Opinion: Why Fernando Alonso’s charm is wearing thin

Fernando Alonso has never been the humblest of drivers, nor the most understated. He’s also infamous for his fairly horrendous career choices that have left him frustrated in underperforming cars, which is exactly where he finds himself now. His angered, but often humorous, radio messages during his time at McLaren have turned the Spaniard into the ‘meme-king’ of F1, but his off-the-cuff comments are, to some at least, starting to become repetitive and tiresome.

If you had a pound for every time Alonso’s called himself the “best in the world” or a performance the “best of his life” you would be very, very rich. These comments come seemingly every race weekend with the two-time champion desperate to remind everyone just how good he is… even when he’s often knocked out in Q1.

This weekend at Japan he called his qualifying lap “one of the best laps of my life,” saying he didn’t leave anything out on the challenging Suzuka track. That statement is more than credible when taken out of context, but when you add in the fact that he qualified eighteenth and that it’s definitely not the first time he has said that this season… well, this is where I’m coming from.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. .
Sunday 30 July 2017.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _R3I4275

You get the sense that part of Alonso’s reasoning for saying these kinds of things is to tell the world “look how good I am. I’m not bad, the car is”. The Spaniard is well-known for his harsh criticism of underperforming machinery, as Honda found out during their three-year partnership with McLaren. However, these actions, most memorably of which was him shouting “GP2 engine!” over the radio, have already come back to bite him with Honda reportedly denying him an IndyCar drive with a Honda-powered team, not wanting to restart their ever-so-fractious relationship.

If you turn back the clocks to Alonso’s Ferrari years, he often came across as a bit grumpy and generally anything but humorous. He seems to have mellowed somewhat in his challenging years at McLaren, with stunts like the deckchair and rather questionable camera-work in consecutive years at Brazil increasing his popularity.

This was furthered by his trip to the Indy 500 last year where he proved he could fight with the best IndyCar has to offer, though it’s tough to say what would’ve happened had his Honda engine hung on until the end of the 200 laps.

Race driver Fernando Alonso of Spain pulls out of the pit area as he practiced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Wednesday, May 3, Alonso plans to miss the Monaco Grand Prix this year to drive in the Indianapolis 500. 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) ORG XMIT: OTKMC103

His antics have gained him countless fans, loving his outbreaks of personality in amongst the supposedly cold, media-trained youth, but you can’t really say it’s helped him in the matter of trying to get a decent drive. Red Bull said they didn’t want him for his trouble-making tendencies and teams like Mercedes have shied away from him for his potential volatile temperament, not wanting to upset intra-team harmony.

This has left Alonso in the massively underperforming McLaren-Renault that, despite a relatively strong start to the season, has promised much and delivered little. Undoubtedly, Alonso has grown frustrated with this situation and is therefore branching out to find ever more ways to remind everyone of his talent, be it WEC, IndyCar or kart races around his own track. You can’t blame the man for trying!

The problem is, the world hasn’t forgotten how good Alonso is, and it certainly doesn’t need constant reminders by the man himself to know that. Many drivers and teams would say that they like to do their talking on the track but with a lacklustre package, that’s not really an option for Alonso, hence the situation he has found himself in.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary.
Saturday 28 July 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, puts on his helmet in the garage.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST0511

In truth, words can only get you so far, if you are all talk and no trousers, people are going to start taking what you say with more than just a pinch of salt.

His charm is wearing thin on quite a few F1 fans, but it hasn’t worn through and maybe the change of scene next year (wherever that’ll be) will be what Alonso needs, effectively pressing the reset button and, hopefully at least, getting him back to being competitive.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the late great Juan Manuel Fangio that perhaps Alonso should’ve heeded long ago:

“You must always strive to be the best, but you must never believe that you are.”

Toyota can’t fail this year

Le Mans 24 – Iconic. Photo credit Toyota Gazoo Racing WEC

Toyota have never won the 24 hours of Le Mans which is one of the world’s most demanding races. They are massive favourites this year and they have got the best chance through various reasons! 

Toyota are the only team in the leading LMP1 Hybrid class, as Porsche withdrew from the series last year. They have no realistic competition and you could say the LMP1 rule book gives them an advantage that places Toyota in firm control.

The number seven car will be piloted by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

The handicaps that the privateer LMP1 teams are as follows. They are not allowed to lap faster than the hybrid class, and if the privateers do, they will get a drive through penalty. The others involves the pit stops, in that a hybrid car can go a lap longer of 11 laps on fuel, whilst the privateer cars can only go 10 laps. Finally the hybrids also have a minimum pit stop time of 5 seconds which shorter than the other class. Toyota therefore will spend much less time in the pits than any other team. So realistically reliability is the only thing that would prevent them. 

Toyota have come so close in recent years and it was reliability that stopped them. The team came closest in 2016, it was leading for 23hrs 55mins until a failure happened on the penultimate lap. Porsche overtook them for victory, it was heartbreaking for the Japanese team. To add insult to injury the car took them over 11 minutes to finish the last lap which meant they were not even classified. In the race you have to complete the last lap in under 6 minutes by regulation 10.5 to be classed.

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Le Mans rookie Fernando Alonso pilot the number eight car. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

In their #8 challenger, they have Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, who is driving for them as well McLaren in Formula 1. Alonso has taken to endurance racing like a duck to water as it was his car that took victory in the first round of the World Endurance Series in Spa, Belgium. It was his first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix in F1. 

To have without a doubt the fastest car on the grid, rules restricting the limited opposition they have and an increased calibre of drivers is it just a matter of the #7 or #8 taking victory?

It would be embarrassing for the manufacturer to lose this year, they would become a laughing stock. If they fail to win I also see the end of the LMP1 Hybrid category. To have one team in that field is also just ridiculous. 

We’ll find out! Follow @PitCrew_Online as we’ll have commentary throughout,  and get the kettle on for the early hours.