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

  1. JCost (@jcost) said on 31st May 2012, 14:27

    There was so much hype when Schumacher came back for the impressive numbers of WDC competing, despite Kimi leaving to rally around. Year 2010 was promising but far from what we’ve seen so far in 2012. Renewed hope entering 2011 season but all the hype died after a dominant year of Sebastian Vettel and his RB7 on a class of its own.
    It’s a different story now, pretty much all champions can aspire high with their cars, and 3 of the 6 WDC have won races and Lewis and Kimi have been in the front with pace good enough for claiming a win.
    Sure it’s hard to predict anything but one this season: in the end it will be won by either one of the WDC on the grid or Rosberg, Webber because there still are top teams, these time the upper group is larger than usual but no Force Indias and the like will win it. IMHO we will have a five way battle for WDC (Alonso, Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Rosberg) and it will be decided in São Paulo.

  2. claudioff (@claudioff) said on 31st May 2012, 14:28

    I have a good conspiracy theory: Who is going to decide this WDC is Pirelli. What they have done is very simple. They took some Bridgestone tires from previous years scraped their original logo and replaced it by “Pirelli” (They also added some new colors). They then choose who is going to win the next race and give them these camouflaged tires. This could nicely explain why we have so far 6 different winners. Any one has a better explanation?

  3. Kimi4WC said on 31st May 2012, 14:50

    Kimi got this.

  4. Fixy (@fixy) said on 31st May 2012, 15:57

    The situation should make me happy: Alonso leads and the car is improving.
    However, having seen how bad it was at the start of the season, I can’t avoid thinking that Alonso has limited damage also in Spain and Monaco, and that his good form will soon vanish. I just hope more solid races prove me wrong!

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 31st May 2012, 17:15

      I can’t help thinking the same…the car has been improved, but such is the topsy turvy nature of F1 this season that I don’t know if anyone has a consistant handle on things yet…so FA may be more confident in the car, but on any given Sunday a Mac, a Red Bull, a Merc, or a Lotus, or a Williams might be the car to beat. We just need to see more, and with each race I’m sure some patterns will evolve. But I don’t think anyone, including FA, would say the Ferrari is the target for others to aim at right now.

  5. sumedh said on 31st May 2012, 16:00

    It should come as a surprise to no one that Fernando is doing great this championship. Since the 2nd half of 2010, Fernando has been on a form that is only matched by his own 2005-2006 form. He is the number one in the team. Ferrari have not made any glaring mistakes on the pit-wall either.

    What is a surprise to me is that Ferrari have stuck with their aggressive design policy they adopted in middle of 2011. They haven’t ditched the front pull rod suspension and gone the conventional way. They are yet to copy an innovation. Ferrari are usually the first to copy someone else’s innovation – F-duct, exhaust blown diffuser. This time, Ferrari have gone on their own and developed parts that suited their car. The Mugello exhaust package which is not even directed towards the floor, the new curved features near the diffuser, etc. It is heartening to see Ferrari (and Nick Fry) not giving up on their radical design.

  6. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 31st May 2012, 16:00

    As others have mentioned what could be vital is Fernando will have Massa as a support driver whereas the other teams Red Bull and Mclaren may have their drivers still challenging through the european leg of the season, one or two may start dropping out by japan or korea and then be able to help their team mates by this Alonso may have extra points from Massa.

    Another key factor will be the race weekends where a team is not as quick as they normally are or they race on a track that doesn’t doesn’t suit them, they have to make sure they take as many points as possible like Alonso did at the start to keep themselves in the mix.

    The other key aspect will be when we have those crazy races and the next grand prix is always a crazy race, the important thing here would be for the drivers to keep calm and carry on to dodge the danger and end up somewhere near the podium at the end of the race. Just like in football when going for a league title you play poorly but you still get a good result they need to replicate that.

    I hope its a close championship and I hope Fernando Alonso wins it.

    • Gagnon (@johnniewalker) said on 1st June 2012, 4:01

      hes not saying that massa will give his way to alonso everytime, he said massa could take some points from the other team driver. alonso wont get Extra Point from massa, but yes the other title will have less points if massa can get in front of them

  7. xabregas (@xabregas) said on 31st May 2012, 16:45

    Interesting comments and i would agree with most of them especially the favorites for the WC being Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso but for now i´m going to keep an eye on Roseberg ( looking really strong ), M. Shumacher ( after winning the pole in Monaco, his will is even stronger and he´s going to make a lot of noise in the coming races ) . Also if Massa continues to improve his pace is going to be a key rule for this championship not because he´s going to win races but the points he´s going to take away from the real contenders.
    Keep 2 eyes on Renaut drivers and 1 eye a on Sauber drivers and Maldonado.

