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. OOliver said on 31st May 2012, 23:20

    A driver working in sync with a team is an unbeatable combination.
    They may not understand their car completely, but they value every single point they can score. No stupid mistakes, total humility towards achieving success.
    Focus on winning, not filling the pages of newspapers with unending interviews and explanations.
    Win it Ferrari, Mclaren don’t want it.

  2. Keith, why do you still mantain that Vettel is responsible for the Malaysian incident, Jonny Herbert, the race steward, explained clearly on F1 show that NK deviated more than a cars width from when Vettel passed him to when he hit his rear tyre. Also a magnified shot of NK showed him looking in his rear view mirrors at the moment so it clearly points to him being at fault.

  3. It`s very difficult to predict this championship, it`s almost too close to call.

    Alonso will be in contention, he always is when given a chance. He`s oh so consistent on all tracks relentless. Furthermore Ferrari wil push to the limit and beyond this year given this chance.

    Vettel will also be there as he`s much stronger than a lot of people are giving him credit for. It`s been a tough year for Vettel not finding the car to his liking and some bad luck on top of that. When he`s no longer the “qualifying-phantom” he goes into “damage-imitation-mode” and has done so brilliantly. Most of his favourite tracks are also in the second part of the season. He`s always super strong the last 5-6 races.

    Hamilton har impressed me with his maturity this year and will be right there in contention if he continues the way he has. McLaren will do their utmost to develop the car as the season progresses, and they have been the best development team during the season the last 2 years.

    Raikkonen cannot be discounted and har a good chance of being up there as well. When the chips are down there is no better driver out there than the “ice-man”. Some of the others might make stupid mistakes when the pressure is on, Raikkonen will not.

    Rosberg is a real dark horse this year, and that Merc is showing signs of great things to come. If Mercedes is able to keep up the good work Rosberg might very well be a serious contender for the championship.

    Schumacher has probably lost too much ground due to bad luck and mechanical failure. But if Mercedes starts to dominate and the Schumacher of old returns in domintaing fashion you`ll never know. He feeds of success and grows stronger and stronger, utterly ruthless and totally relentless.

    We shouldn`t forget Button either, he`s a hard worker and will get to grips withe the problems he`s having at the moment. In my view he`s definitely in the race.

    Finally there`s Mark Webber. I`would love for him to win it, couldn`t happen to a nicer guy. He was close in 2010, 2012 might be his year.

  4. Knightmare (@knightmare) said on 1st June 2012, 21:03

    I still remember Alonso’s reply when asked about losing youngest double world champion record to Vettel

    “I think now we will see who is the youngest three–time world champion”

    That was epic !!
    [Read more here: http://www.formula1.com/news/headlines/2011/10/12629.html

  5. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 1st June 2012, 21:33

    Very well written article @keithcollantine It’s difficult to really see how well Ferrari are doing on more typical circuits so I’m keen to see how they will fare up in Montreal and beyond. Sure they did well in Barcelona and Monaco, but consistency is key.

  6. brum55 said on 2nd June 2012, 19:52

    Alonso has been great but Hamilton hasn’t been too far behind. McLaren’s shoddy strategy and pit stops allow them so much room for improvement. They can’t be this bad all year! Once they get this sorted I think Hamilton may start stamping his authority all over this WDC as McLaren has been the fastest and most consistent car this year and Hamilton’s performances have been generally excellent.

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