Tales of Woe: Whatever happened to two of F1’s most dominant teams?

So far this season we’ve had a Mercedes winner, a Ferrari winner and Red Bull winner. This is completely normal and what we’ve come to expect, given that those teams have become F1’s ‘big three’. The only other team to get a podium so far was Force India at Baku, such is their stranglehold on F1. Two of the names most notably missing from that list are McLaren and Williams who are both having shockers of a season amid growing tensions.

Ayrton Senna. Image courtesy of Paul Lannuier

This was not always the way. McLaren are not only the second-oldest active team after Ferrari, they are also the second most successful team – also after the Italian marque. Over 52 seasons and 833 races entered, they’ve racked up 155 pole positions and fastest laps, 182 wins, 12 drivers’ titles and 8 constructors’ titles. That is quite some record! However, their last podium came back at Australia 2014 and you have to look even further back for their last win – Brazil 2012. So, where did it go wrong for McLaren?

If you ask them, the first word you’ll get will almost undoubtedly be “Honda”. It’s true, through their most recent three-year partnership they scored no wins, no podiums and only had a best result of fifth. Throughout that time, McLaren repeatedly claimed to have ‘the best chassis on the grid’ which, rather sceptically at first, we all ended up buying into. Truth be told, they evidently didn’t as now they’ve switched to Renault engines, the same as Red Bull and Renault, for this season, they’ve been pretty awful. Best result of fifth, a lot of no-scores and DNFs… oh wait, this is sounding a lot like it did with Honda! The majority of the problem still lies with McLaren.

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France.
Saturday 23 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 Renault.
Photo: McLaren
ref: Digital Image SUT_French_Grand_P_1630069

In truth, it all starting going downhill way before Honda came back on the scene. McLaren lost their star, their prodigy that they’d supported since day one, they lost Lewis Hamilton. Most people were puzzled, to say the least, at Hamilton’s move away from the race-winning McLaren to the struggling Mercedes for 2013 but, with countless race wins, three world titles and a lot of success, it all makes sense now! Hamilton not only wanted a new challenge, he knew the direction McLaren was headed and that direction was down.

Under the year’s of Martin Whitmarsh, management structures had been put in place that just don’t fit F1 while Ron Dennis took a step back, removing some of the atmosphere of fear. When Whitmarsh went, Dennis came back into control and signed the Honda deal, citing that they would only be successful if they were a works team. We all know how that went but now Dennis’ has been pushed out of his own company in favour of Zak Brown and Eric Boullier. This seemed like it was going to be a new McLaren revolution, they’d signed with Renault, they’d kept Fernando Alonso (somehow!) and now they were going to get back to winning races. They believed it and, for a moment, we believed it but it came to nothing and this reflects the mood at McLaren now.

The way out of this rather large hole seems a long one and they’ll probably have to wait for the 2021 rule change before they can even dream of being competitive again. But, with a diminishing amount of sponsors, a disgruntled star driver who’s looking for the door and general staff dismay, the question is if they can stay afloat until then?

Williams’ story is equally tough and also lacks a clear way out. Now Williams hasn’t been quite as successful as McLaren in the past but their record is still one to be coveted. 128 poles, 133 fastest laps, 114 wins, 7 drivers’ championships and 9 constructors’ championship is nothing to be ashamed of for a racing record but, like McLaren, those tallies haven’t been added to for some time. Their last win was the 2012 Spanish GP where the much-maligned Pastor Maldonado surprised us all by winning over Alonso but that was a long time ago.

For Williams, it has been a slow but constant demise. Founder Frank Williams was left with no choice but to reduce his roles as his health deteriorated, leaving the reins to daughter, Claire Williams. The team have been solidly in the midfield for the past few years, battling with Force India for fourth in the constructors’ championship and while that wasn’t where Williams wanted to be, they were still getting some podiums and decent points.

This year, however, it’s all gone to pot. The season was troubled before it even got going with the questionable driver choice of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin. Both vastly inexperienced with patchy racing records and no real scope to develop a car. But really, their biggest problem this season has been the car, not the drivers. They still have arguably the best engine on the grid with the Mercedes but something has gone drastically wrong with the design of the car, meaning that they have been stone dead last all season.

