Right Place Wrong Time, Wrong Place Wrong Time?

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This post has been in the cards for a long time. Let’s see, exactly when did it become clear that McLaren and Fernando Alonso were getting (re)married? With the official announcement in January of this year? Or did we know by December of last year? Or was it as far back as October/November when anybody with a brain that was following the sport could see that McLaren was his destination?

Whenever it was, I have been biding my time, waiting patiently, keeping my you-know-what closed, shut, zipped. I have been contemplating, thinking, hypothesizing and working the grey matter over about Alonso’s move away from Formula 1’s most fabled team to the destination that every single expert, including this blogger, knew to be true and yet impossible at the same time, his former nemesis McLaren.

A Misjudgment
No one at this point needs the back-story. The Formula 1 collective know it so well, I am slightly surprised it has not been made into ten books, three movies and a documentary yet, but who is to say those efforts are not already in the works?

At first the story was compelling simply because Alonso fell out so spectacularly with Ron Dennis and McLaren several years ago, at which point nobody thought a return was ever going to be feasible. But now the move back to McLaren by just about everybody’s account is the wrong move for the Spaniard. Again.

It would seem Ferrari, the team Alonso left behind, is very competitive at the moment and there is a general feeling that this competitiveness will continue and if not in this year, then quite possibly in the next, Ferrari will be fielding a championship-winning car.

What makes these events even more interesting is the fact that Sebastian Vettel, the driver who just barely beat Fernando to the title in two recent years, left Red Bull and four consecutive WCC’s behind to fill the Ferrari seat vacated by the Spaniard. It looks like Vettel’s timing was perfect; Alonso’s not so much. If this post was about Vettel I guess the title would have been “Right Place, Right Time; Right Place, Right Time…Again.”

But it is not; it is about Fernando Alonso and whether he has made the move that will finally deliver him the further titles that he seeks. Titles that most of the racing world, whether they like him or not, feel he deserves or at the very least most definitely has the talent to achieve.

Had things gone only a slightly different way in past years, Alonso might already have five titles and a real chance at equaling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven. Even I don’t think this can still happen. To add another layer to the Alonso story, there is a real possibility that Sebastian Vettel will match Schumacher’s title count due to his younger age and the fact that he already has four in hand from Red Bull’s dominant era.

Getting back to the point, an astonishing nine years have passed since Alonso’s last championship and at 34 he does not have all the time in the world left, so the real question is: Did this acclaimed driver, respected if not feared by everyone on the grid, make the right choice? Or is the Spaniard doomed to spend the next few years in F1 purgatory driving around in the midfield, achieving a podium here, a podium there?

To be honest, when it happened I was of the opinion that Alonso should have stayed put at Ferrari and seen out his contract. After all, he won two championships with designer James Allison while both were at Renault. By all accounts Allison wanted Alonso to stay, he said as much recently. I thought Alonso should have given Allison a chance to see what he could come up with. After all, Ferrari could not have produced a worse car than last year’s, right?

But then again, it is easy to say such things with the benefit of hindsight. Most pundits and experts were all very sure it would take Ferrari at the very least three years to achieve what has only taken one.

Enough Is Enough
I want to tell you a story about a guy who had an Alfa Romeo. A red (of course) 1976 GTV, and he loved that little car more than anything in the world. He drove it every day, well almost every day because there were many days when it just didn’t drive. Also, it was a bit of a death trap with a live axle in back that made him think twice about taking turns at speed. And then there were the noxious fumes that would come into the cabin whenever the driver hit the brakes, almost causing him to pass out. And the rust, don’t get me started. That’s right, the guy was me. And I stuck with that little red Alfa and its problems much longer than I should have. But one day I just could not drive that car one more mile, despite the fact that I loved it so, because it had let me down so many times.

And I’m guessing that is exactly how Fernando Alonso felt last year, when after five years Ferrari not only couldn’t give him a car that could fight for race wins and a championship but could barely manage to stay in the top ten. The car’s development was going backwards, really. After two years of 2nd place finishes, he could only pull a 6th place out of it. Time to go.

In retrospect I am now certain it was time for Alonso to move on. When one’s heart is not fully committed, perhaps from being broken one time too many, rarely can any good come from continuing on that same path. It was clear for all to see that Alonso’s heart was no longer at Ferrari nor anywhere near it, so his Ferrari career came to a close. However, in the five years while he was wearing red he accomplished quite a bit, especially considering that his car was at best usually the 5th or 6th fastest on the grid.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari 2010-2014
Wins 11
Poles 4
Podiums 43
Points 1,190

That is quite a resume. I cannot resist comparing it to Felipe Massa’s record during that exact same era, driving the same car at Ferrari for 4 of those 5 years.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari 2010-2013, Williams-Martini 2014
Wins 0
Poles 1 (0 at Ferrari)
Podiums 11 (8 at Ferrari)
Points 630 (496 at Ferrari)

That being said, let’s just acknowledge the dark side. Alonso did not win a championship for the Scuderia. He will never be able to call himself a championship Ferrari driver but he came pretty darn close and not many can say the same. In fact not many F1 drivers even ever get to sit behind the wheel of a Ferrari, period. But that is all over now, finished, done. Or as the Italians like to say, Arrivederci.

