Fernando Alonso has had a pretty good year by most objective standards.
Like everyone else, he has been left in the wake of the unstoppable Sebastian Vettel, but is still in strong contention to claim the crown for best of the rest.
That Alonso is at the pointy end of the field will not come as a surprise to most Formula One fans, what is somewhat surprising is that he is doing it in the somewhat substandard Ferrari F150° Italia.
While it would take a brave person to declare any Ferrari—be it road or track—to be a dud, most pundits would agree that the car designated to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification has really failed to impress.
If we apply Jeremy Clarkson’s theory that when Ferrari have a bad F1 car, their road cars are great then the current Ferrari road car must be an absolute cracker.
Despite that, Alonso has carried his scarlet chariot around the track with remarkable consistency and, while he has only secured one victory, he has threatened on a couple of occasions and arguably might have won in Monaco had the race not been red-flagged.
He also pushed very hard in Japan, finishing just over a second behind eventual winner Jenson Button while holding off a charging Vettel.
Of the three leading teams, the 2011 Ferrari is by far the weakest, yet Alonso is within 13 points of second place driver Button.
He is ahead of Lewis Hamilton and, surprisingly, is even eclipsing Mark Webber in the incomparable Red Bull RB7.
None of this, though, is as remarkable as Alonso’s attitude throughout the season.
History tells us that Nando is not the most patient of participants in the pantomime that is F1.
He complained bitterly in 2007 about perceived favouritism being shown to Hamilton by McLaren, even getting. He even managed to have the FIA appoint a special official to ensure that he got fair treatment for the season decider in Brazil.
Strangely, he had a quiet 2008 and 2009 after returning to an uncompetitive Renault, but he suffered quietly until he moved to Ferrari in 2010.
During a great season that saw him leading the championship going into the final race, F1 fans were given the full diva show as Alonso found one thing after another to complain about.
Whether it was being held up by a slow teammate, the shabby treatment at the hands of the stewards in Valencia or being held up by Vitaly Petrov in the championship decider, Alonso complained long and loud to anyone and everyone who would listen.
The 2011 season has seen the return of a mellower, more relaxed Alonso. He had written the season off as early as Round 8 in Valencia and seemed content just to go out to secure race wins and fight for a meaningless second place in the championship.
Hopelessness seems to agree with Alonso. When the pressure was on last year, it proved too much for both him and the team. This year with no pressure at all, he is delivering results beyond what should be expected.
Perhaps if he got to drive a HRT car, we’d see the very best of him.