This is not how they used to be but equally, their last championship of any description came back in 1997 and they haven’t really been a factor in the championship since the dawn of the 2000s. Next year they’ll lose their title sponsor of Martini and, beyond that, even surviving in F1 could be a problem. They, like so many other teams, have pinned all their hopes on the 2021 regulation change and, if that doesn’t help, we may have seen the last of the Williams name in F1.

It’s not been good, by any stretch of the imagination, for these two teams and it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Featured image courtesy of Andrew Hone/Williams F1 ref: Digital Image _ONY4604

The 24 Hours of Alonso

The Canadian Grand Prix was a milestone for one of the drivers. Fernando Alonso would start his 300th Grand Prix in Formula 1 (although some still argue it was his 297th start as he did not start all of them). This was enough reason to make it a memorable weekend for the Spaniard. Knowing that he doesn’t have a winning car in the McLaren-Renault, the expectations were not that high. Finishing in the points would be more than enough. After a very disappointing qualifying; he only ended up in P14, hoping to get just one point as overtaking at Montreal can be difficult. He didn’t have an amazing start, which doesn’t happen often to the Spanish McLaren driver, but he did fight his way through the field. This ended in vein as he had to retire the car again due to problems with the electronics.

A disappointing 300th Grand Prix in F1 it was then for Fernando. However, he did have something else to look forward to. As part of his pursue to the Triple Crown, he would participate at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Toyota LMP1 team. He already won the Monaco GP twice, but he didn’t have an overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans yet. The third piece of the Triple Crown is a victory at the Indy 500. Fernando did participate at that race last year and it looked like he could actually win the race as a rookie, until his Honda engine blew up near the end of the race. He thus still has to win both of them. This weekend Alonso had his first try at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Could he get this important victory after another disappointing weekend in Formula 1?

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren ref: Digital Image _1ST9206

The Toyota number 8 car with Nakajima, Buemi and Alonso as the drivers took pole as Nakajima posted the fastest time in Qualifying 3 with a 3:15.377, putting them in front of their sister car number 7 with a gap of two seconds. This of course meant that the first ever victory for the Toyota team at Le Mans was within reach.

As Alonso was a rookie at Le Mans, it would be a risk to put him behind the wheel for the start of the race as it can be quite busy. That’s why Buemi was allowed to go first. Their race could’ve ended very early as Buemi had to defend hard to keep his first place, which led to a light touch with the Rebellion number 1 car which then went on and crashed into the Dragonspeed car.

It was at night, with thirteen hours left on the clock, where Alonso showed his full potential. The Spaniard took the wheel over from Buemi who had a good stint, but the gap to the number 7 Toyota kept growing. Fernando solely closed the gap to the number 7 Toyota from 1 minute and 30 seconds to just 40 seconds. Finding his way through the traffic he posted some very fast lap times. With eleven hours to go, Nakajima took over from the Spaniard and the fight for victory would go on between the Toyotas. They didn’t have a complete flawless race, as both cars got stop-and-go penalties for speeding during a slow zone. These penalties eventually got the number 7 car out of the running for the victory as they got two penalties in succession near the end of the race. Toyota, however, decided to not let Fernando take the flag, but the Japanese drivers Nakajima for the number 8 car and Kobayashi for the number 7 car. This was a good choice, as Nakajima finally could get his redemption for the drama in 2016, where the car stopped working with just one lap left. After 24 hours, the Toyotas took the flag in P1 and P2, giving them their first ever overall victory at Le Mans.

#8 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING / JPN / Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Hybrid / Sebastien Buemi (CHE) / Fernando Alonso (ESP) / Kazuki Nakajima (JPN)
Image courtesy of fia wec

Of course this victory for Toyota couldn’t come without complaints from critics. With Toyota being the only factory team in the LMP1 class, there wasn’t any competition . The privateer teams like Rebellion and SMP couldn’t match the pace of the Toyotas at all. Bykolles retired early in the race after a crash, and Rebellion number 1 with Lotterer behind the wheel knew a difficult start after hitting the Dragonspeed LMP1 car.

