Fernando Alonso: Ups and downs in an illustrious career

Fernando Alonso is a double World Champion, the man who defeated Michael Schumacher, and a living legend of F1. However,  his career is in a constant decline, and that’s his fault.

In 2001, a young Fernando Alonso came into F1, driving for a backmarker team with a rich history, called Minardi. This was the first F1 drive for a person whose career in karting and junior series was something special. Coming from a country with next to no history in this sport, he made a name for himself, proved himself, and made it to the ‘big league’.

Right from the start, he showed his enormous talent, proving to the big teams that he would become a force to be reckoned with. He went on to become just that. For 2003 he joined Renault, the first time he raced for a good team, fighting for podiums and, in 2004, for wins too.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST2566

Then came 2005 and 2006, arguably his best years in the business. He beat Michael Schumacher with ease, as if the German were a rookie and not a seven-time world champion. He and Renault made sure they had no obstacles in their path and they pushed through, though not without some controversy.

In fact, Alonso’s entire career is defined by controversy, either through his actions or for what he publicly (and unapologetically) proclaims. Even during his winning tenure with the French team, he was criticizing the FIA for its decisions – most famously at the Italian GP back in 2006 – or attacking Ferrari for no apparent reason. Ironically, he joined them in 2010.

This leads us to another big problem with Alonso: his mouth. As big as his talent may be, he is a man of a lot of words – most of them, unnecessary. He always thought he had the upper hand over everything because that’s how he was taught to act by a certain Flavio Briatore.

The Italian former team boss is the perennial manager of Alonso and has had a big impact on the Spaniard’s attitude since day one. He is a great leader of men, but his approach in F1 is somewhat controversial – especially after the 2008 ‘crashgate’ scandal. This translates on Fernando’s stand on things, on how he sees F1, and himself in it.

He may now be a veteran in F1, a man who has seen and done everything, but that attitude, the feeling that he can control the driver market or that he can knock on every door and have them open, is something that doesn’t know age.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST3356

One bad choice after the other defined the second part of his career. His McLaren days in 2007 were the start of his fall, before the five-year tenure with Ferrari seal his fate as far as wins and championships are concerned.

The second stint at McLaren is the latest consequence of his decisions. He seems to be responsible for everything bad (and good) that has happened in his career. It’s a great shame that he leaves F1 with just two championships and 32 wins, but that’s what he could get with his personality, his character and the guidance he had.

This does not undermine his achievements, though. He must and will be remembered as one of the best to ever drive at an F1 track, but history will not be easy on him.

Dimitris Bizas

 

Featured image – Pirelli Media Site

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. 

Canadian GP Driver Ratings

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is one of the greats on the calendar. The last time Ferrari won in Canada was in 2004. Ferrari’s last pole in was 2001, but Vettel changed that.

Sebastian Vettel – 9.5

Faultless, the German had it covered all weekend. Pole position on Saturday and lights to flag victory on Sunday. Ferrari sand bagged like they do on Friday and just gathered information on the lower power settings. Vettel is a driver that likes his figures and stats, maybe a little annoyed he didn’t get the hat-trick of pole, win and the fastest lap though. Ricciardo set that on his final tour. He retakes the lead as we head back into Europe. 50 wins and counting.

Valtteri Bottas – 8

Not many would have expected for Bottas to come away with the bigger points haul for the Silver Arrows, let alone out qualify his team mate. A strong weekend for Bottas and retakes third in the driver’s championship. He showed a bit more resilience at the start keeping Verstappen behind something in previous races he lacked. Drove a great race, pretty boring for him though as wasn’t challenged throughout.

Max Verstappen. Image Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen – 8

Proved some doubters wrong this weekend, so hopefully no headbutting happens. Under fire for a string of mistakes the Dutchman had something to prove, which he did. He put that anger into the wheel of his Red Bull with a superb third in qualifying and race. Got close at the start but no collision with anyone. Held the pressure in the early stages and placed it late on. Very much a confidence booster for himself, Red Bull and indeed his fans.

Daniel Ricciardo – 7

Was a tenth or so behind his team mate all weekend. He missed out on quite a bit of action on Friday with an engine problem not related to his failure in Monaco. He tends to not run well around Canada on Saturday and was out qualified again by his team mate. A better Sunday as he finished two places higher than he started thanks to some great tyre management. Still a great win in Monaco but must look forward now as we re-enter Europe. 

Lewis Hamilton – 6

For a track where Hamilton took his maiden win in 2007, and has 6 wins at he was very off colour. Could only manage P4 on Saturday and with problems in the race resulted him finishing P5. A poor race from a man who has such high standards of himself. Has the excuse of a 6 race old engine whilst others had upgrades but Bottas was in the same situation.