Yes, Alonso could have stayed put and possibly, maybe, burnished his legacy alongside a long list of Ferrari greats. But he chose otherwise and after these last few races I think I am seeing an opportunity for the Spaniard to do something even greater. Before we get to that, let’s take a realistic look at the ‘new and improved’ Ferrari that Alonso left behind.

As of right now Ferrari is the second fastest car. But not a close second. Vettel crossed the finish line 45 seconds behind the winning car of Nico Rosberg at the Spanish GP. That is 15 seconds shy of a minute, and that my friend, is a light year in F1. And while this number will fluctuate from track to track, my guess is Ferrari will stay a firm second in the pecking order this year. And guess what? Alonso already finished in second place, three out of the five years he raced for the Scuderia. Been there, done that.

That is not to say race wins won’t happen for Vettel or Raikkonen, they will (Vettel already has one) and I’m sure every single one will pain Alonso (and me for that matter). But as I have indicated, Alonso took many wins in his five years driving the scarlet cars and at the end of the day that is all they were, race wins. They did not lead to a championship. Again: been there, done that.

Pioneer
A lot has been already written by the media in regards to the gross error Alonso has made, but has he? Many thought Francis Ford Coppola was out of his mind to make Apocalypse Now. Walt Disney was turned down by fifty, that is five-zero banks before one would lend him the money to open a dinky little theme park. Not many would have bet on Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and it’s sexy model S sedan electric car, Space X, and hyper-speed loop travel along the length of California, but he is going strong and showing a profit on his car company.

The same could be said of many more that chose the road less traveled, chose to go against the grain, did the unconventional or just simply didn’t listen to naysayers. Did Lewis listen to what everyone said about his move to Mercedes? No one is laughing now. Fernando is only living out one of the most tried and true axioms of all time: with great risk comes great reward. So as of right now I am officially tired of hearing how Alonso made a mistake. Maybe Alonso just made the best move of his career.

What if Alonso did win a championship with McLaren in 2016 or 2017, or both? (Usually when a team gets it right there is a good chance the cycle lasts for two seasons.) I can see the headlines, “Down And Out Alonso Makes Huge Comeback, Stuns F1 World”. Or “McLaren-Honda Get It Right, Alonso F1 Champ”. How about this one? “It’s Payback Time As Alonso Beats Ferrari And Vettel To The Title.” (My heart got a little carried away with that last one, wink-wink.)

Yeah, I know, this is all fantasy stuff but the truth is, you know it could happen. We are talking about McLaren, and Honda, and one of the best race car drivers in the world. Anything is possible given the right circumstances, or just given circumstances that are right enough. I mean if he could pull second place with the sixth fastest car …

This story needs an ending
Of course we still don’t know what is really going to happen with Honda McLaren Alonso #MakeHistory. But I am starting to see what Fernando chose. He chose the scrappy fighters over the complacent fat cats. Fernando chose Ron Dennis, who put a racing lifetime of blood, sweat and tears into McLaren to take them from occasional winners to front-runner in the 80s & 90s, was forced out to watch from the sidelines as his team slowly faded to the midfield, bought his way back in to regain his rightful place as CEO and has been chomping at the bit for his redemption championship for a very, very long time.

Fernando chose Honda, who must still have a bitter taste in their mouth after abandoning their works F1 team at a loss to Ross Brawn just in time for Brawn to take the championships the very next year. They also want, need, must have their redemption.

And finally, Fernando chose himself, knowing he has the warrior within him to take this underdog team to greatness. Fernando chose the story.

All great stories have one thing in common. The protagonist must fight through many difficulties, have a will that is uncorruptible, take the ultimate risk and sacrifice the ultimate cost. It is true for a Knight, Samurai, Gladiator, Cowboy, and Jedi.

Is Alonso the Luke Skywalker of F1? Luke fought the Dark Side of the Force and saved millions of lives and the Rebellion. Fernando is paid millions of dollars to race a car around on Sunday. But if Fernando Alonso can do the unthinkable, win another WDC with McLaren, it will be just as impressive as Luke turning off his targeting computer and firing his proton torpedoes to destroy the Death Star using only the Force to guide him. Fernando has taken a great risk, and probably sacrified a Ferrari legacy, to listen to his heart and try for the win and the comeback story that millions of F1 fans will tell for generations to come.

So yes, Fernando could have stayed at Ferrari with much less risk and a team that is pretty good at getting second best. But where’s the story in that? No story at all. I choose the scrappy fighters. I choose Honda McLaren Alonso. #MakeHistory.

