Alonso leads title chase with eye on third crown

2012 F1 season

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monaco, 2012In all the hand-wringing over whether there’s too much overtaking or too many race winners in F1 today, the fact that there’s a championship going on tends to get overlooked.

But there is, and the contest for the drivers’ title is being led by Fernando Alonso, thanks largely to his superb damage-limiting performances in the F2012 in the first four races of the year.

“We leave Monaco heading the championship,” said Alonso on Sunday. “If I?d been offered that after the Mugello test at the beginning of the month, I?d have signed for it there and then, but if I?d been told that after Melbourne, I would never have believed it!”

Ferrari have bounced back from a faltering start to the season. The F2012 is not the fastest car on the grid right now, but it is greatly improved.

For evidence of that, look back at how Alonso wrestled with the evil-handling car in qualifying in Australia, until it finally got away from him and skidded into the gravel. Even a driver of Alonso’s calibre could not have put that car on row three at Monaco.

The changes made following the Mugello test have transformed the F2012 from a car that scrapes into Q3 to one that can contend for podiums and even victories. From being 1.51% slower than the fastest cars in the first four races, that deficit has been almost halved, to 0.77%.

Team % deficit
McLaren 0.17
Mercedes 0.42
Lotus 0.58
Red Bull 0.60

Compare that to the figures for their rivals over the season so far (see table, right) and it’s clear Ferrari are in contention now.

(Incidentally, one other team have enjoyed a leap forward comparable to that of Ferrari in the last two races: Williams, who were 1.35% off the pace in rounds one to four, and 0.73% down in Spain and Monaco.)

Alonso’s damage-limitation in the opening four races have clearly stood him in good stead: fending off Pastor Maldonado for fifth in Australia, and of course his superb win in the rain in Malaysia.

The car may not have served him well to begin with, but the team has other strengths. He has every reason to be satisfied with Ferrari’s race strategy and their reliably rapid pit stops, both of which have helped him gain places and points.

The other good news for Alonso is Felipe Massa’s long-overdue resurgence in form last weekend. If the improved Massa is here to stay, his role will undoubtedly be to take points off Alonso’s rivals, a luxury the McLaren and Red Bull drivers are unlikely to enjoy.

Too close to call

We’re just six races into a gruelling, 20-race calendar – less than a third of the way through the season – and at this stage several drivers are in the hunt for the title this year.

Alonso’s closest rivals at present are the Red Bull duo. Last year’s world champions became the first team to win two races this year in Monaco, and have built up a 38-point advantage in the constructors’ championship. Their tally of 146 is shared evenly between their two drivers.

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Monaco, 2012Bucking the trend from 2011, Webber has tended to be ahead in qualifying. Vettel has generally recovered well in the races but lost points with an unnecessary tangle with Narain Karthikeyan in Malaysia, and a drive-through penalty in Spain.

McLaren have a car that performs well in qualifying – at least in Lewis Hamilton’s hands – but less well in the races. On top of that multiple mistakes in the pits has robbed them of more points.

Mercedes were quick to point out after Monaco that Nico Rosberg has out-scored every driver in the field over the last four races. Having failed to score in the last two races, he’s now up to fifth.

Fortunately for Rosberg, he’s largely avoided the unreliability problems that have compromised Michael Schumacher’s campaign thus far, as well as the first-lap tangles with Romain Grosjean.

Six drivers are close enough to Alonso to be able to leave the next race in Canada with the championship lead. This sixth is Kimi Raikkonen.

Lotus’s pace is clear to see from the table above, and Raikkonen’s back-to-back podium finishes in Bahrain and Spain. However he’s tended to be out-qualified by his junior team mate so far, and the team’s performance in Monaco was clearly short of what they’re capable of with the E20.

This year is shaping up to be a repeat of the thrilling 2010 season, with the lead of the championship repeatedly changing hands. The championship will be decided by who can make the most of the opportunity they have each race weekend.

But if there’s one driver who will be hoping this year doesn’t have too much in common with 2010, it’s Alonso, who lost the title in the final round that year.

That was the second time he’d missed out on a third world championship in the final round. Will this be the year Alonso finally joins the elite ranks of F1’s thrice-champions?