Kimi Raikkonen – 6

Another weekend where in qualifying he blew it, when he ran wide at turn 2, flashback to Baku earlier in the season. The car had the pace to win as it did in Vettels hands. The Finn with fresher tyres after making the stop later than the others around him looked strong for a podium, but he never challenged. He faded to finish a lonely P6. 

Nico Hulkenburg – 8

144 races and counting for Nico and his quest for a podium. They should maybe create a space for the best of the rest after Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull as more often than not this has been the German. Qualified in P7 and finished P7. Not much else he can do really as his car restricts him to move higher up the field.

Carlos Sainz – 7

A solid haul of points for Carlos as Renault strengthen their claim as the best of the rest. Besides the collision at the restart with Perez he had a fairly quiet race. Did well to overcut Ocon at the pit stops.

Esteban Ocon – 7

Ocon had a great weekend considering his team made a mistake in the pits on raceday. The Frenchman battled back but it seems like most suffered from following a car.

Charles Leclerc – 9

This kid has talent, true talent. Charles bounced back from another disapointing home race where his brakes failed to score more points for Sauber. Had a great battle with Alonso and for a while kept him at bay. We are seeing a future Ferrari driver in him, it is only when now they decide, could it be next race, or 2019? 

Pierre Gasly – 8

A good recovery drive from Pierre as Honda’s power looks strong albeit still a little bit worrying with reliability. The Frenchman has used the most components out of the entire field. Was hampered in qualifying with the old engine at a power based track. Due to penalties he started on the back row of the grid. Avoided first lap and restart collisions to finish P11. 

Romain Grosjean – 8

The Groundhog’s revenge, Romain qualifying lasted seconds as his engine let go after exiting his pitbox. A poor groundhog was collected by the Frenchman on Friday. Romain started last but with a great stint on the ultrasoft tyre put him back amongst it all and finished ahead of his team mate. No points but did so well considering, good Sunday, needs a good weekend though, home Grand Prix up next.

Sergio Perez – 6

A great effort from Sergio to make Q3 on a track that suits the Force India better than Monaco. Overall though was off the pace on his team mate by 0.6 in the final session. An erratic restart caused him to collide with a Renault. Damage was never made clear but never recovered from it.

Kevin Magnussen – 6

Started in one of the best places on the grid P11, one up on his team mate due to his troubles but Sunday was a shocker. He was never at it, and finished a woeful P14.

Marcus Ericcson – 5

Leclerc is making Ericsson look a little bit silly now. Ericsson scored points in Bahrain but hasn’t seen any yet. He exited FP3 early after a collision with the wall, and never recovered from that.

Stoffel Vandoorne – 4

Wheres Stoffel? A quiet weekend once more for the Belgian. He was out qualified by his team mate and was nowhere on Sunday. The pressure continues to rise. I feel his future is dependant on Alonso’s decision.

Sergey Sirotkin – 5

Another lacklustre display as he finishes last of the cars to take the flag. A mistake in practice, he never got to grips with a track he’d never raced at. Kubica continues to look on in the background.

Fernando Alonso – 7

His 300th Grand Prix weekend and one in his collection to forget. A man who is in a fork on the in his career. He out qualified his team mate and was running well in the race to be best of the rest before the exhaust failure mid-race. Le Mans is next on the agenda which he hopes to win for the second stage of ‘The Triple Crown.’ Think the result there will give us a bigger idea of where the F1 great will be next year.

Lance Stroll – 5

The Canadian had a weekend in his home country to forget. The Williams is a bit of a dog this year. He hit the wall in practice and then exited again in Q1. Sunday didn’t last long after losing the rear and hitting Hartley. Claire Williams pinned the sole blame on Hartley. Looking at various camera angles and public opinion the blame swings back to Stroll. 91% of people blamed Stroll on our twitter poll. (@PitCrew_Online)

Brendan Hartley – 6

One of his best Saturday’s in the car, the Kiwi qualified ahead of both Mclaren drivers and wasn’t far away from the Q3. It was a shame that Sunday ended so early, going into the end of sector 1 he was outwide on the marbles alongside Stroll. He collected the Williams and lost control of his car. Poor placement you could say from Hartley, but unlucky at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Mercedes have an excuse with their engine not being ready but certainly did not expect Hamilton to finish as low as fifth at one of his favourite tracks and lose the lead. Vettel takes the smallest of leads to the next race.

F1 returns to Europe next time as we have a triple header! We return to France for the first time since 2008 at a track that hasn’t seen competitive action since 1990. The Paul Ricard circuit is a favourite for some to test at. It followed by Austria and then Britain the following week.

Will Mercedes have their engine ready for France? Do Ferrari have the better car again with their new bargeboard improvement?

Featured image courtesy of Ferrari.

Chinese Grand Prix Preview: It’s time for Mercedes to hit back against Vettel and Ferrari

Formula One rolls into Shanghai to complete the first back-to-back Grand Prix sequence of 2018.

