It’s hard not to admire a talented driver working wonders in a sub-par car. Watching Fernando Alonso grapple with the F2012 during qualifying in Melbourne, struggling merely to keep the thing pointed in a straight line, I doubted we’d see him on top of the podium any time soon.
Of course I was quickly proved wrong. At the next race the Sepang International Circuit was doused by a rain storm, and having qualified 1.3 seconds off the McLarens in the dry Alonso now had the pace to win. He seized the opportunity and never put a wheel out of place as Sergio Perez bore down on him.
This looked like a great win at the time and when the next two rounds supplied further proof of how far off the mark the F2012 was, the feat Alonso performed in Malaysia shone even more brightly. Heading back to Europe he trailed Sebastian Vettel in the championship by just ten points and Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren by six.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||18/20|
|Beat team mate in race||17/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||1011/1081|
For all Alonso’s skill, it is doubtful he could have remained in contention for the championship had the Ferrari remained that bad all year long.
After testing at Mugello, the team arrived in Spain with a significantly improved car, which they continued to hone over the following races. Having been 1.5% off the pace over the first four races, the deficit was cut to less than half that over the next four.
Alonso immediately delivered on the upgraded car’s potential. Having previously averaged a starting position of 9.5 he lined up second on the grid in Spain, gaining one place thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s penalty. He took the lead early on, but finished second behind Pastor Maldonado.
From this point on Alonso could usually count on the McLarens and Red Bulls being quicker, and often Lotus as well. Yet with a little luck, a little help from his team mate, and a lot more speed and tenacity, he remained in contention for the title until the last lap of the season.
In Valencia he outstripped even his Malaysian Grand Prix success. Having started 11th he picked off several rivals early on, gained a few more places in the pits and put a sublime pass on Romain Grosjean after the safety car restart. Vettel’s retirement handed him a fortunate but hard-earned victory.
He exploited wet qualifying sessions in Britain and Germany, taking pole positions in each despite a lurid spin at Silverstone. Mark Webber picked him off in the dying stages for victory in Britain but in Germany he resisted pressure from Vettel and Button to win again.
That was his third and final triumph of the season. As Red Bull and McLaren grew stronger Alonso relied on a series of podium finishes to stay in the hunt.
His efforts were stymied by a pair of no-scores in Belgium and Japan while Vettel amassed 43 points in those two races. While Alonso was clearly blameless for the collision in Belgium, he could have done more to avoid his first-lap retirement in Japan, and indicated he viewed the collision as a racing incident.
Vettel took the lead on points in Korea but Alonso was straining every sinew to keep in touch. He came home second in India after passing both McLarens and the KERS-less Webber. Abu Dhabi offered a great opportunity and Alonso capitalised about as well as he might have done by taking second.
But the balance of power at Ferrari shifted surprisingly in the final two races. Alonso had comprehensively seen off Felipe Massa for much of the season but his team mate gradually recovered his form and out-qualified him on merit in America and Brazil. Ferrari remedied the former by deliberately incurring a penalty on Massa’s car.
In Brazil Massa not only out-qualified Alonso but also jumped ahead of him in the race, before predictably giving the position back quickly. Second place was the best Alonso could expect here, even if he hadn’t gone off twice when the rain fell, and it was not quite enough to keep Vettel from the championship.
It would be easy to exaggerate Alonso’s driving this year. It was not faultless, just as his car was not a shopping trolley with a lawnmower engine. Acknowledging the reality of his performance this years gives us a view of it that is more impressive for being authentic.
Yes, he might have given Raikkonen a bit more room at Suzuka, he might have got the restart right in Abu Dhabi and not gone off while trying to pass Maldonado in China. And it is surprising that Massa took over as Ferrari’s pace setter in the final races.
But this imperfect season was still a tremendous effort, and one which came within four points of being a truly stunning achievement. For that, he has to be F1 Fanatic’s driver of the year.
What F1 Fanatic readers said about Alonso
Without doubt the driver of the year, to take a car which began the season 1.5 seconds of the pace and was on average the fourth-fastest on the grid to within three points of a world championship shows Alonso is the class of the field. Surely a third world title can’t be too far away – assuming his team can match his talents.
I feel his season has been a bit overrated by some, and his car wasn’t as terrible as he would have us believe, but it was a fantastic season Alonso’s had nevertheless. With his usual relentlessness he got everything out of the car and consistently delivered.
Great opportunism allowed him to secure three very impressive victories and his race craft was amazing all through the year. It’s always a shame when a driver’s season of such incredible driving is not awarded with the title.
He hasn’t put a foot wrong all season, and the only reason he missed out on the championship was a slow car at the start of the year. He’s had some phenomenal drives this year, and he did everything he could to try to win.
I think the championship was lost when he pushed too hard at the start in Japan and caused himself to crash out. But that was the one and only mistake of the entire season for him, and he’s proved without a doubt to be the overall best driver this season.
There is no doubt that this was Alonso’s strongest season to date. His racing talent was never under question, and this year he showed three characteristics which show his unique strengths – focus, intelligence and opportunism. If you add those strengths to his already strong race pace and overtaking ability, you have a formidable opponent regardless of his machinery.
His car was not a championship winner.. in fact far from it. Yet he never gave up and he came incredibly close to creating history – winning a championship in the third or fourth-fastest car. His first half of the season was spectacular, and he was a class of his own… it’s unfortunate that his only slight slump in form came during the last two races but I doubt it would have made a difference anyway.
Although the Ferrari wasn’t an HRT throughout the year, it certainly wasn’t the class of the field. Alonso’s campaign saw some intelligent and mature driving from the wily Spaniard. Like all great champions, Alonso enjoyed some luck as his Ferrari car never failed him. However, the fact that he was battling Vettel for the championship to the very end cements his status as the number one driver in F1.
Notes on how the rankings are produced
The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.
Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.
A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.
Over to you
What do you think of Fernando Alonso’s season? Have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
- The complete F1 Fanatic 2012 season review
- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
- 11 different Driver of the Weekend winners in 2012
Images ?�?� Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo