Formula One fans tend to romanticize the past, as do other sports fans. In Formula One there are names that fans associate with eras, drivers that we think off as being "the greatest ever," men that defined eras of Formula One for the fans and the sports itself men like Senna, Lauda and Stewart.
Well there's one new name to be added to that list Fernando Alonso.
With his masterful win at the Korean Grand Prix, where he was able to benefit from the bad luck of the two Red Bull drivers and take care of his tires in an increasingly dry track as the race went on and other drivers had trouble staying on the track with less and less grip.
In the future, Alonso's win at the inaugural Korean Grand Prix will be mentioned along with Senna's win at 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril with Jackie Stewart's greatest triumph at the Nordschleife in 1968 where he won by more than four minutes in wet conditions with a broken wrist from Graham Hill.
Fernando Alonso is now to be mentioned along with those men as a driver that has defined and changed Formula One in his era, along with Mikka Hakkinen, Alonso is the only driver to be able to stem Schumacher's irresistible dominance at Ferrari. Winning the championship in 2005 and 2006, the latter championship under intense pressure from Schumacher and the Scuderia.
Alonso is currently leading the championship by 11 points from Webber with two races to go. He is two races away from winning his third championship. Three championships would give Alonso as many as drivers that are considered to be the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart and Jack Brabham. That is some fine company to be named along.
Alonso with his win at Korea has tallied his 26th career win, more than both Jim Clark and Niki Lauda with 25, one less than Jackie Stewart at 27. Further, the only drivers with more wins than Fernando Alonso as of today are Stewart (27), Mansell (31), Senna (41), Prost (51) and Schumacher (91).
Alonso is sure to pass at least Mansell if not both Mansell and Senna in the next several years. While I have trouble seeing Alonso with 25 or more wins in his career in order to eclipse Prost's mark.
With 20 pole positions, Alonso is 10th on the all time list tied with Damon Hill. With Jim Clark tied with Alain Prost for third all time pole position with 33 each. Third place on the all time pole positions list is entirely possible. First and Second, Schumacher and Senna with 68 and 65 each are most certainly out of reach for Alonso who is almost 30 years old. But Sebastian Vettel who has 14 pole positions in 60 races, is on a Schumacheresque pace in the pole position department.
Alonso has been the clear successor to Schumacher's throne as the most important driver in Formula One. Almost winning the championship in 2007 with McLaren, then willingly exiling himself to a clearly dysfunctional Renault organization for 2008 and 2009 and as a result wasting two years of his prime.
But now with his status as the unquestioned "No. 1" driver at Ferrari, as Hockenheim showed; and the full power of the Maranello machine behind him Alonso is now the premier driver in the sport. But there are men who will not let that happen.
Every Senna has a Prost, every Stewart has a Fittipaldi, every Schumacher has a Hakkinen. But Who is the Prost to Alonso's Senna or vice versa. As Alonso is always portrayed to be the villain. These are the men who's reputations and legacies will be made on stemming Alonso's rise to immortality. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica are seen to be the main foils to the Spaniard.
Hamilton has already had his personal rivalry with Alonso at McLaren during the 2007 season where Alonso was ultimately portrayed as the villain and Hamilton as the innocent rookie undone by circumstances and the machinations of the wily veteran.
Also, McLaren and Ferrari are natural rivals as it seems most of the past decade's Constructors' Championships were hotly contested between the team from Woking and the Scuderia from Maranello.
Vettel is the calm, cool and collected flying ace of a racing car driver, but he has still much to learn. But when it comes to ultimate qualifying lap speed there have been very few drivers better than Seb even at this young of an age.
As he matures and advances in his knowledge of "race-craft" Vettel will become a rival to Alonso and every single other driver in Formula One. For Vettel is the driver with the most raw skill, if not drive and desire in the entire grid.
Hamilton is "The Natural", Vettel is "The Wunderkind" while Robert Kubica is the people's championship, the hard working driver with a blue collar ethos that is refreshing to see in Formula One. Kubica likes to compete in rallies because he says it makes him a better driver. Kubica is the only Pole in the history of the sport and he had to move to Italy at a young age to even have a chance of becoming a racing car driver.
Kubica was taken in by Peter Sauber and his organization as a young racing car driver, one of the most down to earth and family oriented teams on the entire grid. Peter Sauber and his team has a goal of first and foremost focusing on driver development and the Sauber system has given us Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld among others.
Now he has moved to Renault to be leader on a team that was devastated by Flavio Briatore's delusions and inept management that lead to the "Crashgate" scandal and his expulsion from Formula One.
Kubica is there to make Renault relevant again to bring them back to the days of Alonso and Fisichella and the times of winning Constructors' championships and both Kubica and the team know it will only be done through hard work and perseverance.
Finally, there's one man who's not in Formula One at the moment, who also enjoys rally driving (sadly he's not good at it) who can stop Alonso from achieving immortal glory and can take some of that glory for himself. Kimi Raikkonen.
Formula One fans know Kimi well, he's hard to keep motivated, he has a sense of humour, he has a lot of talent he sometimes chooses to hide it and sometimes it can't help but be seen. As in the entire 2009 season, while Massa, Badoer and Fisichella struggled with the clearly sub-par and unfriendly F60 chassis, Raikkonen was able to take it to victory at Spa-Francorchamps a track where Raikkonen excels.
Also, at the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix where Raikkonen was able to go from 18th on the grid to win the race, another all-time great drive.
All of the drivers above have a claim to be Alonso's natural rival. But the Ice Man is the only one who can be the Senna to Alonso's Prost, a driver who is completely different on the surface but the deeper you delve into it they become more and more similar, two men that can't help be compared, hated and loved for different reasons for doing much the same thing.