In the Chinese year of the dog Sebastian Vettel has started like a greyhound with two wins from two race this season, while Mercedes are yet to show that their bark is as bad as their bite.

Valtteri Bottas missed the chance to pass Vettel on better tyres in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix after an error-strewn Australian Grand Prix, while a mixture of bad luck and reliability have hamstrung Lewis Hamilton in the early stages of this season.

Bottas will rue his missed chance in Bahrain

Ferrari have defied pre-season expectations that had them third in the Formula One pecking order after going in a different direction with car design including a longer wheelbase, a decision that appeared to have them playing catch up.

Last year in China, Hamilton got his title challenge underway with victory in a wet-dry race as Vettel got some overtaking done after serving a penalty for a jump start to ignite a title fight between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Ferrari have four wins in Shanghai from 14 races, although only one in the last 11 years courtesy of Fernando Alonso’s victory in 2013.

Mercedes have won five of the last six races in China with Lewis Hamilton claiming three of those.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull will be aching to get back on track after a disappointing start

But what of Red Bull? Their race pace is on or close to that of Ferrari and Mercedes if you believe Free Practice times.

Problem is, they cannot get their cars into position. Daniel Ricciardo was penalised in Australia and was another VSC beneficiary in Australia, while Max Verstappen spent a lot of time behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and then latterly McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The least said about their Bahrain Grand Prix, the better. Ricciardo did nothing wrong and retired after a couple of laps, Verstappen retired after contact with Lewis Hamilton after chucking his Red Bull at a wall in qualifying.

Pierre Gasly’s stunning weekend in Bahrain has raised Toro Rosso expectations

Toro Rosso say they expect to be quick based on Bahrain, where Pierre Gasly secured an amazing fourth place to change not only the expectations of the team but the perceptions of the Honda Power Unit.

Renault and McLaren also look to be strong contenders for points, with McLaren having four points finishes from two races to show plenty of improvement from a disastrous Honda partnership.

Alonso is a man reborn, while Stoffel Vandoorne has added consistency this season to the flashes of speed shown from the middle of last year.

 

Prentice’s Picks: F1 curtain-raiser in Australia poses more questions than answers

The Australian Grand Prix failed to give observers much of a concrete answer as to this year’s exact running order despite Sebastian Vettel’s second successive win at Albert Park.

Yes, Lewis Hamilton had a clear pace advantage in qualifying and wasn’t uncomfortable in the race, but the Red Bulls were hamstrung while it is understood that Ferrari haven’t unlocked the full potential of their new car design just yet.

Unlike last year, Ferrari won when they weren’t the fastest, something Hamilton did on multiple occasions last season. However, the Scuderia were not without a huge slice of luck.

Vettel’s victory came in fortunate circumstances 

The Virtual Safety deployed midway through the race to recover the stricken Haas duo (more on them later) of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean slowed the race down as drivers were not to exceed a certain speed.

That meant that the impact of a pitstop lessened significantly. Where it would have cost Vettel 25 seconds to pit at normal racing speeds, at VSC speeds the cost was 11 seconds.

Vettel was 12 seconds clear of Hamilton. Ferrari had judged the maths perfectly, and a software glitch confused Mercedes.

Since then, there have been calls to ban pitting under the VSC.

This is not the first time that the VSC has changed the game during a race, if not quite to this extent.

Other beneficiaries include Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso, both of whom had not pitted and as a result made net gains. Ricciardo was fourth, with Alonso fifth.

The VSC adds a potential variable to a sport that is currently desperately lacking in those at present. It turned what was fast becoming a predictable race into one that had a battle for the lead…..until Hamilton was restricted by the lack of spare Power Unit elements and had to turn the wick down.

It was a case of what might have been for Haas in Melbourne, as the team emerged as early contenders for best of the rest but ended up plum last in the Constructors’ are two catastrophic pitstops.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Haas F1 Media
Haas were desperately unlucky to score nothing in Melbourne

Magnussen was fourth, just a second clear of teammate Grosjean as the two promised much for a team intent on building upon a solid first two seasons in the sport.

Grosjean commiserated and rallied the pit-crew member with what appeared to be the faulty wheelgun, and should Haas maintain their pace this will not hurt as much as it should.

Their task in staying fourth will get harder as the season wears on.

Watch out…..Fernando has his mojo back.
Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

McLaren secured a double-points finish despite running nowhere near full wick because of (you guessed it) reliability worries from testing.

Due to the late switch to Renault Power Units, there’s still more to come from their chassis too, and in Fernando Alonso they have a man on the front foot.

It has not been difficult to notice a change in the Spaniard’s demeanour, encapsulated perfectly in his “speak up, don’t lose energy” and “now we can fight” messages on Sunday.

It’s good to have him back.