Last weekend in Brazil Fernando Alonso got off to a rough start. An engine issue in FP2 and also in qualifying left the driver with yet again a weekend to forget although he did finish a race distance which is something that is still not a given even at this late stage of the season. It was not all doom and gloom. Both Alonso and Jenson Button made a quick appearance on the podium, albeit only because they chose to walk up and snap a few pictures. Later, Alonso would say that podiums are only possible this way right now with a wink and smile. Then there was qualifying and the now famous shot of Alonso in a Marshall’s chair with his head back and his feet up. The picture spawned many interpretations, with the subtext: How did I get here? or not again or when will this end. Officially the hashtag was #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe.
Alonso put on a brave face and explained that it’s better to have all the teething issues this year and start 2016 free of reliability issues and focussing on competitiveness. And it is right about here that I can hear many in F1 saying: What were you thinking [Fernando] leaving Ferrari, what with Maranello now very close to Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel superbly driving to three wins and several podiums?
This is the perfect time to remind everyone that when Alonso was at Ferrari I read the exact same things coming out of Maranello that are now being said about Sebastian Vettel. We have an exceptional talent in Alonso (now Vettel), The team is united behind Alonso (now Vettel). If it was not for Alonso, Ferrari would not even be close to competing with Red Bull and Sebastian (now Mercedes and Hamilton). Oh how we F1 types are so, so fickle.
Whether you like the Spaniard and feel he is a great driver (which obviously I do) or hate the Spaniard which fans do as well (I wish all the negativity would just go away concerning drivers or teams, I wish we could all just like a driver or team for the simple fact that we like them and thats it), the fact of the matter is that Alonso out drove his red car ever other Sunday and performed miracles where no one else could. Those are not my words mind you, although I agree with them wholeheartedly, those are the words from the Italian press not only once but on several occasions throughout his tenure at Ferrari.
That it did not produce any championships falls squarely on the shoulders of the car maker not Alonso, yes he made an error or two in 2010 but that might be due to the fact that he was over driving the car each time he sat in it. Just look at what happened to Vettel in Mexico. If a driver has to over-compensate for the shortcomings of a chassis or needs to make up ground, mistakes are bound to happen. In 2012 he was driving on another level, and that is a simple fact. If anyone wants to disagree with me on that one, then you either did not watch F1 from 2010 to 2013, don’t know the facts, or your dislike for Alonso has caused you to develop a deep denial of common sense. End of story.
Which brings me to the topic of this post. I am sure there are followers in F1 right now that are not buying the POV that our driver in question keeps communicating to the press. In case you have missed him saying it for the last 1000 times, it goes like this: I decided to move on from the existing situation. I wanted to be part of something new. I was tired of coming second for so long. Etc. etc. I am paraphrasing, but this is pretty close.
Now to play devil’s advocate, clearly Alonso did not count on so many difficulties in the first year with McLaren and Honda, nor do I suspect he thought he would end up being so frustrated race after race. Championships in the first year? Of course not, but top ten finishes and a few top fives with a lone podium, that is reasonable from the two super companies that sign his paychecks. So one can see how the aforementioned lines are something one might be compelled to say as well if one had made such a gaffe in a decision as important as leaving a team [Ferrari] on the way up and landing in a team that has been on the way down [McLaren] and now is in a bit of a crisis.
But think about it for a minute. Have you ever come second so many times that you just don’t care anymore what you are doing, as long as it is not second? Be it competition with an older sibling, one of your friends from high school or college, colleagues at work? It can be quite frustrating and admit it, situations similar to these do take some of the fun out of what you are doing. There comes a time that you just end up saying, that’s it, I’m over it, (that was the G-rated version of that statement by the way) even at your own expense. This has happened to me on several occasions, and still does.
The best drivers are the ones that go with their gut feelings when deciding when to leave a team and to which team to go to, and most of the time it serves them well. But we all know (all too well) there is quite a bit of luck involved in F1. Timing is everything and sometimes the best laid plans just don’t pan out a la Alonso’s time at Ferrari, or when he chose to move on. Sometimes it just happens that way.
[Titles aside, and he did come painfully close in 2010 and 2012, the Spaniard was able to drive for the most fabled racing team – every driver dreams of driving a car with Enzo’s name on it – and he was paid handsomely to do it. So it was not all for naught.]
In contrast, changing teams worked out very well for Lewis Hamilton. It has appeared (for now) to have also worked out for Sebastian Vettel, but it is early days for him and I would say there is no guarantee that Ferrari will produce a car that can take the fight to Mercedes. So, championships are not a foregone conclusion just yet for Vettel.
But by the way It took Mercedes five years to get where they are and Ferrari’s first year in the turbo era was nothing to write home about, dismal really if we are to be honest about it. Everyone should just cut McLaren and especially Honda some slack, it is their first year back in the most challenging and complex era for the engine package and one where their hands are tied due to the regulations and with no real testing how were they ever to be reliable and competitive right out of the box?
Becoming world champions for a team or a driver does not happen overnight and it sure does not happen in a vacuum in F1. So very many things need to be spot on for a championship to even be a consideration where teams and drivers are concerned.
So when Alonso says: “It was [for constantly finishing second with Ferrari] one of the reasons why I moved here to McLaren-Honda, because the only way to beat Mercedes in the near future is to have a very strong project, a different kind of philosophy for understanding the new Formula 1, and I think I’m in the right place,” he is being pretty clear and totally honest and we owe him the respect of believing what he says.
Sebastian Vettel almost came second (let’s call it second for arguments sake) this year and while the future looks bright for Ferrari and Vettel to have a shot at the titles next year, the smart money will still be with Mercedes and that will make two more years Alonso would have finished behind the leaders if he had stayed with Enzo’s famous team. Like Kimi Raikkonen recently said, if your not winning titles your finishing position in the championships is irrelevant.
So true Kimi, So true…