Many fans thus say that the victory wasn’t that unexpected and some even say it was undeserved because of the lack of competition. This might be partially true as it was indeed just a fight between the Toyotas up front. However, the last two years the Toyotas retired from the lead, with perhaps the most dramatic finish ever at Le Mans in 2016, But to win at Le Mans you have to battle against Le Mans itself.  It was not a battle against an Audi or a Porsche, but a fight against themselves as they still had to survive those 24 hours. An engine problem could end their race in a second, a crash could end their race, a suspension failure could end their race  and so on. Even with the fastest car you’re not safe from the wear and tear of Le Mans, hence the comment “to win at Le Mans you have to beat Le Mans”.

And it isn’t just the cars that have to survive, the drivers need to survive as well. Especially with a rookie, in endurance racing that is, it can be tough. Keeping up the pace all 24 hours long, fighting through the always unpredictable traffic and driving for more than two hours straight each stint wears those drivers out. A good example of that were the faces of Alonso and former F1 teammate at McLaren Jenson Button in their cars near the end of the race. They both had very tired eyes and in interviews they looked and sounded very tired as well.

A win at Le Mans therefore is never undeserved. It might be less special without the competition from other factory teams, but it is still a tough race on itself.

#8 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING / JPN / Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Hybrid / Sebastien Buemi (CHE) / Fernando Alonso (ESP) / Kazuki Nakajima (JPN)
Image courtesy of Joao Filipe/fia wec

Winning at Monaco and Le Mans, Alonso just needs one win to be the second person ever to take the Triple Crown, the Indy 500 victory. The Le Mans win could mean then that he will focus fully on Indycar and this might be his last season of Formula 1. The WEC ‘superseason’ ends with the Le Mans race of 2019, where Alonso potentially could get a second victory there. He already has two wins at the Monaco GP. Could Alonso be the first driver ever to achieve the Triple Crown twice?

 

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren ref: Digital Image _1ST0758

Monaco or Monago?

Monte Carlo: expensive yachts, lavish food and drink, amazing scenery and the famous casino—but above all, home to the Monaco Grand Prix since 1929. With its prestige and glamour, Monaco is called the crown jewel of the F1 calendar for a reason. Part of the Triple Crown along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500, this Grand Prix is the one that all drivers want to win. It is here at in Monaco where legends are born, with six-time winner Ayrton Senna being the greatest of all. Monaco, with all its racing heritage, is a legendary track and one that drivers enjoy.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

However, Monaco is not without its problems. The 2018 race was slammed by fans all over the world, with some going so far as to call it the “most boring race ever” and argue for it to be dropped from the calendar altogether.

And it’s not just the fans. World champions Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were also among the critics of this year’s Monaco event. In post-race interviews Hamilton said: “We were just cruising around. It wasn’t really racing.” He also said he’d spoken to Prince Albert of Monaco about potential changes to the circuit to improve future races. Alonso—who retired from the race with gearbox problems—went even further, suggesting F1 needed to “give something to the fans” to reimburse their tickets after what he called “probably the most boring race ever”.

This by no means is a way to say that this race was enjoyable to watch. With not much overtaking happening, it became a bit dull. But Monaco has never been a race in which much overtaking has been expected. Spectators know that watching this race will probably mean watching a parade. Monaco was never meant to be the most spectacular race in the world from an overtaking perspective. With the cars getting really close to the barriers, it is almost impossible to overtake. But that’s just the tracks nature. The circuit has already undergone some changes throughout the years, but the overtaking never really increased. That doesn’t mean though that overtaking can’t happen, nor that it is impossible.

Steven Tee/McLaren

For example, Max Verstappen made more on-track overtakes at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix then there were overtakes in total following lap 1 of the Australian Grand Prix, where only five on-track overtakes took place. Albert Park thus didn’t deliver lots of overtaking. Both being street circuits, it might be obvious which one is more popular with the fans and drivers alike.

As a track Monaco is one of the most enjoyable of the calendar for the drivers, as it is a very unforgiving circuit. Especially on Saturday, when qualifying can make a difference between potentially winning one of F1’s most prestigious events, or starting from the back which means you’ll have to try and overtake. Isn’t that the thing that we should enjoy from Monaco? The drivers going full throttle for 78 laps through those tight, unforgiving streets with danger in every corner. Trying to overtake with those speeds through those streets. One mistake could end their race. Any loss of concentration could leave them open to an overtake or a race-ending crash. That alone should be enough excitement for them, and for the fans.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Feature image courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

F1 testing: Raikkonen leads Alonso on final day

Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.

Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.

The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.

As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.

However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.

Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.

Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.

LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.

Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.

That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.

Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.

Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.

The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.

However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.

Andrew Hone/Williams

Grand Prix of Mexico Qualifying Reaction

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

The twin themes for Qualifying are excitement and disappointment. On the excitement front, watching the shootout for P1 was thrilling. While it’s certainly au courant to knock the current generation of power units, as the 2017 package hits high levels of development it’s fantastic to see the track records falling. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in its current incarnation may not have much of a history to compare against, but it’s nonetheless exciting to see records fall.

On the disappointment front, the luckless Pierre Gasly of Scuderia Toro Rosso will be starting from the back after missing Qualifying due to a power unit change, and Brendon Hartley’s promising start to qualifying was also cut short due to an engine failure of his own. Haas failed to perform to expectations, and even typical high performers Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified below their proven potential. One can perhaps understand Ricciardo’s slower pace in comparison to his teammate as Verstappen has a more advanced power unit, but it’s still unusual to see him so far behind. McLaren continues to show how what could have been, and Williams continues in their inconsistent form.

Renault and Force India occupied the middle ground between the extremes. Their drivers all delivered competent performances, qualifying in the lower half of the top 10, but apart from the crowd’s obvious love for Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez the highs and lows experienced by the other teams overshadowed their solid performance.

Q1:
It was no surprise to see Ferrari open with a strong performance on supersoft tyres, though while Sebastian Vettel finished the session in 4th his teammate Kimi Raikkonen fell to 7th, behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

While Mercedes was able to beat Ferrari, they did it on ultrasofts. While Mercedes’ pace is generally undeniable, their need for the softer compounds this round shows that they’re not as safe as they might be.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped the Ferrari times – also on supersofts. Hamilton’s engine gremlins continued, with Hamilton reporting another engine cut during the latter half of the session. Regardless, his early time of 1:17.518 ensured he’d safely advance to Q2. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo completed the session in 10th.

Force India’s Sergio Perez, the local favorite, put delivered a solid performance for his supporters the grandstands and occupied 6th.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso continued to demonstrate the sadly-unrealized potential of the car by climbing to 5th in the first half of Q1 following a forgettable series of practice sessions. The waning moments of Q1 showed Honda’s return to form as Alonso reported no power and no turbo. Despite this, he still managed to deliver excellent sector times as the flag fell.

The flying laps after the chequered flag saw the usual last-minute excitement among the backmarkers. Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne climbed to 13th. Toro Rosso’s resident Kiwi, the impressive Brendon Hartley, advanced, finishing the session in 14th. Williams’ Lance Stroll rounded out the Q2 field in 15th. Sadly, Haas and Sauber both failed to put together enough performance to advance to Q2. Given the disparity between Sauber and Haas’ power units, Haas’ finishing behind Sauber is troubling.

Advancing to Q2: HAM BOT VER ALO PER RAI RIC HUL OCO SAI MAS VAN HAR STR

Excluded: ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS

Q2:
Records continued to have a very short lifespan due to the battle at the top of the timing chart, and ultrasofts are the order of the session among the frontrunners. Bottas rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with an opening time of 1:17.161 on ultrasofts, but was topped by Vettel with 1:17.058 (incidentally setting a new track record). Hamilton, disregarding any worries over his engine, put in a blistering new record time of 1:17.035 in turn.

Hartley’s Toro Rosso let him down in the early stage of the session with a sadly-familiar puff of smoke echoing Gasly’s FP3 misfortune. His radio message to the pit wall, “No power, no power,” signaled the end of a promising day and bringing out a yellow.

The yellow flags caused Max Verstappen to back off a promising lap, but he recovered to set his own new record of 1:16.524. Vettel fought back and topped Hamilton, but wasn’t able to unseat Verstappen.

Force India and Renault certainly took part in Q2, but apart from the crowd’s cheering for Checo there wasn’t much notable in their performance – but an unexciting advancement to Q3 is just as much an advancement to Q3 as an exciting one, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Williams continued to suffer from their ongoing inability to quite bring everything together, and elected to only run late in the session. The lower air pressure at altitude contributed to their woes thanks to the associated lack of downforce, and they weren’t able to rise out of the drop zone.

