In praise of… Fernando Alonso
A couple of months ago, when I was interviewing Sir Stirling Moss for my next book, he was keen to draw a distinction between those drivers who can simply conduct a car quickly and those who have a special mindset – a sort of heroic indomitability, if you like:
There are very few real racers in the world, as opposed to mere racing drivers. They’re the people who have a ruddy good go. I don’t mean to say that the others aren’t trying, because they are; but they don’t have the mental ability to push to the same extent, to really take it to a higher level. In my day it would be Juan Manuel Fangio, who to my mind was the best driver there has ever been; and Jean Behra was a real racer, too. Today you would say that people such as Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are the real racers.
Lewis Hamilton’s combative drive to sixth position from 20th on the grid in the Malaysian Grand Prix last week demonstrated precisely those qualities, although many observers (including, perhaps, Moss himself) would have frowned upon his abrupt treatment of Vitaly Petrov. For any race fan with a soul, though, the most impressive drive of last weekend ended with a result that will not trouble the statisticians’ figures: 13th place for Fernando Alonso.
Hindered from the off by a recalcitrant gearbox and a clutch that appeared to have turned into chocolate, Alonso just drove around the problem, booting the throttle to persuade each gear to engage. Surely it’s not possible to drive a modern F1 car like this? On Sunday Alonso proved that it is.
There was overtaking, too; while anyone in possession of a laptop, some fingers and enough brain cells to rub together has spent the past few weeks venting spleen on the internet about the lack of passing in F1, when the need arose Alonso just got on with it. And when his engine cried enough he was attacking Jenson Button – for what? Eighth place?
Here is the real weakness of the reliability formula in which each driver has a restricted quota of engines and gearboxes to last the season. A driver taking a more corporate, long-term view of the championship would have coasted back to the garage and parked in the hope that his engine and gearbox could be salvaged.
Not Alonso, though. He was having, in the words of Moss, “A ruddy good go.” He is a real racer, as was the man who gave Alonso’s team its name. At any point in the Malaysian Grand Prix Ferrari could have ordered Alonso to retire. They didn’t; Enzo would never have stood for it…