F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - @ed­dstrawf1 face­book.com/f1rac­ing­mag EDD STRAW

Alonso has gone, but he will be sorely missed

Fer­nando Alonso bid good­bye to For­mula 1, very pos­si­bly for good, with a whim­per. Eleventh in the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This was the con­se­quence of one of the weak­est Mclaren chas­sis we have ever seen, but it was clear his heart wasn’t en­tirely in it dur­ing those fi­nal few races. The sar­cas­tic Brazil­ian Grand Prix ra­dio mes­sage, where he scoffed at tar­get­ing 16th place not long be­fore de­mand­ing ra­dio si­lence, was proof of that, as were a trio of penal­ties for cut­ting the track at Yas Marina. This con­cluded a sea­son dur­ing which he has been most con­spic­u­ous for his oc­ca­sion­ally lu­di­crous, of­ten ir­ri­tat­ing and al­ways bom­bas­tic self-mythol­o­gis­ing.

But this shouldn’t be what we re­mem­ber, be­cause what we can pro­vi­sion­ally call his fi­nal sea­son was one dur­ing which Alonso reg­u­larly demon­strated his great­ness, and reg­u­larly earned the right to make out­ra­geous state­ments about his own vir­tu­os­ity. The Alonso pan­tomime that rum­bled off-track must not over­shadow what he did on it, be­cause by any mea­sure he walks away from F1 as one of the greats, with some su­perb

drives in 2018 re­warded only with mi­nor plac­ings. With­out Alonso, Mclaren would not have fin­ished sixth in the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship, and he had no busi­ness fin­ish­ing 11th in the driv­ers’ stand­ings in what was, on av­er­age, the sec­ond­slow­est car in the field.

If there’s one thing that will never fade from the mem­ory of Alonso’s vale­dic­tory F1 sea­son, it’s what he could do that team-mate Stof­fel Van­doorne couldn’t. Driv­ing a Mclaren lack­ing in rear sta­bil­ity and prone to los­ing a pro­por­tion of its down­force once steer­ing lock was ap­plied, Alonso min­imised its lim­i­ta­tions bril­liantly. The very favourable com­par­i­son with Van­doorne is not only about the sta­tis­tics, not even the crush­ing 21-0 qual­i­fy­ing vic­tory achieved by Alonso. It’s more about the way Alonso drove. Watch­ing track­side dur­ing 2018, there was con­tin­ual ev­i­dence of Alonso wring­ing the car’s neck while Van­doorne was con­strained by its lim­i­ta­tions. One driver de­fied the car to go ever quicker, and backed him­self to keep it point­ing in the right di­rec­tion, the other was lim­ited by it. The way Alonso drove un­der­lines what has made him such a re­mark­able driver through­out his F1 ca­reer.

Azer­bai­jan and Sin­ga­pore are seared in the mem­ory. At Turns 11-12, per­haps best de­scribed as the exit of the ‘Cas­tle Sec­tion’, in Baku, Alonso was all throt­tle and steer­ing in­puts. He could live with the rear mov­ing around un­pre­dictably and hus­tle a lap time. It was the same story at Turn 3 at Marina Bay – Van­doorne rolled the car into the left han­der while Alonso pro­voked it, changed his lines, lived with the un­pre­dictabil­ity as he sought a way to use the re­sult­ing in­sta­bil­ity to get closer to the edge of the per­for­mance en­ve­lope.

Driv­ers can’t tran­scend cars, even Alonso at his most ar­ro­gant would not at­tempt to op­er­ate out­side the laws of physics, but they can find ways to dance on the edge of what is pos­si­ble. Do that and you will go beyond what even a very good per­former with­out the same car con­trol could ever hope to do on more than an oc­ca­sional ba­sis. When it’s a bad car, as the Mclaren was, a con­ven­tional style is lim­ited, but Alonso – ever the im­pro­viser and never a clas­si­cist be­hind the wheel – found a way to make it work. His style has al­ways been about car­ry­ing speed into the cor­ner then sort­ing out the con­se­quences, a method that puts enor­mous de­mands on the driver’s skill and re­ac­tions, but he lives on his wits like no other.

Through­out his ca­reer, Alonso has been a street fighter of a driver – per­haps more in the mould of Nigel Mansell than Ayr­ton Senna. F1 has changed so much dur­ing Fer­nando’s ca­reer, yet when have you ever heard Alonso com­plain­ing the car doesn’t suit his style? That re­flects the way he drives: in­fin­itely adapt­able and back­ing him­self to sort out what­ever mess he might find him­self in as he tries to drive around a car’s lim­i­ta­tions. He’s a driver who feels the grip, the turn­ing mo­ment of the car, ev­ery slip of the tyre, and trans­lates that into the per­fect re­sponse.

He’s shown his ver­sa­til­ity in the tough sea­sons – his re­mark­able 2012 ti­tle bid in a tricky Fer­rari stands out, and when the car has been good he’s found a way to make it bet­ter. Dur­ing his ti­tle win­ning years at Re­nault, he wasn’t afraid of mak­ing the most of the Miche­lin rub­ber with arm­fuls of steer­ing lock even though this was far from the text­book way to drive. That is what makes him so ef­fec­tive in races. He can adapt to the ever-evolv­ing bal­ance of the car and hus­tle it re­gard­less. He will seek per­fec­tion from the

car, but he doesn’t un­yield­ingly de­mand it like some, and that’s why he flew in ev­ery­thing, whether it was a 2001 Minardi, a 2006 Re­nault, a 2011 Fer­rari, or a 2018 Mclaren-re­nault. What­ever Alonso was pre­sented with, he did things his way and made the car sub­mit to him.

Those qual­i­ties stood him in good stead on track. Off the cir­cuit, some­times he was too provoca­tive, too rash in his de­ci­sion mak­ing. Can we re­ally take Alonso at his word that he re­grets none of the de­ci­sions that de­fined his path and cost him more wins and ti­tles? Two ti­tles does him a dis­ser­vice, but even with the way his ca­reer has gone he could eas­ily have won in ’07, ’10 and ’12 to stand equal with Lewis Hamil­ton as a five-time world cham­pion. So, it’s hard to be­lieve some­one of Alonso’s in­tel­lect would not change some of what hap­pened were he to have his time again.

Alonso is shrouded in myth off-track. He is of­ten por­trayed as a vic­tim of F1, as a driver let down by its short­com­ings. But while his rep­u­ta­tion as a dis­rup­tive in­flu­ence is over­stated, he has cer­tainly brought some prob­lems on him­self and made even the top teams he hasn’t driven for wary of sign­ing him. But maybe the ca­pac­ity to sub­ju­gate the car to his will shares the same root as what makes him such a provo­ca­teur, mean­ing one can­not ex­ist with­out the other?

Sure, Alonso should have more wins and world cham­pi­onships, but that’s just num­bers. What’s im­por­tant is what he leaves be­hind – the mem­o­ries of what he did on track. The re­sults might not show it, but what might well turn out to be Alonso’s fi­nal sea­son is a part of the en­dur­ing leg­end of a man who bent a grand prix car to his will like no other.


Even in his ‘fi­nal’ sea­son Alonso man­aged to demon­strate his great­ness on sev­eral oc­ca­sions

Alonso wore a spe­cial hel­met in Abu Dhabi, com­bin­ing his cur­rent de­sign with the one he used in ‘01

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