  8. John H (@john-h) said on 31st May 2012, 18:01

    The F2012 is not the fastest car on the grid right now, but it is greatly improved

    I would say from what we’ve seen there is no way of defining which is the fastest car on the grid because each circuit and climate is revealing different cars to be handling the tyres better than the others. Ok Ferrari had a nervous car for the first few races (or did it, because it should have been all over the place in Malaysia).

    Alonso has done an amazing job there is no doubt, but before we start singing his praises too much it might be possible that the car (when looked at on average over all the circuits and climates) has been the quickest package, taking the fact that Massa has been terrible into consideration.

  9. MWW said on 31st May 2012, 18:21

    Alonso’s great skills:
    – winning even when his car is not the fastest.
    – picking up podiums or good points if he doesn’t win
    – getting the team behind him; Massa is his #2 but Ferrari allowed this to happen for a reason.

    The above are key parts of the reasons he won in 2005 and 2006. I think he has a great chance thi year.

  10. sid_prasher (@) said on 31st May 2012, 18:51

    Bucking the trend from 2012, Webber has tended to be ahead in qualifying.

    I think it should be 2011….

  11. Toncho said on 31st May 2012, 19:11

    Ferrari is in the competition but still far away. Even FA just managed to get sixth place in Q3. That’s better but still poor. They got lucky with Grosjean but if you keep starting back in the grid sooner or later you will be caught in an accident.
    Also I don’t agree about the good decisions ôf Ferrary’s wall. Alonso made the best race time in his incoming lap. He got the speed to overpass not only HAM but to get closed to the win if the team had kept him out for a couple of laps more. For me was Bahrain 2010 all over again.
    I reckon the guy that avoids trouble (DNF..) will get the title. I tip HAM for this years as He is definetly more mature. I just wonder how is coping with the fact that six different guys have won a race this year before him

  12. IDR (@idr) said on 31st May 2012, 19:16

    I feel this article a little bit optimistic. No doubt Alonso is taking everything from that car, and he has been almost faultless as well as the team (in races), but we have also keep in mind McLaren, has made lot of errors that have cost Hamilton a much better position. I’m afraid there are lot of GP to go and McLaren will not be always performing that way.

    I’m still thinking Hamilton is my favorite driver for the WDC this year. I would love to be Alonso taking the tittle but I’m afraid we will have to wait again.

  13. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 31st May 2012, 19:29

    Will this be the year Alonso finally joins the elite ranks of F1’s thrice-champions?

    It is definately a possibility, but I think Vettel will snatch it; Red Bull are gaining momentum and with some of his recent race performances and consistent point scoring he has a minute advantage in my opinion.

  14. DaveW (@dmw) said on 31st May 2012, 20:01

    As the man said, any of six drivers could leave Canada in the lead. Canada is a nutty race. Safety cars, high tire wear, short lap, lots of walls—crazy stuff could happen.

    Who ever comes out on top, or in a better position, in Canada this is really impossible to call. Alonso is up front because of a skillled rain victory, and because he capitalized when McLaren and RBR screwed up a couple times. Alonso will stay skilled. The question is whether Whitmarsh will stop his “I just work here, don’t look at me” mentality and clean up the operations, and whether Vettel will regain his qualifying mojo. When he starts in front he is hard to catch. It will be very hard for Alonso to stay in front if Hamilton and Vettel (and/or Webber) start the races ahead of him. The Ferrari is catching up but it is not there on Saturdays. The wildcards are Rosberg and Button. Button is back to his 2010 swoons. Now that Hamilton is not making dumb mistakes Button is not looking so great. Mercedes did a lot of upgrades for Monaco—new side crash structures, other stuff. We will see soon if its ready to dominate.

    • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 31st May 2012, 20:45

      @dmw – this season has been far to unpredictable, whoever thought Vettel would loose out to Webber in qualifying? If consistency is king, Alonso may win out in the end but I’m still favouring Vettel. It could be a 7th different winner in Canada quite possibly, Mclaren were good here last year and the Lotus drivers will be hungry for a victory – they’ve got the car to do it

  15. mark (@markp) said on 31st May 2012, 22:37

    No clear picture? I see RB Mclaren Ferrari top 3 constructors and Alonso Hamilton Vettel filling 3 of the top 4 positions in tbe drivers championship. The more things change the more they stay the same? Can’t see the wood for the trees? Look at the championships. Great viewing though with more possibility of 1 race wonders etc.

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