Debate: Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso, Istanbul, McLaren-Mercedes, 2007 | DaimlerChryslerFernando Alonso just racked up his 100th Grand Prix appearance so it seemed like a good opportunity to have a discussion about the Spanish double champion.

Alonso has a rack of impressive achievements under his belt – youngest pole sitter, youngest race winner and youngest driver to win two championships.

But we;ve seen another side to Alonso this year in his tense battle with team mate Lewis Hamilton. When Hamilton refused to cede track position to Alonso under instruction in qualifying at Hungary, Alonso hit back by deliberately baulking Hamilton.

Alonso the great…

This is the driver that ended Michael Schumacher’s streak of five consecutive titles and prevailed in a sizzling championship battle with F1′s last great driver in 2006.

He excels in brave overtaking moves and grinding his championship rivals down by maximising his points haul at every race.

…or Fernando the foul?

Renault’s Pat Symonds always pointed out the Alonso’s greatest weakness was that he couldn’t handle being beaten by his team mate. It didn’t happen much when he was paired with Giancarlo Fisichella, but alongside the feisty Hamilton at McLaren, Alonso has been under pressure.

He’s reacted by criticising the team, usually through the Spanish media. Even after this weekend’s cooling down meeting with the team over the Hungaroring affair he came out and told the press that he wasn’t given enough backing from McLaren after he claims he helped improve the car’s performance by over half a second a lap.

A worthy champion?

Alonso has been accused of being a ‘cruise and collect’ champion, who’s won his titles by racking up lots of second and third place finishes without pushing for wins.

Is this a legitimate criticism? Or does this kind of complaint just come from fans of driver like Kimi Raikkonen, who lost the ’05 title to Alonso largely through unreliability?

It’s also been debated whether Alonso is a good ambassador for the sport.

My take

My respect for Alonso has taken a few big hits this year.

His first two championships were impressive feats. Not so much for his age – youth is taken for granted in F1 these days – but because he had to fight off resurgent drivers who often had better cars.

Last year Alonso gave a master class in how to win a world championship. He never once made a mistake worthy of the name, while Schumacher lost ground with a crash at Melbourne and a needless run-in with Pedro de la Rosa at the Hungaroring.

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Monza, 2006 | LAT PhotographicAlonso kept his head even when Ferrari’s car began to prove much quicker than Renault’s, and it seemed forces were conspiring against him at Monza.

But after the next round at Shanghai he began to complain about not getting sufficient support from the team It was the beginning of a pattern – this year it seems that every word Alonso has spoken has been negative.

His description of Hamilton’s maiden was as ‘lucky’ may have been accurate but it smacked of bitterness. He’s complained about alleged favouritism when there’s none to be seen and made a spurious claim to be the sole reason why the car is competitive this year.

Words are one thing, but at the Hungaroring Alonso’s preoccupation with Hamilton got the better of him when the Briton failed to comply with an instruction from the team.

Alonso committed the double fault of both retaliating and doing so in a manner that broke the rules. In the stewards penalty he got what he deserved – ironically at a circuit where, 12 months earlier, he was punished for a similar needless piece of rule-breaking.

I still think Alonso’s a fine driver but he’s disappointed me as a person this year. The one positive thing that I hopes might come out of Schumacher’s retirement was that the sport would go back to being more about the racing – and not the kind of controversy that spoiled the Hungarian Grand Prix.

That said, every time it’s been suggested Alonso might take an early retirement if or when he wins a third world championships, I’ve thought it would be a disappointment.

I still think the mentally tough, ruthlessly quick Alonso that defeated Schumacher at Bahrain last year can beat Hamilton to the title in ’07. But not this new Alonso who must be alienating his team with his string of negative remarks, and has made the kind of mistakes on the track that last year we thought him incapable of.

Photos: DaimlerChrysler / LAT Photographic

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27 comments on Debate: Fernando Alonso

  1. A fair assessment Keith. It was noticeable how many small mistakes Alonso made over the course of this weekend. He hasn’t lived up to expectations of late.

  2. Dan M said on 27th August 2007, 15:12

    Since when do we care what is written in the press, he is payed to be a driver and win and he’s doing a good job of that. If it was Massa who would not let The Shu past and then Micheal retaliated then people be upset with Massa. Its this whole “I love Hamilton” craze that give Alonso his bad reputation. I also think that his lack of fluent English hurts him when he tries to communicate to an English speaking fan base.

