Second is the first loser

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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.

Alonso Fernando McLaren japan 2015 copy

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.

Vettel Red Bull 2014

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…


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Few things are predictable in F1, there are so many examples of unexpected outcomes. Drivers who thrived or failed with new teams, teams who thrived or failed with technology changes, etc etc .Thats one of the things that make the whole thing so compelling. Given Alonso’s reputation as the best driver of this generation, its a pity that he has been without the best car on the grid so that he can get the results that would reinforce that reputation with a few more WDC’s. However, being the fickle bunch that we are, if he was in the best car… Read more »


Not a bite on suggesting a spec series drivers championship. Come on F1B family, I expected more………


There are a few examples of World Champions who have changed team’s and helped a struggling outfit improve and win races. Michael Schumacher is the obvious example when he went to Ferrari, although it did take four years before the car was capable of winning the championship, and five years to actually win it. Similarly Damon Hill when dropped by Williams took Arrows from a team struggling to qualify to one capable of winning a race inside a season (even if the win in Hungary didn’t happen due to the failure of a small washer), he then took Jordan to… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

very true although it is worth nothing that in the Schumacher and Hill’s era testing and sim work was the standard. I personally feel there is only so much a driver can contribute via the simulator. That being said since I ain’t no driver or have ever been in a F1 sim, maybe I should keep my mouth shut-skies. ;-)

ps I hope so too…

Patrick Chapman

It would be naive to think that you could start a project such as Mclaren and Honda have done and expect to win a championship, get wins, podiums or even points in their first season, And I know that Mclaren, Honda and Alonso are not naive. They are realistic people that feed the fans and journalists the drivel that they think we want to hear. Arai has been quoted on at least two occasions this season that I can remember saying that the Honda engine is delivering more power than Renault and is equal to Ferrari. Bear in mind that… Read more »


Hi Patrick, good post. Two slightly facetious comments (just for giggles) 1) Mercedes did it – nailed power, drivablilty, and reliability right out of the box 2) Nieve! – you weren’t posting when people were claiming McLaren would be stripping down Mercedes P.U’s for Honda to copy. I’d also like to see Honda get their act together, and get McLaren back to the front of the grid, but then again I also want Williams, Sauber, and Force India to win the WCC, as well as Rosberg, Vettel, Massa, Bottas, Alonso, Verstappen, and many more to win the WDC, so yes… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

Hi Jokobus, Mercedes did it – nailed power, drive-ability, and reliability right out of the box. That’s one way of assessing their performance. But maybe you are giving them more credit than they deserve. Remember that Ross Braun was on the committee when the new engine regs were formulated, at the same time he was also top dog at Mercedes F1 team. That effectively gave them a TWO YEAR head start on the other manufacturers. Also remember that Mercedes threatened to pull out of F1 if the new hybrids didn’t go through. That threat was made because they were already… Read more »


So Ferrari and Renault weren’t involved in agreeing to the hybrid p.u specs?
The narrative on this website has been that it was at least Renault and Mercedes were the parties pushing for the new format.
I’d agree that Mercedes have a couple of years head start on Honda, but I’m not so sure that is the case in comparison to Renault and Ferrari.

Patrick Chapman

From reading the various article posted on this subject over the last couple of years it is logical for you to conclude that Mercedes and Renault were at the forefront of the new hybrid regulations coming into effect with Ferrari playing a bit part in the background and largely you are correct in your conclusions. However, a little reported aspect of the regulation negotiations was that Mercedes were lobbying for a v6 configuration while Renault were touting for a v4 engine. While this went on,Mercedes had started the design,development and even production of their v6 hence their threat to quit… Read more »


Thanks Patrick, interesting background. Mercedes got the ICU right, but also the rest of the p.u and the packaging, so a bunch of really good decisions that have paid off. Fingers crossed, Honda, Ferrari, Renault all get it right, so we get good racing and fans can start loving these hybrid p.u’s as much as technology geeks like me :-)

Patrick Chapman

Mercedes as you say have got it right and they have a stable well developed PU for 2016 and any further developement will be small. Ferrari are currently there or there abouts and there is a new design PU for 2016 featuring a narrower Vee on the engine block which will allow them some interesting aero tweaks at the rear of the car so they might take a couple of races to get up to speed. Renault had a torrid time during 2015 with Red Bull who have actually hindered Renaults development so I am expecting that they will still… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

My thoughts exactly…. especially for Williams and Rosberg. If it is going to be a Mercedes show again next year the sport really needs Rosberg to take the fight to Ham.