2012 F1 championship points

Use the interactive 2012 drivers’ and constructors’ championship points graphs:

2012 F1 season

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78 comments on Alonso leads title chase with eye on third crown

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  1. andae23 (@andae23) said on 31st May 2012, 12:40

    It’s so difficult to predict anything this year! Most teams have really been struggling with the tyres in the first few races, but I believe most teams are starting to make them work (like Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren). I think Red Bull are most likely to win the championship (I really hope Mark :D ), though Ferrari and McLaren are also looking well…

    One thing’s for sure: as a spectator this is a fantastic championship and let’s hope it stays like this for the rest of the year!

    • Nick.UK (@) said on 31st May 2012, 14:09

      I would tip Alonso for this championship based on his current form and the improvements to the car. He has been close to faultless! Highly consistent, fast when it matters, conservative when it matters more and the end result is evidenced by the standings currently.

      I also think that the current standings are also just as much a product of a more competative grid as they are of Alonso’s talent. Drivers snatch points off each other so often that nobody can really break away. For example Button, Rosberg, Vettel & Alonso have all had a win, second and fith place… along with a non finish… except for Alonso. As I said, consistent and faultless… leading the standings, thus it will take a lot for anyone to stop him this year assuming car performance don’t jump ahead of Ferrari again.

      I say all this and I don’t really even like Fernando! But you have to respect blatent talent when it’s on show in front of you so clearly.

      • Sem (@05abrahamsemere) said on 31st May 2012, 17:55

        Very true Nick, but you discount Hamilton who, I would say, is the second most consistent driver this season. Only the ineptitude of his team has not reflected his performances in the points tally. But as the season goes on, if he continus his mature approach after the disaster of last year, then he will win this year’s championship eventually, regardless of his teams blunders. I predict it will be between Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and possibly Rosberg or Raikkonnen. Button for me is just too poor this season, you can’t be qualifying out of Q3 at every race. But if he improves, no doubt he will be a player also.

        • sid_prasher (@) said on 31st May 2012, 19:01

          I think Ferrari is where it is (much ahead than where it should be) purely because they have not let go off any opportunity. They just haven’t made mistakes (except in the design of the car :)) and it has helped that other teams have.

          All the top teams have great drivers and I think the defining factor will be the team that understands the tyres the quickest and is the most innovative.

  2. Robbie (@robbie) said on 31st May 2012, 12:42

    I must say I am not surprised to see Ferrari and FA where they are, with FM perhaps starting to show signs of more comfort with the car. I said it from the getgo, when they were saying in pre-season testing they had much to learn about the car needed more time with it, and everyone was saying it was a dog and they were toast, that they should be given the time before that judgement is made final. And here they are. Sure they had some luck in the first four races, but they were also there to capitalize on it, and they still have work to do, but it is obviously a work in progress for all teams all the time, which is why I never wrote them off at the beginning.

  3. Girts (@girts) said on 31st May 2012, 12:52

    I believe that Fernando’s face expression on the Monaco podium said it all. After the first race, I was sure that there was no way he could fight for the title this year but now this prediction (like many others) seems to be cut to pieces.

    I think that the championship could turn into a three-way fight between Vettel, Alonso and Rosberg. Taking into account Raikkonen’s ‘power steering’ and resources available to the big 4, I’m quite sure that Lotus won’t stay in the hunt for long. Webber has never been able of constantly outperforming Vettel so I doubt if he will manage to do that in 2012. Schumacher is too far away. Hamilton and Button look a bit lost at the moment but maybe they (or at least one of them) will come back.

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 31st May 2012, 14:46

      Even after all the fuss about F2012, I refused to count out Alonso for title hunt. That’s a long season and Fernando put on a ridiculous come back in 2010.
      Red Bull and Mercedes are looking good and McLaren is there too, even with their race pace problems sorting out pit issues would make Hamilton top contender with his qualifying record in 2012.

  4. 1 of the 3 said on 31st May 2012, 12:56

    Very nice summary Mr. Collantine. I think your point about an improved Massa taking points off of Ferrari’s rivals could be the deciding factor in a season like this.

    Back in 2010, if memory serves me correctly, weren’t you advocating (after the infamous “Alonso is faster than you” incident with Massa in Germany) that Red Bull and McLaren should also put all their energies into one driver?

    Red Bull could very well win the constructor’s but lose the drivers if Webber and Vettel continue like this. While perhaps if Button continues to struggle, well, that could really help Hamilton. If Hamilton and McLaren can step it up a notch then this would negate Ferrari’s advantage. An even playing field between the ex-teammates could also be created if Button continues to perform badly.

    • Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 31st May 2012, 13:56

      I wouldn´t call “infamous” to that incident, when you have two drivers with such a difference in performance and points you clearly have to get the most of each grand prix especially when you clearly don´t have the fastest car which is the case. Infamous to me was the situation at Ferrari between Rubens and Schumacher a few yaers ago in the A1 Ring, because they had such an advantage that they obviously didn´t need to put that show.
      Don´t be surprised if the opportunity arises in the next few GP´s Ferrari favours Alonso.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 31st May 2012, 14:12

        Yeah, I won’t be surprised if the math soon kicks in to favour FA, especially since FM had way more points then, than he does now. But in 2010 it took until race 11 and the circumstances of the day for them to make the call. But this year, with two Red Bulls in 2nd and 3rd in the WDC chase, LH looking to always be a threat, not to mention two Mercs that can throw their weight in for some serious points at any given race, I think FM’s fate may already be sealed. I’m sure the team is now hoping FM can prevent some of the key drivers in the mix from getting some good points, as has been pointed out in the above article by Keith. But at the same time, I’m sure Ferrari is hoping they don’t have to make the call and that FM just naturally continues to improve but lag behind FA. Should be very interesting. I’d like to think that if FM leads FA near the end of the race in Canada, they will let FM have the win and be happy for FA to occupy the second most points-paying position. But if FM leads FA near the end of the race four or five races from now, methinks the call will have to be made.

        • Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 31st May 2012, 14:26

          I don´t believe that if Alonso is close to Massa on the last stint of the race in Canada Ferrari won´t give him the points, it will be cruel and it will be polemicist (it will fill the British newspapers and general media, because they are, and they have my admiration for that, the most pure racing fans… and the British teams are fighting with them!).
          One thing is for sure, Ferrari will have to be much more subtle than in Germany two years ago. They learned there lesson.

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 31st May 2012, 17:01

            Yeah you may well be right…but I’m hoping not…just in that there are a lot of races to go, and they have just asked FM to up his game, and he is showing signs of doing so. So I think it would be particularly devastating for FM and for Ferrari to do this in race 7. Not to say you won’t be right if in fact the circumstance arises, but I must say I will be surprised, in spite of Ferrari’s reputation for doing this, if it were to happen this soon in the season, as I say just after asking FM to up his game.

        • Jay Menon (@jaymenon10) said on 1st June 2012, 2:58

          If FM is leading the Canadian GP at the end with FA behind, if I was Stefano Domeniciali, I would let FM take the win. Psychologically, it will be a major boost for him which could be the turning point of Ferrari’s season. In this scenario, everybody goes home happy. FA will still lead the championship, FM will have renewed confidence, and Ferrari would edge closer to the Red Bulls in the Constructors.

          Then again, it really depends on what kind of agreement they have in the garage. The main question would be, is it justifiable for FA to loose 7 points in a championship this close? Its a tough call. As I said above, from a sentimental standpoint, FM should be allowed to win if he is in the position, but from a logical standpoint, he should move over, because he has no chance to win the championship.

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 31st May 2012, 18:08

        Infamous because what they did was illegal.

    • suka (@suka) said on 31st May 2012, 13:59

      The Red Bull had put all their energies into one driver last season(besides the brilliant performance from Vettel and the team-probably the best in years), at least I believe so.
      Mclaren could do so but not going to happen while Whitmarsh is in charge.

      • 1 of the 3 said on 31st May 2012, 16:01

        I admire McLaren for their democratic policies of letting the drivers race. And yet I’ve come to realize that it seems almost hopeless if Hamilton and Button are on form for them to beat Alonso with his #1 position and full team backing at Ferrari. I like Vettel personally (and fully believe he’s the real deal) but I’d love to see Hamilton back on that form he had a few years back. I really want to see him get that racer’s edge back – seriously when Hamilton is on – and consistent to boot – it’s just brilliant for the sport IMO.