    Maybe I’m one of the few who has become a fan of Alonso over the past year, and I hope he wins it over that snobby little Ham…. For the record Ive always hated Hamilton.

    Have we not forgotten that ruthlessness makes a Champion?

  3. Roger said on 27th August 2007, 15:46

    I’m spaniard but I agree that this year we have somewhat a different Alonso. Maybe the pressure brought by his team player (the best and quickest his got so far) or maybe internal politic of McLaren. Perhaps his own ego feeling he is the supreme champion “king of new era” on F1. He has made more errors than last year, of course, but I feel that my respect for him is bigger. You remember his errors, but he has been one of the few (maybe the only one) who has tried to overtake although the risk was high. Remember Barcelona, Canada, Indianapolis, Magny Cours, Nurburgring. He always tried. Raikkonen says he was bored last whole race. Maybe if he would have tried to overtake Massa, damaging his car, getting caught by traffic, or whatever other consecuence he would have had some fun. When we’re screaming for boring races (just three or four post before this one) he is the only driver who makes F1 funny to me.

    Here in Spain we are plenty of sportmen who always find excuses to poor performance, specially in football game. What always wonders me of Alonso is that last two year he acted like a real caracter made to win. Not always easy to hear, very often hard, but always honest. You are pretty unfair when you use the Shanghai incident against him. After all, I remember some “F1 RACING” reading claming that Fisichella could have done a little more to protect Alonso from being overtaken by Shumi while his tyres were suffering graining. Three laps after that and he was quicker than Fisi and Schumi again, so he sould have been able to maintain first position. His reaction came after this issue and not before, and the britain press agreed with him.

    But, of course, I can see that he has been really challenged this year, and is suffering under pressure (what gives to me the real measure of Hamilton as F1 driver).

  4. Alonso is a worthy champion, he won it twice, pretty much fair and square. But he is in a new situation this year, the one he did not sign up for when he made the McLaren deal. And he has problems dealing with it, as he always had when things did not go 100% his way … While Trulli was his team mate in Renault and did not let him pass in Monaco, when Fisi did not help in Shanghai or other cases when Fisi was ahead and Alonso could not pass (I just do not remember the race now). And these are only incidents that we heard on team radio …

    He has a top car, he is in a top team. If he does not like the position, many other teams would be willing to take him, some have even vacant seats at the moment and could guarantee him no.1 status … and a midfield finish… But if wants to stay in McLaren and fight for championship, he has to deal with it…

  5. Sigmund said on 27th August 2007, 16:15

    I have been a fan of Alonso since he drove for Minardi, and I still am.

    He may be a whiner, but even that is better than being political correct in my eyes. He speaks his mind, even when it’s wrong. And to be fair — which double champion wouldn’t be upset by a super rookie like Hamilton in his team. I can imagine how bad Ayrton Senna would have behaved, and don’t forget how Mansell always complained about his team to the media when he drove for Ferrari. But hey, they were still great champions.

    The Hungaroring-incident was bad, but personally I think the FIA should have allowed McLaren to sort it out themselves.

    Alonso shouldn’t really care, but I do agree with him that it seems like the team is favoring Lewis — not in terms of car or strategy, but in sentiments. Everybody wants to be popular, but that’s something Alonso never really has had in Formula 1. When I attended last years Turkish GP the crowd booed when Alonso collected his second place trophy. Maybe he was hoping that with Schumacher retiring, things would be different.

    What he needs to do is to accept reality. Lewis Hamilton is a fantastic driver, and already a lot more popular than he will ever be — even though personally I don’t like him too much, a bit too self confident and boring for my taste.

    He needs to just get on with it, because had he driven like he did last year he never would have got a 3rd in Spain, 7th in Canada or a penalty in Hungary. I’m certain he would at least be equal to Lewis in points by now, so if he don’t get his head down there will be no third championship on the trot.

    But then again all he needs is a little rain, I think he is the best driver in the wet.

    May the best spaniard win — and it’s very good that the championship is as close as it is. It makes the boring races a bit more bearable.

  6. Sigmund said on 27th August 2007, 16:24

    Roger

    I totally agree. Not that I’m sure of this, but my feeling this year is that Alonso is the driver that has made the most passes and been overtaken the most times. As least as seen on TV.