If Rosberg makes it 3 in a row at Abu Dhabi, that would set him well on the way for next year, and put a severe kink in Hamilton’s cool ;-)
Unless Williams, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Force India get their act together and we get the 2012 season again, seven winners in the first seven races — yeah right ;-)


Agreed, it would be naive to expect miracles this season, but there’s a lot of space between a miracle and the scandal McLaren have made of this year. I mean we’re not one or two steps shy of a podium here. This is a nightmare and I personally think it is sowing the seeds of McLaren’s demise. If I’m right, there’s no justifying it on any level. It’s like the philosophers said, the first obligation is to continue. Without that you can do nothing. I recently read about the Honda engine and given my information is slight, but what they… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

I look forward to your posts next year on this subject LOL Mercedes most touted technical advantage over Ferrari and Renault was their MGU-H which comprises of the turbocharger and a generator unit all coupled together which allows for charging of the energy store (batteries) while the turbocharger is spinning. Mercedes introduced what is termed the “split” turbo. Usually the turbine wheel and the compressor wheel are attached to each other connected by a short shaft which keeps the unit very compact. A good design on a road car. What Mercedes did was to separate the two components and mount… Read more »


I think you (as usual) feature numerous examples of sound logic and keen insight, but there is a wider, inescapable view from which this (Alonso to McLaren) is all just an unmitigated mess. He moved to a team which had, long before this Honda debacle, demonstrated serious flaws. With a massive staff, nearly limitless resources and the best power unit on the grid (albeit slightly B spec) they were regularly embarassed both by themselves (wheels unattached, radiators covered, out of fuel) and by a customer team using a few C spec bits purchased from McLaren themselves and an operation dancing… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

What you are saying make perfect sense and I honestly can’t disagree with any of your perceptions and conclusions. However, Mclaren have proven to be a top team from an engineering point of view and with their new aerodynamic staff, the change in management and their partnership with Honda, I am expecting a return to near the top in 2016. Unfortunately I am unable to give you evidence or proof of this so I will go with your logic on this one and we will talk more during 2016.


I hope you are right and I am itching to say I was wrong and look how great they’re doing. I promise to come through with mea culpas if it happens. Good luck McLaren Honda!

Johnpierre Rivera

Time time and more time. I just hope by the end of 2016 the chassis is 80% there and in Alonso last year 2017 he can have a chance.

Johnpierre Rivera


Johnpierre Rivera

LOL… Copy that…
Yes this is where Alonso has had some difficulty. Left McLaren when he could have had another chance in 2008, did not take the Red Bull deal right before they started winning everything b/c the deal was only for two years (I think). left Ferrari when James Allison has wiped the slate clean and their wind tunnel is actually functioning properly.

Mike Martin

I certainly respect your opinion and enjoyed the read but, I was once was a big fan of Alonso and followed his career from Minardi to Renault, McLaren, back to Renault, and then on to Maranello where huge things were expected. Only problem was, Vettel dominated for four years. During that time, Fernando began to mention over and over again that “anyone can win in that car” or “if I had that car, I would be unbeatable”. He never missed an opportunity to downplay Vettel’s obvious talent with jealous, political comments. It was then my allegiance began to sour. Even… Read more »

Johnpierre Rivera

Fair enough. You are quite right in pointing out this aspect of Alonso’s personality… think you have hit on something in regards to the political aspect. That seems to be part and parcel who he is.

Johnpierre Rivera

To everyone so far – I just finished reading all of your comments. Replied to a few. Everyone has extremely valid points and I am glad most of you keying into the underlying point of the article which is the engines and not that Honda is inept but due to the way an engine manufacture is restricted now it has been very difficult to match Mercedes and now this year Ferrari. What will be fascinating for next year is if Ferrari can finally close the gap on horsepower (I still believe the Merc chassis with be the best) and if… Read more »

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