, which of course suggests that he might not. If his place in the team were already decided, Renault would have announced it already. So Petrov’s position is in doubt.
Bruno Senna has driven for Renault for the last 8 races of the 2011 season. His performances have been mixed, but he has shown that he has the speed to compete at the highest level. He does not have a contract to race in 2012, but will be hoping that his 2011 performances will assist him in finding one.
Romain Grosjean raced for Renault in 7 races of the 2009 season. In that time, his highest finish was 13th, and his performances were unmemorable. It was thought that he might be a bit inexperienced to compete in Formula 1. After the disappointment of 2009, he returned to GP2 (Formula 1’s primary feeder series) and won the 2011 title comfortably. Renault signed him up as a reserve driver towards the end of 2011, which shows that they think he has developed as a driver. He is a strong contender for the race seat alongside Räikkönen.
It is quite unfortunate that these three drivers seem to be in competition for a single seat. All three have Formula 1 experience, speed and skill. But of course Renault can only choose one. Will it be Petrov with some experience and sponsorship, Senna with his amazing racing pedigree, or Grosjean with his recent GP2 form? Renault have stated that they will make an announcement by 10 December. We can only wait til then to find out.