Debate: Fernando Alonso

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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