    While as I can’t remember one pass Raikonnen has made outside the pit box — this post isn’t about him, but we didn’t he try to do a kamikaze attack on Lewis in Hungary. Surely Ham would have let him past, and not risked his championship. Alonso dared to sit a lot closer to the car in front, even though he didn’t get past — and it made his car very unstable in a couple of corners.

    Who can complain about Alonso not going for it.

  7. Roger said on 27th August 2007, 16:52

    Sigmund

    I’m not making an unfair critic about Raikkonen making a safe drive in Hungary or just yesterday. But I agree that a suicidal attack like last year made Massa against Alonso (just because he knew that Fernando was going to be conservative, but I don’t remember the race, maybe Silverstone? or it was Montoya two years ago?) would make Kimi win first position easily.

    You’re right. I just wish that many other drivers would try to go for it, and make F1 a bit more interesting than watching a processional race. Can anybody tell that Alonso wouldn’t try to pass Hamnilton if he had an opportunity like Kimi had yesterday at the end of the back straight?

  8. I am far from an Alonso fan, but in my humble opionion…..

    Only the British biased press are giving Alonso bad press, and in turn singing the praises of LH…..Disgraceful.
    LH now seems to be the only man to have messed up in Hungarian Qualifying, and Alonso has bore the brunt of that in the British press.
    Hamiltons credibility is the only thing in question.For example – he apologised to Alonso for qualifying, and Alonso says he had nothing to apologise for, (LH gained from his own wrong doing)
    He is not happy living in Britain with the high taxation, and is gonna move outta the country, and he is blaming it on the press for making accusations regarding his love life.
    He is at all costs trying to preserve his ‘image’.
    There is certainly nothing worse in this life than a liar. If you are in the wrong LH, be a man and say so….a quality of Alonso..say it like it is.

    Alonso at least can say it like it is….maybe LH should learn from him.

    LH does not deserve to be World Champion…

  9. Alonso’s attitude reminds me of the Senna/Prost battles. Each driver could not stand having the other one beat them. It riled them, frustrated them and led them to do some crazy things. While Alonso hasn’t exactly done anything quite in the same level of taking out a competitor (and team mate) in a championship deciding race yet, his actions in Hungary were in a similar vein.

    Alonso deserved his two titles in 2005 and 2006, and he received a lot of well deserved respect for them. In my mind there is no question about that. Sure, some people will say that he cruised to the ’05 title, but I retaliate by saying he drove the car to the limit, exercised methodical attacks and methodical caution. He seemed to be an intelligent champion. An old head on very young shoulders.

    But his petulant outbursts to the media this year put him in a different light. The fact he doesn’t like his team mate beating him is correct – it is that feeling that makes the drivers race and keep the sport going. But he needs to learn to become the methodical champion again. To not let his feelings come out to the international media. To let his team mate do what he wants to do, and keep his mind focused on pushing, working with his team and winning the title again by being clever, determined and (I hate to say it again) methodical. Interspersed with those awesome overtaking moves, of course.

    I’m not so sure he will take the ’07 title now, and a part of me now says he doesn’t necessarily deserve it. He’s started to come off the rails and it really is only because he is being challenged by his partner. Alonso is coming across as petulant and childish while Hamilton is slowly maturing (or appearing to do so in comparison).

    The media discussed the management of Hamilton earlier in the season, maybe it is Fernando who needs to be managed better?

    I do agree that the British press are handling the Hamilton issue very poorly. They are biased to the point of disgrace, and slagging off Alonso in a childish and unintelligent way. Unfortunately, that is the press though and little can be done about it. I would like to say that my comments are my own, and I try to not read much of what is said in the tabloids. I look at a situation and pass thought, regardless of a drivers nationality. I’m more of an Alonso fan than a Hamilton fan, although the latter clearly is a very fast driver.

    There is certainly nothing worse in this life than a liar. If you are in the wrong LH, be a man and say so….a quality of Alonso..say it like it is.

    But I say that when you work for a company that is continually in the spotlight, when there are reporters catching every word you say, you have to be very careful about how you come across and the words you speak. Alonso may think the way it is, but rarely should he speak the way it is. After all, he is not self-employed.

  10. Paul Sainsbury said on 27th August 2007, 19:12

    I am very disappointed with Alonso this year. Previously I had just been happy that we had someone to beat the dodgy Schumacher, and I didn’t mind Alonso’s lack of charisma as I figured anything was better than a cheat winning in F1. But this year Alonso has seriously let himself down by being unable to tolerate being beaten fair and square by Hamilton.