While Vandoorne and Alonso did each put in an early lap, McLaren elected to not attempt to set times for Q2 to preserve tyres, and likely power units, for the race. After Alonso’s excellent Q1 performance it’s disappointing to see McLaren still making these decisions.

Advancing to Q3: VER VET HAM BOT RAI RIC SAI HUL OCO PER

Excluded: MAS STR HAR VAN ALO

Q3:
The crowd loves Checo, and their excitement seeing him in Q3 comes through.

The battle for pole didn’t disappoint, and once again the boots of choice were ultrasofts. Bottas got a good start, but was forced to abort his early flying lap when he came up on a slower-moving Verstappen in the Foro Sol section. While Verstappen did move off to the left, Bottas wound up braking hard and locking up briefly before diving for the pits where he was to remain until the closing minutes of the session. The stewards announced an investigation into Verstappen for impeding Bottas, but in a move that will doubtless ease any sense of anti-Verstappen bias determined that no action was warranted.

Hamilton put in a valiant effort and sat briefly in P1 himself with a repsectable-but-not-unbeatable time of 1:16.934. The churn in P2 was entertaining, with Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Sainz, and Ocon occupying the position in turn until Sebastian Vettel coaxed his SF70H, Gina, into delivering a lap of 1:16.833, pushing everyone ahead of Verstappen down a spot.

Verstappen responded with a fastest first and second sector, going on to set an excellent time of 1:16.574. For a moment it seemed that a record other than track time, namely youngest pole winner, might be broken, but this sadly wasn’t to be.

After the mid-session lull, Bottas completed his flying lap with a 4th-place 1:16.958 shortly before the chequered flag fell. Hamilton was unable to improve his time.

After the flag fell, Vettel completed his own flying lap to set a new record with a time of 1:16.488, securing his 50th pole position. Verstappen was unable to improve his own time, taking second. Bottas’s own final lap wasn’t enough to improve his position.

As with Q2, the battle at the front overshadowed otherwise competent drives from Renault and Force India. And as with advancing to Q3, an unexciting top-10 starting position is just as much a top-10 as an exciting one. Ocon certainly had the best performance of the midfield, qualifying a surprising 6th ahead of Ricciardo.

As the dust settled on an exciting qualifying session, the grid prior to penalties was VET VER HAM BOT RAI ECO RIC HUL SAI PER MAS STR HAR ALO VAN ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS.

With Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the front row, one can only imagine the conversations in the Ferrari and Red Bull camps, hoping to avoid a repeat of the carnage at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix. Even though it’s quite possible that we’ll see the Drivers Championship locked up for Lewis Hamilton during the race session, it’s still exciting to see Red Bull and Ferrari bringing the fight to Mercedes at this late stage of the season. Hamilton’s engine gremlins certainly add an element of uncertainty, and Renault-powered teams will doubtless be keeping a wary eye on their engines following Toro Rosso’s troubles.

‘David against Goliath’ the battle between Vettel and Alonso

Two of the best drivers on the grid battled several times, each other for the title of the world champion. Fernando Alonso is a two time world champion currently racing for McLaren-Honda, before that he was a test driver for Benetton, joined Minardi in 2001, Renault was his next station from 2003 to 2006, then signed a contract with McLaren where he raced for only one season and returned back to Return in 2008. Fernando’s next step was Ferrari, from 2010 to 2014. In 2015, he returned to McLaren and he is racing there since now.

The Spaniard, while he was racing for Renault, finished first on the drivers’ championship for two consecutive years. Nando, won his first title in 2005 and the following season celebrated his second and final title.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel born in Heppenheim on July 3rd, 1987, at his early steps as a Formula One driver, Sebastian joined BMW Sauber as a test driver and made his official debut at the United States Grand Prix in 2007, then he signed a contract with Toro Rosso and remained there until 2008. The next stop in his career was Red Bull Racing, during his period with the Bulls he celebrated four championships (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). In 2015, the German fulfilled his childhood dream, signed a contract with Scuderia Ferrari and he is still racing for Ferrari alongside Kimi Raikkonen.

