Midseason Report: Grading Ferrari's Fernando Alonso
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I said at the beginning of the week that I firmly believe Fernando Alonso should persevere with Ferrari amidst speculation by David Cass of the Daily Mail that he is angling for a move to Red Bull for 2014.
Whilst it’s clear that discussions have been had and Alonso is frustrated with the pace of his car, he must remain patient in his quest for further titles just as Michael Schumacher remained patient when he made the move from Benetton to Ferrari as a double world champion in 1996.
It’s clear that Alonso is one of the best drivers on the grid, and I actually think he is the most complete driver of them all. How he almost won the championship in 2012 in a clearly inferior car to the Red Bull was staggering, and this season has done nothing to change my mind that the man is a genius. Let’s look back on his 2013 season to date.
Australia was to set a blueprint for the season as Alonso wrung the neck of his Ferrari to line up P5 on the grid. A fast start saw the Spaniard charge to third off the grid, and he emerged as the race leader after the second of his three stops, leapfrogging Sebastian Vettel. The problem was that Kimi Raikkonen’s two-stopper proved the winning way, but it was a good start nonetheless.
Alonso’s strong start looked set to continue in Malaysia. But in attacking Vettel from P3 on the grid, the pair touched. Quickly, the Ferrari lost its front wing on the main straight before sliding off into the gravel.
His disappointment would be short lived as Alonso provided a driving masterclass in China that highlighted him as a strategist very much in the mold of Alain Prost. A fast start from third on the grid saw Alonso sweep past Raikkonen into second and four laps later past Lewis Hamilton and into the lead.
Alonso timed his first stop on lap six perfectly, and despite dropping to tenth made the places back with well executed passes as teammate Felipe Massa suffered after staying out a lap longer.
From then on, it was a case of nursing his tyres for long enough which he managed for longer than his rivals on his second and third stops to have enough in the bank for his final stop. A ten second margin of victory on one of the toughest tests of tyres so far this season proved Alonso as not only a silky smooth driver but also a master tactician. As his post race interview with BBC Sport showed, his first win of the season meant a lot.
Reigning in Spain
It made him race favourite for the grip-less Bahrain, but from another strong third on the grid, his race was scuppered by a DRS problem that relegated him to the back of the field as he twice pitted in an attempt to get his stuck open rear wing fixed.
An eighth place finish was again testimony to his fighting qualities and excellent temperament in the face of adversity. In Spain, it all came together again as buoyed by a partisan home crowd Alonso produced a memorable victory, winning by nine seconds in a race again dominated by tyre conservation and sound strategy. Talking to BBC Sport after the race, Alonso could barely contain his joy at one of his finest career victories.
Alonso bemoaned a lack of pace in Monaco but also admitted he wanted to steer clear of incidents around the tight confines in order to maximise his points chances, but he was back on the pace in Canada, a fine second place finish from sixth on the grid meaning he stayed in touch with Vettel, albeit 36 points behind.
Third at Silverstone was thanks largely to the retirements of Hamilton and Vettel, but more importantly was the fact that Alonso’s lightning fast reactions allowed him to come away unscathed when Sergio Perez’s right rear tyre exploded in front of his Ferrari sending rubber and metal inches away from his cockpit.
Fourth and fifth place finishes in Germany and Hungary respectively means that Alonso is third in the standings, a point behind second placed Kimi Raikkonen. That the Spaniard is showing signs of discontent at being 39 points behind Vettel with half the season remaining having wrestled every bit out of his Ferrari shows exactly how much he wants it.
Will Fernando Alonso win his third drivers' world title with Ferrari?
Whether or not he wants it with Ferrari is a different matter, and although I don’t see him doing it this year, he must surely stay put and join the three-time greats wearing those famous red overalls.
Fernando’s midseason marks:
Race craft: 9/10
Summary: My driver of the year so far. That he’s been so good in such a car and is still frustrated must be frightening for the competition.
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