I did some research reflecting on Alonso’s third miss-out on the title.
I began to look up just how successfully the greatest drivers in F1 converted their chances having arrived at the last, or – in discretional cases – penultimate round of the season with a shot on the title.
Fangio – He had six shots and converted five, only missing out in 1950 to team mate Nino Farina by 3 points. (Around 7-8 points approx. nowadays.) That’s a 83.3% ratio.
Moss – He is most renowned among F1 historicians for being the runner-up an impressive four times (!) in a row from 1955 to 1958. And again, he finished third in the standings for the next three years (!). But digging deeper into the history books, one can reveal, he actually only had a realistic shot at the title two times, in 1958 and in 1959.
Clark – Ah, the great Jimbo Clark. No disrespect here, I adore the guy. I honestly think he is on par with Senna in terms of character, driving skills and pure ability on the pinnacle of F1. So he was a contender four times from 1962 to 1965, winning two and losing the 1964 championship in a manner comparable to yesterday’s. Read the related Wikipedia article on it, 1964 Mexican GP, it worths it.
Stewart – He also had four shots at the title, won three of course, only losing the 1968 one.
Lauda – Once again, had four opportunities from 1975 to 1977 and in 1984. Took three, missed one in dramatic circumstances as we know and will know even more after Rush will be premiered. I can’t wait. Also, it is also well-known that Enzo Ferrari said Niki would have been a four-time champ if he had not left Ferrari after 1977. It parallels slightly with Hamilton’s case, I think, though, he had not won two and Whitmarsh did not made such bold statements up to now.
Prost – Prost was in contention to win the title at the last/penultimate round an impressive eight times, bettered only by Schumacher. And while he was renowned for beating all his team mates on total points in every year bar Lauda in 1984, he was less prolific when it came to head-to-head battles with fellow contenders, losing four, the most on this list. To his credit, at most of his defeats he was unable to do better, it was only that others were in position, much like Alonso’s adversaires in 2007 and 2012.
Senna – Senna had only four shots, including penultimate rounds as well, as much as Clark, and converted an impressive three. That’s a 75% ratio.
Schumacher – He began in a very similar manner to Alonso. both won for the first two times of asking in the Enstone-based team, but lost out for the next two times. Crucially, Schumacher then won five in a row before losing out – to Alonso, frankly – in Brazil again. So that’s the most, 10, chances for Schumacher of those listed here, but he still converted 7, which makes for an also intimadating 70%.
Alonso – We all know the story by now. Five shots, winning the first two and, oddly enough, losing three times after that by the lowest of margins. (1-1.2-1.4 points in the 2003 points system.) That’s only 40% and the second highest number of championships lost from this list of drivers, according to the above criteria (last or penultimate round eligibility). Besides Prost (who has two more than Alonso to solidify his place) only the non-listed Mansell is comparable: he had four shots, winning only one after losing three – but, ever so crucially, Mansell is very often omitted from this exclusive list of drivers, as far as I saw.
Of course, one of the main counter-argument one can come up with, is the intuitive compilation of the drivers included here. One can include Mansell of course, but he is still an example I think, that losing too many chances, more than Moss by the criteria, can easily lead to missing out on the all-time greatest list – which is a sore consequence taking into account the character, skills, etc. of drivers like Alonso and Mansell. Their respective competition, arguably members of two Golden Ages of F1, makes it even harder for them to emerge to the list of the few very best.
Note Vettel’s and Hamilton’s (nowaday’s other contenders for a place on this list IMO) records: 3/3 and 3/1 respectively. Vettel’s figure comes closest to illustrate why it would have been so crucial for Alonso to win this time around – no other driver on this list did what Vettel just did winning at his frist three attempts.
Let me conclude with a great and relevant quote from Prost I just buckled upon:
When you win a race like this the feeling is very, very good. There have been times when I have been flat-out to finish sixth, but you can’t see that from the outside. In 1980 I finished three or four times in seventh place. I pushed like mad, yet everyone was gathered around the winner and they were thinking that I was just trundling around. But that’s motor racing. So in fact the only thing you can judge in this sport is the long term. You can judge a career or a season, but not one race.