Posts Tagged ‘ Fernando Alonso

Why not just make it legal?

Alonso and Massa: Let the sulking begin! Photo by Darren Heath

"Yeah, whatever…" Photo by Darren Heath

In the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s brouhaha over team orders I started writing a blog post entitled The dreary face of orchestration in which I fully intended to lambast the hideousness of it all. I never got around to finishing it; not because I’m a lazy git, but because I got caught up in a whole load of other work*, which gave me pause for sober reflection.

That Formula 1 is a business as well as a sport is a truism we all have to accept, since without the presence of global brands and their cash injections F1 simply wouldn’t be sustainable in its current form. That said, Sunday’s events perfectly illustrate the philosophical chasm that separates the insiders from the fans. Simply put, not one of the business people and team figures I’ve spoken to since Sunday saw anything wrong with what Ferrari did. Conversely, the fans – if you exclude the zealot types who’d have approved of it even if Fernando had run over half the queue for the school bus en route to the chequered flag – were outraged by the sheer cynicism of the manoeuvre.

Alonso passes Massa, and the controversy begins… Photo by Darren Heath

Alonso passes Massa, and the controversy begins… Photo by Darren Heath

From a purely pragmatic point of view, instructing Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso past had its merits. Alonso was 31 points ahead of Massa in the drivers’ championship and 47 behind Lewis Hamilton. Now put your calculators away and close down your spreadsheets. On an F1 pitwall, what matters is what works – now, not next week or next month. It doesn’t matter that Alonso may get run over by a bus (or, heaven forfend, actually be on a private plane that clips a building), thereby eliminating him from the rest of the season and causing Ferrari to rue the day they orchestrated the swap. In the heat of a grand prix, the future is another country. Possible championship permutations that may come about if three hens lay addled eggs? They may as well be in the horoscopes column.

So Ferrari made the choice. We all saw it coming, telegraphed well in advance like a ham-fisted soap opera twist. The FOM TV director knew it, bringing his camera to bear on the moist eyes and thoughtful mien of Rob Smedley as he prepared to push the button and deliver the instruction. This in itself was an act of pure opportunism in a dull grand prix that needed an injection of drama; they must have been whooping and high-fiving in the TV compound as the gift arrived…

The print media greeted it with a curious mix of outrage and glee: fury because most of them are, at heart, fans; joy because it brought something interesting to write about other than tyre degradation. The hunt for quotes began; as usual, Saint Martin of Whitmarsh delivered himself promptly to a microphone, but only to demur rather than condemn. He would, he said, speak privately to Ferrari about the matter, but make no public comment about it.

Joy on the podium – before the British media clamp their teeth round his ankles… Photo by Darren Heath

Joy on the podium – before the British media clamp their teeth round his ankles… Photo by Darren Heath

After all the posturing – including the absurd charade in which everyone from Ferrari continued to pretend that nothing untoward had happened – a number of insiders (Martin Brundle, Ross Brawn, David Coulthard, etc) have come out in support of team orders. Are they mad? Are they stupid? Are they corrupt? No, just so far ‘in’ that they’ve grown out of touch. They fail to appreciate that for the fans – the demographic these people deride for being naïve – Formula 1 is an emotional investment. You don’t choose a favourite team or driver as passionlessly as you might select a new fridge.

By the by, though, I wonder if they have a point. Perhaps teams should be allowed some leeway – not to use one or other of their drivers to block a rival, but at least to give one precedence over another when vital championship points are at stake. If they wish to do this – and if they don’t care what the fans think – then so be it. As my old English teacher, Mrs Lucock, was wont to say about essays handed in late: “It’s your funeral…”

For if teams don’t value your support – why should you give it to them? Invest your emotional capital elsewhere. Let ennui and ambivalence achieve what angry protest cannot.

*checking the facts and dates of a load of 1960s sportscar and non-championship F1 races in the LAT Archive for a future book project, although I had a brief diversion via a 1965 John Bolster article in AUTOSPORT entitled THINGS I HATE! Judging by the contents he hated rather a lot, since you ask..

In praise of… Fernando Alonso

The indefatigable Fernando Alonso. Photo by Darren Heath

The indefatigable Fernando Alonso. Photo by Darren Heath

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…