  5. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 31st May 2012, 13:09

    McLaren will take both titles. Hamilton, despite all the mistakes and dropped points by his team, is still only 13 points off the lead. He’s getting so much more out of the car than Button and is very consistent. It’s only a matter of time before he takes his first win of the season. After that hurdle is cleared he could well dominate.
    Coupled with this, McLaren are renowned for developing a car over a season. They still have a great package and it’s only a matter of time in my view before the car is back dominating qualifying while improvements throughout the season will keep the race pace strong.

    Alonso will valiantly keep up the fight, but to no avail and my gut feeling is that neither Webber or Vettel will beat Hamilton over the season.

    • suka (@suka) said on 31st May 2012, 13:50

      neither Webber or Vettel will beat Hamilton over the season.

      They just have beat him at one race last weekend. This trend could continue on for several more races and that would be enough to beat him over the season.

      • JCost (@jcost) said on 31st May 2012, 14:38

        Or not. Trend is something we are yet to see, unless you’re talking about Alonso and Hamilton finishing top 10 every race or McLaren getting top 2 Q3s.

      • Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 31st May 2012, 19:37

        As @jcost points out, there are no real ‘trends’ appearing so far this season regarding results. I thought Raikkonen had started a good run of form from Bahrain and Spain then Monaco came and he was nowhere!

        We know who’s driving well: Alonso and Hamilton and on their days Rosberg, Vettel, Webber and Raikkonen.

    • David BR2 said on 31st May 2012, 15:52

      I agree more or less. Though Alonso has driven well as he has done for some time now, it masks the fact Hamilton should be leading at this point. My only question is whether McLaren can deliver. The team errors keep coming and the car development seems a bit lost. Vettel I can only see winning if Red Bull’s car pulls away from the pack, while Webber I don’t see finishing the season well enough under pressure (though Hamilton has something to prove there too).

  6. Overwatch (@overwatch) said on 31st May 2012, 13:15

    Since my prediction is that Schumacher will win next two races (yeah funny), starting with Merc 1-2 in Canada, I reckon Rosberg championship lead after Valencia accompanied with various talk about repeating Keke’s way to win a championship and if it’s possible for Schumacher to really crawl back into the hunt…

    • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 31st May 2012, 17:16

      Mercedes will be very fast in Canada. The entire circuit is low to medium speed corners with lots of traction zones and and high-speed straights; and there are no real fast corners (Mercedes’s only weakness). Also, the temperatures in Canada are generally low, this would also suit Merc.

      I’m expecting Rosberg to win in Canada and Vettel to win in Europe.

      • Todfod (@todfod) said on 1st June 2012, 8:54

        Yeah I would have to agree that Mercedes will be strong in Canada, as they should have a really strong shot at the podium. But I think the car to beat will be the Mclaren of Lewis Hamilton. Mclaren works well in low temperatures as well, and the circuit characteristics of Canada are similar to Melbourne.

  7. Lin1876 (@lin1876) said on 31st May 2012, 13:17

    Alonso is my tip for the title right now. Despite everything, he is one of the very best drivers in the world, certainly in top 3, and he has that ability to drag a team up by the scruff of the neck and get the best out of the car. It’s a rare talent, and he’s got it in spades.

  8. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 31st May 2012, 13:18

    I’m guessing the championship is going to come down to a fight between Alonso, Rosberg and Webber.

  9. The Limit said on 31st May 2012, 13:20

    I remember back in 2007 when Fernando boasted about how much of an improvement he had brought to McLaren’s development of their car everybody scoffed! I remember thinking, what a big headed so and so.
    It appears that his assumptions back then were not so far fetched. In all honesty, Ferrari as with McLaren have struggled in recent years to deliver a car worthy of the championship. Yet Alonso, time after time, digs them out of a hole and puts the car on parts of the grid it has no right to be.
    If I were Sebastien Vettel right now, trying to defend my title as world champion, I would view Alonso as my biggest threat. That is in no way a put down to Hamilton, Button, Webber et al. They are all superb when they have the right machinery, but Alonso is dangerous even if the car is below par.
    He appears happy at Ferrari. He doesn’t have to worry about what his team mate is up to, he knows he has the team’s full support, which allows he to concentrate on the job at hand. I believe that the likes of McLaren will improve, Hamilton is too good a driver to finish this season with out atleast one victory, but I feel the title is beyond them. When it boils down to it, Vettel and Alonso will be the drivers duking it out for the 2012 crown. My money, is on the guy wearing red!

