Wednesday 6 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Alonso - not quite stopping yet
F1 isn't the only pursuit with a silly season. Elsewhere however it often refers to something slightly different: unlike F1's equivalent of wild and frenzied speculation about who is going where for the next season in other walks of life it tends to refer to the content of media coverage - as the name suggests often rather silly, speculative coverage - when not much else is happening (political coverage during the summer recess is a good example). But perhaps F1 isn't all that different: it seems that in a situation such as now with the season's main prizes settled and the year in a state of drift to its conclusion - and let's face it, it's been so effectively for a while - many of those commenting on F1 become rather like mountain goats, having to survive on rather meagre sustenance for long periods, possibly tempted to turn whatever they can into something to keep them going.

And so it is with Fernando Alonso: with the latest drivers' championship gone elsewhere and his relationship with Ferrari having shown outward strain, many have said that he's lost some of his motivation. After all, his team mate Felipe Massa's qualified ahead of him in five of the last six rounds, the latest happening at Abu Dhabi when Felipe squeaked into the top ten shoot-out and did so at Fernando's expense, who was left to start in 11th.

Fernando Alonso - almost always the lead Ferrari in races
Photo: Octane Photography
But is too much being read into this? Probably. And it took Christian Horner (I almost said, 'of all people') to restore some sanity to the whole matter: 'Fernando's strength never seems to have been over a single lap' said Horner on Saturday evening after Yas Marina qualifying, 'but Fernando is so strong in the races. He won't be 11th at the end of the race, that's for sure.'

And he wasn't. Showing his habitual tenacity, brainpower and relentless pace he fought his way up to fifth by the end, clearing Massa as he so did. As he always seems to. Perhaps the only notable thing in it all is that some never learn; we've had demonstration plenty of times before that Fernando Alonso is a lot like the baddie in a low budget horror flick: no matter how often you think he's dealt with and it's safe to forget about him, he keeps thrusting back into the picture - complete with an accompanying jarring chord - to strike back.

And Alonso, as Horner indicated, for all of his considerable talents never has been a one-lap specialist. I recall reading that even in his championship years wherein he by common perception had the whip hand on his team mate Giancarlo Fisichella that his qualifying laps were only two tenths of a second faster on average. Instead, Alonso does his best work via his astonishing multi-faceted ability in races - which is just as well as that's when the points and prizes are handed out. To slightly adapt a phrase from the business world, in F1 qualifying is vanity; races are sanity.

And while we can debate Felipe Massa's virtues and vices, he's always had raw pace and by some way of contrast to Alonso has particularly had it over a single lap - one recalls, especially, his demon claiming of pole in Singapore in 2008, won with a time some three-quarters of second under no less than those of Lewis Hamilton and stable mate Kimi Raikkonen next up. And since his departure from Ferrari was confirmed after the Monza weekend Massa has displayed the freedom of the damned, and thus has looked much closer to his best in recent rounds (much as he did late last year wherein it looked like he'd be dropped).

Often the explanations in this most complex of sports can actually be disarmingly simple.

As for Alonso's supposedly diminishing motivation? Well, you probably noticed that after he emerged from his final stop in Sunday's race he kept his loud pedal on full even while clattering over a sequence hefty kerbs - experiencing a 25g impact as he did so which earned him a trip to hospital - to ensure that he cleared Jean-Eric Vergne for position. That doesn't strike me as the behaviour of someone cruising to the season's end.


  1. Just wanted to say, yet another great article. It's always a nice read whatever the subject. Keep up the great work, cheers :)

    1. Thanks very much Seb, very nice of you to say so :)