David vs Goliath

Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel fought each other for the championship while they were racing for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. Two times Fernando was very close to beat Vettel and win the championship with Ferrari, the first was in 2010 and the second was two years later in 2012. The Spaniard wished to become David and finish ahead of his opponent, but unfortunately Goliath was stronger, and Red Bull was unbeatable those years.

In 2010, Sebastian Vettel finished first in the drivers’ championship, the difference to his rival Alonso, was just four points. The German scored 256 points, whilst the Spaniard collected 252 points. In 19 races Vettel and Alonso were fighting wheel to wheel for the world title, during those races Sebastian retired three times and finished out of the points only in Belgian Grand Prix. Furthermore, Vettel won five races same number of victories with his opponent Fernando Alonso.

From the other hand, Fernando Alonso retired in Belgium, didn’t finish the Malaysian Grand Prix and finished out of the top ten at Silverstone. In the last six races of the 2010 season, Nando won three Grands Prix and finished twice third. Fernando played his final card for the championship in the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Vitaly Petrov the Russian title decider

A thrilling race took place in Yas Marina, before the race, Fernando Alonso was leading the drivers’ championship with 246 points, followed by Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel which collected 236 and 231 points respectively. Lewis Hamilton had also mathematical chances to win the title as he had 222 points and he was 24 points behind Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, had to secure the first two places in order to win the title without having to consider the other results.

On Saturday’s qualifying, Sebastian Vettel secured the pole-position, Lewis Hamilton was the second quickest driver on the grid and Fernando Alonso took the third position followed by Jenson Button and Mark Webber. At the first lap of the race, Sebastian Vettel was leading the race, followed by Hamilton and Jenson Button. Alonso had a slow start which cost him the third place and dropped him down to fourth. After the first pit-stops, Alonso re-joined behind Petrov. Fernando was on hard tyres and Petrov had already done his pit-stop, Alonso couldn’t overtake Vitaly. Even when the Spaniard tried to attack the Russian, Petrov was always in position to defend his position.

Sebastian Vettel led the race all the way, Lewis Hamilton finished second, Jenson Button third, and Fernando Alonso, after 40 laps of battling with Petrov, finished seventh. That result was enough for Sebastian Vettel to secure his first world title in his Formula One career.

Two years later…

Credit: Pirelli

In 2012, the two drivers crossed their swords once again. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso fought closely, but at the end the Germans always win. Vettel scored 281 points in 20 races, whilst Alonso scored 278 points. The German, finished five times on the top step of the podium, retired in the European Grand Prix and finished out of the points in two races, the first was in Malaysia and the second in Italy.

Fernando Alonso, won three races during the season and finished ten times on the podium. The Spaniard, retired in Belgium and in Japan, but despite those two retirements he finished in the top-10 in the rest races.

In Italy, Sebastian Vettel retired on lap 47 due to failed alternator, after that race the German won four consecutive races, finished third in Abu Dhabi, second in the USA and sixth in the final race of the season in Brazil. In Brazil, Sebastian Vettel needed to defend his 13 point lead in order to secure his third championship. The fourth position, would be enough for Sebastian to give him the title, even if Alonso won the race.

Fernando Alonso, qualified eighth whilst Sebastian Vettel set the fourth quickest lap on the grid and placed behind Hamilton, Button and Webber. The rain altered everything during the race, the teams were confused about which strategy would be correct for their drivers. On lap 23, the safety car deployed, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were fifth and fourth respectively. The damage on Vettel’s car didn’t allow him to set a quick dry laps, few laps later the rain forced all the drivers to pit for intermediates.

At the end of the race, Fernando Alonso finished second and Sebastian Vettel sixth, still Vettel collected enough points in order to celebrate his third world title.

Hopefully, one day we will see these top two drivers to fight, once again, each other for the title.

Alonso to Williams: wishful thinking or winning combination?

When Formula One returned to action at the end of the summer break, it looked as though Ferrari’s decision to retain Kimi Räikkönen had brought silly season to an early close.

But during preparation for the Belgian Grand Prix, the driver market was given a second wind when rumours emerged that Williams had offered Fernando Alonso a seat for 2018.

