Fernando Alonso is a divisive figure. There can be no doubt that he is a great racing driver and a deserving champion. Few would argue that if he had managed to win the title this season that he would not have earned it. In fact, most would probably argue that 2012 was his best season yet; an opinion echoed by the man himself.
Ferrari’s recent request for ‘clarification’ as to whether Vettel made an illegal overtake in the title deciding race in Brazil has tongues wagging. It’s the usual drill. Everybody is accusing Ferrari of dodgy tactics and of trying to win the title in an underhanded fashion. Personally, I think Ferrari were not only well within their rights to ask the question but, more than that, I think it needed to be clarified. I was watching the Sky footage and they made a big fuss about the incident. They could not be sure and I would suspect that that was the same for most, if not all of the coverage. Because of this, message boards and the like after the race were full of people suggesting that Vettel had won the title unfairly. In my opinion, the FIA should take the blame for this. They should have come out as soon as the question was raised and told the fans that nothing untoward had occurred. They did not do this and had Ferrari NOT asked for clarification, then this question would have rumbled on and would have hung over Vettel’s third world title for the rest of his career. I do not believe that Ferrari thought they would gain anything from their request for clarification. I think it was a necessary course to take. Had Vettel’s pass been illegal then he would have broken the rules and would have taken the punishment. However, his pass was legal and no damage is done.
With that out of the way I shall turn back to Alonso. Further than blaming Ferrari, it seems that people wish to believe that it was Alonso himself that encouraged Ferrari’s request. Whether this was the case or not does not really change anything that I have said above. But the idea does seem to have reignited the debate over Alonso’s character. It is a shame, for his performance this season seemed to have done a huge amount to repair his relationship with a lot of Formula 1 fans. I am one of those people.
I will make no secret of the fact that Michael Schumacher is my hero and that I was incredibly emotionally invested while he was racing. Therefore, when Alonso started to challenge him, all of my negative feeling turned towards the Spaniard. I accept that this was irrational on my behalf but that is just the way it was for me back then. When Schumacher retired I was prepared to feel more kindness towards Fernando who was clearly very talented, but then a couple of things happened. First, his failed move to McLaren to partner Lewis Hamilton. That was painful viewing. Fernando Alonso came across terribly throughout the 2007 season. Not only was his rookie teammate more than capable of challenging him but Alonso handled it all with petulance and disrespect. Then there was Singapore 2008; a disgusting moment in the history of the sport. Such things made it impossible for me to support him and to be honest; I was incredibly upset when he signed for Ferrari. I hated the idea of having to support him as part of my team. This season however, not only did he perform brilliantly, but he seemed much more down to earth. There was a huge amount of respect turned towards him, and he seemed to be equally respectful back. I do not think that I am the only one won over by the Spaniard in 2012. So how much damage has he done to this new and improved image of Alonso since the season ended?
Personally, I think people are being too hard on him. As already stated, he and Ferrari had every right to query the yellow flag situation with Vettel. Is he an arse? Probably. Is he arrogant? Most certainly. But he is a great champion and I personally believe that a certain amount of arrogance is to be expected. We want characters in the sport. We don’t want a grid full of PR puppets that always say the right thing and that act like they are everybody’s best friend. We want people to be honest. We want people to believe they are the best and to show it. People will say that Fernando should say nice things about the team more often but let’s face it, he is right. If Ferrari has given hi m a better car, especially at the start of the season, then he would be champion. Formula 1 is a team sport, after all. If Ferrari have a problem with it, then they will do something about it. People will also argue that he should show more respect towards Vettel. I say, why? We could be on course for an epic rivalry between the two. Both of them have a tendency to be petulant when things do not go their way. Both of them believe that they are the best driver on the grid. Why does anybody want them to pretend to like each other? As long as they respect each other on the track, then they can say what they like off it.
Alonso says he is a gladiator and I would say, in the context of the current grid, that he is right. He is also a Narcissist and that is okay. If you don’t like him, fine, but maybe just try and appreciate him while you can. He is a character and Formula 1 would be a duller place without him.
Of course, if something like Singapore 2008 ever happened again, then that would be a different story altogether.