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Patrick Chapman

Risk my foot. Alonso had no other choice than to go to Mclaren. Alonso doesn’t seem to be able to give feedback to the engineers so that they can improve the package and he is not a team player. He was a prima donna at Ferrari who insisted on having the car how he wanted it and therefore Massa and Raikkonen were forced to drive “Alonso” cars. And both of them are as fast as Alonso given the right equipment. So dream on, no more championships for the so called best current driver. Both current drivers at Ferrari give clear… Read more »

Carl

It is rather your short memory that is playing games with you. Those that can remember events further back than yesterday or the day before, will tell you that ALO did take Renault to two consecutive titles, beating the Schumacher-Ferrari combo (and others), when a big part of the current F1 names were…playing with go-carts. He did that at times when testing was allowed and driver feedback (made possible as testing was in fact allowed) mattered and had a relatively big impact on car design. These days, as on-track testing is more or less is forbidden relative to the old… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

Carl, your back to front way of looking at things is very funny. It was Renault that took Alonso to two titles not the other way round as you are stating. James Allison moved the mass balance of the car rearwards to achieve better traction off the line when traction control and launch control were banned. That made up in part for his poor qualifying performances and gave him a few places off the line.That was when Alonso got used to an understeering car and he’s never grown out of it. He still thinks that an understeering car is faster… Read more »

Carl

We will never agree, as alot of what you say is subjective, and even though I can put on objective arguments to contradict your statements I suspect we will reach no where… I will give you one last hint though as to show you how your view is very subjective (and very skewed and far from reality). You state that “…Ferrari struggled with him.”. Did you at all follow his years at Ferrari? Was it Ferrari that struggled with HIM? Really, wow. Can you please explain for us then how it come that it was ALO (not his team mate)… Read more »

Negative Camber

Remember our rule here Patrick and Carl, share opinion with decorum and civility. Disagree all you want but please don’t disagree by denigrating the other person. No personal attacks. Make your points with your own merit but please avoid debasing the other counter point by using heavy-handed language to insult the other person. Modern communication via the web needs to change and we can have civil discourse without the personal insults. thanks folks. :)

gp

I don’t think Alonso chose Maclaren, it was the only seat left.

Carl

It was ALO that choose to leave Ferrari.
Can you recall another driver doing that?
It says something about the integrity and determination of the guy. Respect!

Patrick Chapman

You obviously don’t know your F1 history very well. I suspect that it is your blinkers getting in the way.

Carl

Can you recall another driver doing that?

griffiths70

True, LDM was quoted in an interview that it was Alonso that chose to leave and Ferrari gave him that option. However, on the integrity, I disagree a bit. He had 2 years left in his contract. IMO integrity would mean he would fulfill his contract. Determination, yes ..his own. If he gets a call from Mercedes, will he say “no”??

Carl

Allow me to disagree with you. He did not brake the contract – he has always honored his contract and delivered much more than what he really needed to the team (compare to how much points his team mates driving the same car managed getting). The contract was terminated in agreement with the team. As an ALO and F1 fan, I believe that his true mission as a world class racing driver is not to “serve” a “contract” or a “team”, rather to beats everyone else, and give his fans true racing memories. He could have continued his easy, famous… Read more »

Fiona

I have a feeling that Ferrari were happy to see him leave.

Goran Dulic

Really good article, it was a pleasure to read. Almost feels like ALO story can be made into a book or possibly a movie, just if he can get a title with McL, story would be full. On another note, I just want to say that I’m not ALO fan, but I simpatise him. I dont really have favourites since Senna, but I had drivers that I liked very much, MH, DC, MW and ALO is one of them. Bottom line here is that ALO is a driver of established elite in F1 even that people count drivers of no… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

thanks for that Goran… It give me an immense amount of joy writing about F1.

Johnpierre Rivera

Passion Passion, Passion… I Love it and It is really what following this great sport is all about. Obviously I am a Alonso fan, but the real point of my post was to try and explain the why behind Alonso’s move, and of course to stir the pot a little. As with all great drivers Alonso is divisive. But so was Schumacher, so is Vettel and Hamilton at times can be just as petulant. In Hamy’s own words there were many people at McLaren that were happy to see him move on. This I propose is what make F1 so… Read more »

Carl

I loved your peice, thank you! Regarding the “selfishness” part. I think that “all” champions. IN ALL sports not only F1, are extremely selfish. They have to be! To become a champion in any sport, you need to invest a huge amount of time and resources IN YOURSELF. You need for example to prioritize practice (investment in your body) above wife/girlfriend, childeren, family & friends, hence spending huge amounts of time in your self/body practicing/training. Likewise when it comes to other kinds of resources, such as money – you may need to spend on yourself before other things wheather that… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

Ageed…

Fiona

I feel compelled to point out that Webber disobeyed orders in 2011 at Silverstone, way before Vettel did in Malaysia. Don’t take it personally, I point it out all of the time. And, just an FYI, Vettel found the hoopla about the incident amusing as he knew Mark had a faster car but he just wanted to race.

Fiona

While I’m neither an Alonso nor a McLaren fan, I very much liked the article.

Johnpierre Rivera

thx Fiona

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