Fernando Alonso has a happy knack of attracting controversy.
After going into the final race of the 2010 Formula 1 season leading the championship and in an almost unassailable position, Alonso and Ferrari conspired to do exactly what was necessary to ensure that the missed out on the championship and allow Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull to claim an unlikely victory.
Exactly how they managed to do this will be a lesson for all teams.
Instead of focusing on winning the race, Ferrari and Alonso played it safe by choosing to pit to cover a desperate move pulled by Mark Webber—who Ferrari assumed was their only rival—in an effort to overcome a terrible qualifying effort.
History tells us that this move was spectacularly unsuccessful, bringing Alonso out behind traffic that had already completed their pit stops, most notably the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
For 40 laps, Alonso languished behind the Russian, not only showing an inability to pass what has proven to be a slower car, but also an unwillingness to take a risk in pursuit of the championship. You could count on one hand the amount of serious overtaking moves that he attempted in that 40-lap stretch.
There is no doubt that the Abu Dhabi track—a typical Hermann Tilke effort—is difficult to overtake on, but if you can't overtake, you don't deserve the championship.
When the race ended and Vettel had secured the championship, Alonso pulled alongside Petrov’s car and gesticulated aggressively—seemingly giving the impression that Petrov should have pulled over and let him past. It was an ugly and unnecessary end to what had otherwise been a spectacular season for the Spaniard.
It seems that Alonso was not the only one upset by his inability to pass Petrov. Alonso fans have bombarded Petrov’s Facebook page with abuse, accusing him of deliberately blocking Alonso throughout the race.
Alonso has defended his fans, claiming that they were probably upset by Petrov’s comments in the aftermath of the race when, in a post-race interview, Petrov is reported to have accused Alonso of having “bad manners" and a “bad education” in response to Alonso’s gestures.
After defending his fans, Alonso went on to laud his season, boasting that he was particularly pleased with how he had dominated his teammate throughout the season.
If you were to judge by the year-end points tally, his claim would seem to have some credence, but if you were to look a little more closely at the season, a slightly different picture emerges.
After the first seven races of the season, the two drivers were separated by only 11 points, and that included the result in China where Alonso ran Felipe Massa off the road in an effort to get into the pits before him.
The manoeuvre, and subsequent queuing in pit lane, probably cost Massa five places, which would have had the two drivers on almost identical points.
Massa then missed out on points in the next three races due to damage and punctures before the infamous German Grand Prix, during which Massa was forced to allow his “faster” teammate to pass.
After that, Massa was clearly disillusioned and his performance reflected his unhappiness—not to mention that his No. 2 driver status saw his teammate receive preferential treatment.
There is no doubt that Alonso had a terrific season. His resurrection of Ferrari’s title hopes after the British Grand Prix was remarkable, but his performance was, in part, the result of him being a clearly preferred driver with a compliant teammate, racing against teams with two drivers who were fighting for championship points.
Maybe a little bit of humility might be in order.