Steven Tee/McLaren

At first glance, it seems like a sensational story—the final, erratic death throes of what’s been a rather damp silly season. The two parties just don’t seem in the slightest bit compatible. Alonso is hunting for his third world title; Williams is currently fighting to hold off Haas and Toro Rosso to fifth in the Constructors’.

Then there is the monetary aspect: while Williams is believed to have only the sixth largest budget of the ten teams, Alonso’s services come with a price tag in the tens of millions.

But on the other hand, there remain several details in the background of this story that suggest an Alonso-Williams tie-up would be a serious consideration for all involved.

Steven Tee/McLaren

For one thing, this is not your average silly season rumour, sparked out of nowhere and fanned into a frenzy overnight—it was first reported in the highly-respected German publication Auto Motor und Sport.

It also goes without saying that (financial questions notwithstanding) Williams would love to have Alonso driving next year’s FW41. In terms of base performance he would represent a marked upgrade on Felipe Massa, and as teammate to the maturing Lance Stroll, Alonso’s experience and ability would prove the ultimate benchmark—as Stoffel Vandoorne can no doubt attest.

Nor is that the only benefit to the team of signing a driver of Alonso’s calibre. When quizzed on the rumours by SkySports in Belgium, Williams’ technical director Paddy Lowe said: “You need great drivers and great cars to win races. With a greater driver in the team, everybody is motivated to work that bit harder for performance because they know it’s going to be exploited and deliver great results.”

Alonso is not a questionable rookie like Pastor Maldonado or Bruno Senna, nor is he a former winner seeing out his twilight years like Massa or Rubens Barrichello—he is a proven champion with both the ability and the drive to win again, whose presence at Williams would lend total credence to their ultimate goal of becoming title contenders once again.

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

But would Alonso even entertain an offer from Williams? If a credible shot at the 2018 title is not something Williams can provide him, what makes them any more attractive an option than joining Renault instead, or even remaining at McLaren?

At the very least, Alonso might be tempted into switching to Williams by nothing more than a desire to enjoy racing again. After three years of disappointment at McLaren-Honda, the prospect of driving a package with no horsepower deficit or reliability concerns to hold him back may prove all the enticement Alonso needs to make the move.

There’s also next year’s driver market to consider. With no championship seats available to him now, Alonso’s next best hope is that the final year on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes contract results in a vacancy at the Silver Arrows for 2019.

And if Alonso is planning on just “seeing out” the 2018 season until a better drive becomes available, he will find more freedom to do so at Williams than with McLaren or Renault—either by insisting on certain performance clauses in case the need for an early exit arises, or by negotiating to take a fraction of his usual superstar salary in return for an open one-year deal.

Steven Tee/McLaren

There is also the chance, however slim it might seem at present, that Williams will in fact be the team to join in 2018.

As well as commenting coyly on the merits of signing a “great driver”, Paddy Lowe also told Motorsport following the Belgian Grand Prix weekend that he was overseeing “substantial changes” to Williams’ design philosophy in the process of constructing next year’s FW41.

His words came at the same time as Felipe Massa criticised the team for falling behind in the 2017 development race—the assumption is that Williams is already calling a halt on this year’s programme to allow Lowe a headstart on designing a much more competitive 2018 challenger.

If that is the case, it would mark the next major step in Williams’ painstaking long-term plan to return to its former status as one of F1’s top teams. The first phase came in 2014, with the acquisition of Felipe Massa and a Mercedes engine supply, and a substantial increase in budget supported by new title sponsors Martini.

The result was the rapid FW36, which between Massa and Valtteri Bottas took more than four times the podiums than its predecessor did points finishes (not to mention pole position at the Austrian Grand Prix) and lifted Williams up from ninth to third in the Constructors’ standings.

Andrew Hone/Pirelli Media

Since then, Williams has enjoyed consistent running within the championship top five—its best string of Constructors’ results since its partnership with BMW in the early 2000s—and has created the perfect foundation from which to take its next great leap forward.

In Paddy Lowe, Williams has the talent capable of designing a race-winning FW41; in Martini, Lawrence Stroll and their past seasons’ results, they now have the money needed to make that design a reality.

None of that will be lost on Alonso, who has been on the grid long enough to know the signs of a team making genuine progress.

All that remains in doubt is whether Williams’ promises can sway him more than McLaren-Honda’s.

