Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alonso at Ferrari: The messiah that wasn't (II)

2012, no Senna: Cracking under pressure

This advertisement holds a special place in my memories. In it, a composed Ayrton Senna presents the ultimate attitude at keeping one's cool under pressure. An ability well mastered by other great champions like Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher. And Fernando Alonso?

Certainly not.

2012 was an eventful year, and very consistently the man from Oviedo had managed to build a substantial difference over his rivals just before the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. 40 points more than Mark Webber and 42 ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
The Ardennes track has always been considered to be the ideal one to separate the wheat from the chaff. While Schumacher won six times, Senna five and Kimi Raikkonen four, Alonso, with no wins, has failed to deliver there time and again, as we saw it was the case in 2010. In 2012, though, it would not be his fault. Romain Grosjean took too many risks at the start, created an enormous mess and was very close of hitting the Spaniard's helmet with one of his front tires. The latter's race would end at La Source after just a few meters. Luckily a dreadful accident was missed by inches. However it would somewhat prove to be the turning point of the season.

After having somehow recovered in Monza with a third place, Alonso left Singapore 29 points ahead of the young German. who had won there showing he was back in business. At the start at Suzuka, from the 7th place of the grid, he drifted to the left eventually leaving Kimi Räikkönen with nowhere to go. The rear tyre of the Ferrari was clipped by the Lotus front wing and his race ended there.

Suzuka 2012: An enormous mistake that
would cost a championship

Why did Alonso, usually so conservative, take such a risk at the start? Was he fearing the unstoppable return of the Vettel-Red Bull duo? There was no need to take any chances at that point of the season. After the race he claimed it was Kimi's fault. Only a few among his most fanatic followers agreed. His gap with Seb had just shrunk to 4 points.

In Korea, with his third win in a row, the boy from Heppenheim, snatched the lead by 6 points and moreover, increased his tally of wins of the season to 4, thus passing the Ferrari driver who had only 3.

Then, suddenly, something happened.

With four races to go, as the Red Bull boys had just locked the front row of the grid once more in India, the man from Oviedo told the press that he was "...also fighting against Newey..."

Preposterous would be an understatement.

You see, we the old-timers of Formula 1, have failed to apprehend that, when a car is very competitive, the other drivers are also fighting its Chief Technical Officer. Thus it was not Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson or Mario Andretti that their rivals were racing, but Colin Chapman too. And I, for one, thought Formula 1 cars were single-seaters!

Moreover, Alonso would have been well advised to remember that his rivals were fighting the Michelin-Renault "special relationship", when he won his two championships in 2005 and 2006. A matter I will deal with in a future post.

Seb was unimpressed and grabbed his 5th victory of the year. He would be 3rd in Abu Dhabi, after a qualifying mishap that forced him to start from the pits. In the meantime, The man who was also fighting Newey, managed somehow to finish second in both cases. Two races to go and the German was 10 points ahead. Not bad for someone who was driving with the team's Chief Technical Officer hiding in his car!

In the U.S. Grand Prix, at Austin, Texas, pressure started to show on The man who was also fighting Newey. For the first time in the season Felipe Massa out-qualified him. The Brazilian had already started ahead of him at Monza, however it was due to a failure of Alonso's rear anti-roll bar. This time he was beaten fair and square, on a circuit unknown to both of them. To enable him to start the race from the clean side of the track, the Ferrari team broke the seals on Massa's gearbox, which costed the latter a penalty of five places on the grid. The race was won by a brilliant Lewis Hamilton, with Vettel and Alonso completing the podium. We will agree that not having to fight Adrian Newey may have helped the guy from Stevenage to win this time...

And so came the unforgettable 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, crunch time, where Seb Vettel arrived with an advantage of 13 points over The man who was also fighting Newey. A race the members of the "Alonso Media Corporation" will never forget. It was intense, after a difficult start as he was obstructed by his teammate Mark Webber, the young German had a collision with Bruno Senna which made him spin at turn 4. With a damaged car he found himself  22nd. And then Sebastian Vettel gave the whole world a lesson on how to handle pressure, never giving up, he fought back to snatch the 6th place and his 3rd WDC in a row. Alonso finished 2nd and failed to win the title by 3 points.

Brazil 2012: The bitter taste of defeat

Did that have any effect on his self-esteem? Well, a few minutes after failing to win the title at the wheel of a Ferrari, the man from Oviedo, told the Spanish TV Network Antena 3:

“…we have shown once more that with a car a little slower than the others we can perfectly win the championship. With a car the same as the others we are likely to win it many races before the end and with a car much slower than the others we will fight until the last race…”

No kidding.

And we still had to go through the "yellow flags soap opera", as some footage uploaded to You Tube, was interpreted by a few as the proof that Vettel had not respected some yellow flag during the race and that it should carry a penalty and the loss of the Championship. The whole thing would crumble like a house of cards. Not without a written question addressed to the FIA by Ferrari. A move Alonso did not disapprove. Moreover he would state that:

"Frankly, I'm not that interested in what the opinion is of me in Germany or elsewhere. What I know is that people who see me in the streets hug me and call me gladiator or samurai,"

And they did not congratulate him on also having to fight Newey?

I just can't believe it.

Stay tuned.

There is only one "MAGIC": AYRTON SENNA

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