    I am astonished by comments such as those by ‘KB’ saying Hamilton ‘does not deserve to be champion’. Excuse me, but just what do you have to do to deserve it then?

    My feeling is that people tend to support one driver because they like them, and then are unable to look at things rationally.

    I love the ‘racer’ in Fernando, I just am so disappointed by the whiner who can’t handle being beaten.

  11. Ali AydoÄŸan said on 27th August 2007, 19:17

    I agree with Sigmund that Alonso will never be as popular as Hamilton. Truly not to mention any friend here about the following:
    -He was the man to beat Schumi and Ferrari(with Fisi and Renault) after those 5 consecutive championships, two in a row.
    -He was the man to beat Kimi with a slower but reliable car.
    His two opponents in these two years are supported by a huge number of people and pretty much of them at least dont like Alonso. And this situation makes his life more difficult than some others.
    People said Kimi was unlucky and his car was unreliable, even after he locked his brakes and damaged his front tyre, which led to a DNF. I think Kimi may have contributed to that unreliability, by not knowing his machine’s limits, but that was not spoken that much those days.
    Others say Alonso was lucky that Schumi’s engine blew in Japan, and do not mention anything about mass-dampers or Alonso’s engine blowing following Monza incident, or his DNF due to a wheel-nut failure in Hungary after driving a masterful race and set for a win, at least for a 2nd.
    About his complaint on his team last year, he may have his point about considering the momentum of Ferrari in the last races and Hungary incident.
    If you consider what Massa cost to Alonso and what Fisi cost to Schumi, yeah he seems to be right. It was in Magny Cours that Felipe said on their close fight,
    “he had more to lose” some sort of indicating he could have accepted a DNF if Alonso agreed so. When you see that Fisi did not do much to hold Schumi in Indy, Alonso may be telling what he felt.
    I agree that he speaks too much this year, and he had better not speak and just keep cool, he could have avoided most of his errors. If he could accept that Lewis could win Canada GP(which would happen one day),he would probably end up 2nd. If he had not tried to overtake Massa in Spain, he would gain two more points. But when he settled for a position in the past when he did not need more, he again received criticism. He must be confused about that :)
    I think he is a worthy champion leaving pretty much overtakings to spectators to remember(one was in Canada by Sato :) ), but not granted as much as he deserved. He is a very emotional Mediterennean and cannot keep cool in certain occasions.
    Appreciating what he achieved so far, I believe(just a personal opinion) Hamilton is playing “the nice guy” whereas Alonso is who we see, appreciate it or not. I prefer the latter :)

  12. Dan M said on 27th August 2007, 19:43

    Is Massa not more emotional then Alonso?

    Alonso’s words just dont come out the way he would like and people think he means the wrong things.

  13. Number 38 said on 27th August 2007, 23:33

    I’ll take Alonso’s “side’ in this flap. For all of Alonso’s faults Hamilton is not short of faults either. Hammy has had life handed to himself on a silver platter and shows little thanks. Hamilton SHOULD have done a year of test driving to intergrate into the team……too late for that now.
    De La Rosa and Alonso and the improved McLaren car would have still won the Constructors but Ron Dennis was under pressure to get the “investment” to pay dividends, I wonder if this controversy is enough payback?

  14. Wesley said on 27th August 2007, 23:40

    I think Alonso is a fantastic driver and I love his aggressive style but,I was very dissapointed to see what he did in Hungary.There would be an entirely different outlook on the Hamilton/Alonso incident if Fernando had been the bigger man and sat back and just let Lewis be the ass for not following orders.Alonso could have gained more respect from his team from letting Hamilton show his LACK of respect.

    Anyone who can win two world championships with the mighty Schumacher on the track is the real thing.I just hope we will be spared of anymore childish antics,I would hate to see Fernando prove himself a hypocrite.

  15. Roger said on 28th August 2007, 1:30

    I would like to point here that I’m really surprised with the ability to modify his hard turn driving style to the poor Bridgestone tyre (Kubika said he was driving as taxi driver this year…..). If you take a look at the inboard camera on the wet Hungaroring last year and compare it with the smoother drive in Nurburgring, well, I can only tell it’s amazing. It sure has been hard for him, and maybe it costed some valuable points and performance compared with Hamilton, but you can put it on the balance with other drivers like Schumi jr (one year more experienced on the Bridgestones), Webber, Kubika or Kovalainen. He won his second race with the new tires!.

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