Fernando Alonso – A little column about the all time greatest

While the last race weekend on the Hungarian GP showed us again, why Fernando Alonso is still one of the best drivers on the grid, the Spaniard turned 36. A good reason for me  to look at the driver and show what makes him so special.

I won’t lie: Fernando Alonso is my favourite F1 driver, and maybe some of the things that I’m about to say are not from a neutral point of view.

But the fact that he is my favourite driver was not always true. I didn’t cheer for him in his championship years, because i didn’t watch F1 (unfortunately) back in those days. So i will start with the time when I started watching F1, and this was at the middle of 2009.

Ferrari Media

As a Ferrari fan back in the days of 2009 and 2010, a dream came true when the Spaniard joined the Prancing Horse.

I remember many people who didn’t like him back in this time. Even many Ferrari fans were very critical about the decision, to take Kimi Räikkönen out and let Alonso drive there.

But Fernando showed the Tifosi and the world very soon why Ferrari was right to catch him. With the first win on his first race for the Italian team he was was the new star. But I think, with his win in Monza, Italy, in front of all the Tifosi, every Ferrari fan back then starting to cheering for him. He was the new star after Michael Schumacher and until today one of the most popular Ferrari drivers of all time.

I don’t want to rewrite the whole Ferrari story, because we all know how it’s gone back in then.

Ferrari Media

But i want to write something about 2012. For me the 2012 season was a very special one. I don’t know why, but what Alonso did then was magical. Let’s be real: the F2012 was a very poor car at the start of the season. But like today Fernando did  everything possible to keep the title hopes for him and Ferrari alive.

With the win from nowhere in the rain in Sepang he showed again his brilliant driving skills in difficult conditions. And after Ferrari starting to understand the car and improved it with an massive update at the in-season tests in Mugello before the Spanish GP, Alonso was always there.

Especially his magic win at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, in front of his home crowd, was just mind blowing. Sure, the win wouldn’t would have been a win without the failures of Vettel’s Red Bull or Grosjean’s Lotus. But whoever saw the race live will know that Alonso’s moves starting from eleventh were brilliant. Overtaking several cars at the start, he moved his way through the field. The win at the end was just amazing and—for me—with Kimi Räikkönen and Michael Schumacher on the podium, it was the best race ever.

Ferrari Media

Unfortunately in Hungary, exactly five years ago, Ferrari started to drop back in pace. At this time Alonso lead the Drivers’ Championship by forty points from Mark Webber. The second half of the season after the summer break was a nightmare for every Ferrari fan and fans of the Spanish driver. Two pointless races in Belgium and Japan and a dominant Red Bull/Vettel combination made it possible to turn Alonso’s points lead into nothing.

We all know the dramatic season final in Sao Paulo 2012: Vettel’s crash on the start, the hope for all the Tifosi and then the disappointment of losing another title within two years.

We also all know how Alonso and Ferrari fell apart in 2014. And we all know how much worse his partnership with McLaren and Honda went.

McLaren Media

But nevertheless, Alonso always showed his skills and his talent, the same as since his first year in F1 with Minardi. The difference between Fernando and the other top drivers on the grid, is the simple fact that he has never had a really poor year coming from him.

He has always been competitive. With the V10 engines, with the V8 engines and now with the V6 engines; with Michelin, with Bridgestone and with Pirelli tyres. With a bad car or a good car; in an F1 car or on an IndyCar. On a dry or on a wet track. He always shows his skills, and no matter what happens he is always there.

Andrew Hone/McLaren

And I think his last three years with McLaren-Honda showed much more of the “human” Alonso.  It reminds me how Michael Schumacher was getting much more popular in his Mercedes years, because he made the best of his situation back in the disappointing years.

And in the same way, Alonso has showed his patience in the last three years. I don’t know many people who don’t want to see him back on the top. When he came to the autograph session on my first live Grand Prix in Austria few weeks ago, the people went crazy—more than for any other driver.

For me it was a special moment to see my childhood idol next in front of me and it is still a little bit unreal. But that’s another story.

I’m more than certain that we will see Fernando Alonso at the top again someday. And I’m also sure that he will stay in Formula 1, fighting like a Samurai who will never surrender. As he said few months ago: he will not turn away from the F1 stage, without being competitive again.

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