In a season of unpredictability, mixed fortunes and incredible results, Fernando Alonso has been in a league of his own; showcasing an absolute masterclass in driving and standing head and shoulders above the others. Last year, Sebastian Vettel simply dominated from the outset, giving the perfect of representation of a car and driver in perfect synergy leaving the opposing field trailing in it’s dust. Alonso lacks a dominant car to mirror Vettel’s efforts but has utilised his skill, tenacity and dogged determination to give himself a lead of forty points.
He has amassed 164 world championship points. To put that into perspective, if he were a one man team 1, he would be forth in the constructors championship and less than his lead margin (40) behind being second. He’s achieved this with a car that featured snap oversteer around the slowest of corners, instability under braking and general incompetence overall at the start of the year.
Transcending the car’s ability
As a double world champion, it’s safe to call his as one of F1’s greatest drivers. The BBC ranked him the tenth greatest of all time and AUTOSPORT ninth. Great drivers possess one characteristic ability, one unique skill coupled with inherent pace that separates them from the others. For Aryton Senna, it was pulling out unbelievable qualifying laps day in and day out. For Michael Schumacher, it was his wet weather expertise. For ‘The Professor’ Alain Prost, it was his attention to detail & decisiveness.
For Alonso, it’s his ability to extract performance above and beyond the car’s capability. Ironically, the flailing F2012 provided Alonso the ideal platform to showcase his skill. In retrospect, his performances this year shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have followed his career and it’s exploits.
Alonso made his debut in a Minardi and went out to out-qualify his then team-mate Tarso Marques by 2.6 seconds in his very first session. He put the car most analogous to a modern day HRT on provisional pole (YouTube link). His team boss described his pace during races as “53 laps of qualifying”.
At the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, Alonso put his R26 that lacked the majority of it’s rear bodywork on an incredible P5; almost a second faster than his team-mate Fisichella 2. His own data engineers couldn’t comprehend what he had managed to achieve in a car that had next to nothing rear grip.
Maximising every opportunity
In a BBC interview in 2009, he said:
> “Maybe I’m not the quickest driver, maybe I’m not the most talented, maybe I’m not the hardest working, but I’m very consistent. I will always be there.”
Relentless dogged determination and consistency. That is what separates him from the other, more flamboyant drivers on the grid. It’s about maximising every opportunity and minimising errors 3; capitalising on others mistakes & misfortunes whilst giving it your very best day in and day out. It’s about digging deep, understanding all the variables (links to great article from Peter Windsor that highlights Fernando’s’ brilliance at Hockenheim) and making hay when the sun shines (or in his case, when it rains…)
Rain, the great equaliser. One that can diminish his F2012’s inherent lack of pace. Both wet qualifying sessions (at Silverstone and Hockenheim) have ended with Alonso on pole. The singular wet race in Malaysia ended in the most unexpected result of them all – a win for the Spaniard, piloting the F2012 akin to a Matador taming his beast. He lapped his team-mate, who was driving the very same car.
Going into Valencia, it had almost become the norm for Fernando to challenge what as perceived as the established norm. After not even making Q3, he took a scarcely believable victory at a track where the mere prospect of overtaking was dismissed as a myth. He was aided by alternator failures for Vettel & Grosjean but he was the one who made the daring moves and overtakes early on to put himself in a position to capitalise their misfortunes in the first place.
Leading from the front
Fernando’s determination galvanised Ferrari into a squad after they were left meandering in tatters early on. It’s easy to panic and lose control when faced with adversity but Alonso’s on track performances provided much needed hope. He became the leader, the captain, steering the ship away from early season rough waters. A hallmark of a good leader, he become a figure to look up to as one to follow by every engineer at Maranello. To work in unity, to tackle the adversity. For every uncomfortable question asked at every press conference early season, Fernando kept calm and asked for nothing but time, having full faith in his team’s ability to keep improving the car.
At the halfway point in 2010, Alonso was 47 points behind the championship leader and in competition with a much faster Red Bull. Yet he went into the final race at Yas Marina the championship leader. That’s what he could do in his first year at Ferrari with 40 points down.
The second leg this incredible season will show us what Fantastic Fernando can do with a 40 point advantage. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the gladiator from Asturias walking away with his third world championship crown.
Writer’s note: Dear readers, hope you’ve all had a great summer break. As you must have noticed, I haven’t published anything new over this F1 hiatus. I decided to take a break, travel and enjoy summer myself; to recharge my batteries. As the F1 season roars back to life, so will this website. I’m writing again at a fervent pace and will be covering other drivers.
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It’s debatable that he already is at Ferrari thanks to Massa’s paltry performances. Alonso’s attained 77% of Ferrari’s points, gathering 650% more than Massa. ↩
Who had all his car’s rear bodywork in tact. ↩
On my count Alonso has made just one ‘major’ error: losing the car in Q2 at Australia. That didn’t cost him much, he ended up P5 after starting P12. ↩