    • suka (@suka) said on 31st May 2012, 14:11

      A solid bet; however Webber performs better than Massa and that would make the cut for Vettel which also uses every opportunity he gets just as good as Alonso.

  10. I Love the Pope said on 31st May 2012, 13:39

    As a newcomer to the sport, I missed Alonso’s title years and I didn’t really care for him at first. But after the past two plus years of watching, I have started to enjoy his obvious talent. I know that Ferrari does some dumb and irritating things from time to time, but I’m starting to see the same from other teams too. This guy is just too good for me to dislike anymore. Go Alonso!

    As for Vettel, I figured he was probably a front-runner with the best car on the grid, but this year his car (while still good) is not as dominant, yet he is fighting through traffic very well and making brave passes. I have a better opinion of him as well. The same goes for ol’ Webbs too.

  11. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 31st May 2012, 14:09

    If the performance doesn’t change, Alonso should get his third title. He’s generally faultless and tends to contest big things even if the car merely has a chance of battling on top. Plus he’s the one with a clear number 2 driver, who would not stole points from him…

  12. Eggry (@eggry) said on 31st May 2012, 14:11

    I hope Ferrari improve their car continuously so make Alonso get his long-waited 3rd title.

  13. Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 31st May 2012, 14:13

    For me the most serious contenders are Vettel and Alonso by this order and I would put just a little behind Hamilton, which in my opinion this year is changing the public view (non-british fans!) over him. He´s not making mistakes, when overtaking he is respecting more his opponents (not throwing is car has if everyone had to let him pass – p.e. Monaco last year, Monza a few years ago in the rain, clashes with Massa), he is more regular, the car isn´t bad and when all the pieces come together is natural talent (in my opinion the best overtaker!) will lead to victories. I´m not his biggest fan but I conceed that the man really knows how to put a show!
    Neverthless I think that we´re on the path to the most spectacular and disputed championship in many years.

  14. Alonso is a awesome driver,no doubt.And to extend you do make your own luck,it’s just that Alonso couldn’t get a foot wrong this season,i’m afraid that his luck won’t hold for much longer.Furthermore i don’t think that Ferrari can keep up with the development race.I mean they couldn’t get it right for so many years with the same regulation in place,there’s nothing to make me think that they gonna get it now.I’m a Lotus fan obviously but i’m afraid that Lotus will fall behind in development race rather quickly,hope i’m wrong but ….I think in the end it’s gonna be between Mclaren and Red Bull.Vettel and Hamilton methinks.

  15. carbon_fibre (@carbon_fibre) said on 31st May 2012, 14:23

    Am I the only one who thinks that ,despite his 31 years of age, Alonso is an all-time-great ?

    • I Love the Pope said on 31st May 2012, 14:31

      I think he is definitely in the conversation.

    • I think so.
      but,Ofcourse I know if I say “Alonso is better than A.senna”, Many say”Nowdays F1 car is freaking easy than past years, and Senna is by far the best”
      At least. this is sure that Alonso is one of the greatest drivers all – time as well as Senna,Schumi

    • Neel Jani (@neelv27) said on 1st June 2012, 0:06

      In my opinion, Alonso is one of the greatest drivers of all time and we are all privileged to be watching a legend.

      Comparing him to Senna or Stewart or Prost or Ascari or G.Hill or any legend would not be fair since all have been different eras where cars, competition and tracks have changed substantially.

      Personally, 2006 Hungarian GP was a true sign for me that Alonso (if he continues that way and just as well he did) is heading towards greatness. Demanding no.1 status or whining in certain cases is not uncommon in champions. Great champions have played ‘dirty’ at sometime or the other in their career.

      • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 1st June 2012, 4:07

        Demanding no.1 status or whining in certain cases is not uncommon in champions. Great champions have played ‘dirty’ at sometime or the other in their career

        You know what they say. Nice guys finish last. These aren’t the 1960’s anymore where all drivers were gentleman. If Alonso did not have the fire and attitude in him he does, he wouldn’t be anywhere near to where he is today.

        In my personal list of All-time Greats, Alonso is #8; behind Senna, Prost, Clark, Schumacher, Fangio, Stewart and Lauda. If he wins one more title, he will (in my opinion) leapfrog to #6, surpassing the latest two listed on my list.

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