SUN­DAY 26 MARCH, MEL­BOURNE, RACE

F1 Racing - - POWER LIST -

Pro­moted one place to 12th on the grid by Daniel Ric­cia­rdo’s pre-race woes, Alonso drives “prob­a­bly the best race of my life” to run in tenth for most of the Aus­tralian GP, only for Este­ban Ocon’s Force In­dia and Nico Hülken­berg’s Re­nault to nally swamp him seven laps from home. He then pulls in with sus­pected oor dam­age. Van­doorne does make it to the nish – in 13th, the nal classied nisher and two laps down.

Alonso makes up a place at Hülken­berg’s ex­pense at the start, then moves into the points from lap 14 when Ro­main Gros­jean’s Haas ex­pires. F1 Rac­ing watches the race from the quick Turn 11/12 left-right ick, and dur­ing an af­ter­noon in which most cars run in dull iso­la­tion, the orange McLaren and Ocon’s pink Force In­dia are no­tice­able ex­cep­tions. Ocon is glued to Alonso’s tail all the way to lap 50. Okay, so it’s clearly tough to pass in this new gen­er­a­tion of F1 car, es­pe­cially on a nar­row, bumpy, park­land track – but Fer­nando is fault­less. With lap times that vary by only a few tenths, Ocon barely gets a sniff, un­til late in the race Hülken­berg closes on both.

Even the mighty Alonso has to cede in the end, although not with­out a nal our­ish of re­sis­tance, and with tenth place gone he pulls in with that prob­lem. A point has been lost, but in re­al­ity it has been made. Alonso has man­aged only the 17th fastest lap of the race, 3.5s off Kimi Räikkö­nen’s bench­mark in a car he claims is 30km/h down on power on the straights – but he has car­ried it far higher than it de­serves.

This is ex­actly why they love Alonso at McLaren – and why the team are des­per­ate to keep him. What a per­for­mance that was in Al­bert Park. His best race ever? There are a fair few from hap­pier days that would top it. The un­char­i­ta­ble might sug­gest talk­ing up one’s own drive isn’t a bad idea when one wants to re­mind the mar­ket that one is ready and avail­able for of­fers… but still, this was cer­tainly spe­cial.

Buried in the mideld he might have been, but to any­one watch­ing closely it was a per­for­mance that blazed in lights his deant war­rior spirit. In the pad­dock he looks dead-eyed and bored, but there’s a well of la­tent fury be­low the sur­face – and he un­locks it in the best way pos­si­ble once the hel­met is on.

Back at that FIA press con­fer­ence ear­lier in the week, Hamil­ton had paid a warm and un­prompted trib­ute to the man be­side him – the ri­val he re­spects far be­yond any other. “We need this guy to have a good car so he can get up there and ght with us as well – be­fore his time’s up,” said Lewis. “We got a hint that it’s another cou­ple of years [away] at least, so that’s good. I feel we’re yet to see the best of Fer­nando. The sport needs that and he de­serves to be able to show that.”

But can McLaren ever of­fer him what he needs to get back to where he once be­longed? The an­swer to that ques­tion rides on Honda’s vi­tal up­graded en­gine, com­ing soon at a race yet to be specied. This will rep­re­sent the re­ac­tion Alonso is look­ing for – and if there’s not a marked im­prove­ment, ‘Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble’ it will be.

Right now, it’s hard to be­lieve Honda can make the leap. You sense the team know what they must do; whether it’s mid-sea­son or at its end, it’s surely just a mat­ter of time.

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