Fernando Alonso – Gladiator or Narcissist?

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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.

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My top five ‘moments’ of 2012

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It has been an incredible season. Picking out a comprehensive top five moments would be near on impossible. So, this top five is my PERSONAL preference and this article will be full to the brim of personal bias. These are the five moments that I remember most fondly and the ones that stick out in my memory. It is very likely that your own personal top five will differ greatly from mine and that is okay! Just let me know what your favourite moments were in the comments. No doubt I have forgotten some great ones. Onwards!

In no particular order because that would make an already difficult job that much harder…

Schumacher’s Pole and Podium

I’m putting these two moments together as I don’t think I could get away with having two Schumi moments in my top five. I won’t hide the fact that Schumacher is part of my trinity of sporting heroes (the others being Thierry Henry and Rafael Nadal, in case you were at all interested). My first full season watching Formula 1 was in 1998 and I can hardly put into words the emotions that I would go through when watching a race. I was always desperate for Schumi to win. His talent was supreme and I feel incredibly lucky that I was around in time to witness the majority of his career.

His comeback was not what I would have hoped for overall, but I am still grateful that he did return to race. I believe that 2006 was too soon for him to retire. I am also convinced that he would have won an eighth title had he stayed around for another couple of seasons. The hunger was clearly still there and while only the man himself could confirm this, I do not believe that he was certain he wanted to retire. It is different this time. He is done now and it is clear that he has come to a point where he wants to be done.

So I am incredibly grateful that we got these two moments. The pole position was taken from him due to his penalty but that does not take away the fact that he was the fastest over one lap in qualifying in Valencia. He was certainly not in the best car and he has a good chunk of years over the rest of the field, but he was number one that day and I could not stop smiling. The podium was a lucky one but Schumacher deserved at least one in his comeback, particularly this year. The fact that he was up there alongside Fernando and Kimi was fitting. Schumacher was the legend that those two young pretenders were chasing many years back now. The respect between the three of them was clear. Both Kimi and Fernando seemed incredibly pleased to see Schumacher up there and the cheer that went up when Schumacher lifted his trophy was just incredible. Perhaps Schumacher did not achieve what he had planned in terms of racing with his comeback, but he certainly won a lot more hearts during this second career.

Silverstone 2012

I have to put this one in here simply because ‘I was there.’ It was my fourth time at Silverstone. I attended Friday practice in 2001 with my dad, my brother and my sister. That was the year that the car park was a pool of mud. I sat in the rain all day screaming ‘BUTT, BUTT, BUTTON’ every time the young Brit sped past , and almost exploding with joy anytime I saw a flash of Michael. Then I and my sister had to push the car out of the ‘car park’ (sodden field) while the spinning wheels coated us in a thick layer of mud.

I also attended the race in 2004 with my dad and my brother. That was the day that Michael Schumacher waved at me during the parade lap. This happened, okay? I was draped in Ferrari memorabilia and I was practically hanging over the rail waving like a lunatic. There was hardly anybody else around and he was looking right in my direction. NOBODY WILL TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME. Then he went on to win from sixth on the grid, leaving me more than happy with my first race day experience. The last two years it has just been me and my dad. Alonso’s win in 2011 had me believing that I was Ferrari’s lucky charm and it was looking that way again as Alonso led for a large chunk of the race this year. Then Mark Webber broke my run. Damn you Mark.

It was a great day. Once again the weather played its part, not so much during the race but in terms of the event itself. I was sitting on a hill of sucking mud down at turn 3. My boots were caked in the stuff as was my bag and anything else that dared touch the ground for a split second. No amount of mud would have dampened my spirits though. The atmosphere was as great as ever. It was a shame that the Brits didn’t have a particularly stellar race but Mark Webber was an honorary Brit that day and everybody got right behind him. I felt quite alone in my Ferrari support but it was actually great fun to see how people got behind Webber. The roar that went up when he made his move was incredible and I cannot wait to attend again (hopefully) next year.

‘Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.’

I’ve been a big fan of Kimi Raikkonen ever since his Sauber days. He was incredibly quick despite having very little experience in comparison to most. His time at McLaren was crippled by incredibly poor unreliability and I personally feel that Kimi is very unlucky to have only won the one championship. I was over the moon when he was announced as Michael’s replacement for 2007 and I do not believe he gets enough credit for how strongly he finished that season, resulting in him snatching that championship from the jaws of the McLarens.

Despite the championship win, his time at Ferrari just did not work out and it was a huge blow to F1 when he took the decision to rally instead. Likewise, it was a blessing when he returned. I think he has every chance of going down in history as one of the greats of this sport and he has proven himself again this year. He has been Mr Consistent. As seems to be a common theme with Kimi, he is not getting enough credit for his third place finish in the championship standings. We all know that Lewis Hamilton has been incredibly unlucky this season but that does not detract from what Kimi has achieved. I was so pleased when he got his win and the style in which he took it. His radio responses to his team were incredibly entertaining but so was the way in which he drove. He did not fold under pressure, he is the ice man after all, and he held Alonso off with relative ease until the chequered flag.

Oh what I would have given to be a part of the Lotus celebrations that night…

Interlagos 2012

What is left to say about this race that has not been said?

As it is still fresh in the memory I shall keep this one relatively short but what a race. Many are touting it as one of the greatest races ever. It certainly feels that way in the immediate aftermath. I actually don’t think that there were many great individual performances in there (Button drove a flaw free race and Vettel fought back well but I did not feel that either performance was spectacular) but it was a sporting spectacle. There were incidents from start to finish. The championship swung back and forth as did the battle for 10th spot between Caterham and Marussia. There were crashes, there were spins. There were hairy moments for all involved as the conditions changed and turned. There were stories every way that you looked and once again Interlagos proved why it is essential that it remains the final race of the season. Does this track ever let us down? I don’t think so.

I could hardly sit down while I was watching. I shouted OH MY GOD a number of times. I gasped and I laughed at the insanity of it all. I always enjoy F1 but I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun.

A final word to Felipe Massa. He performs so incredibly well here and his obvious emotion on the podium was a joy to see. That sort of passion, from both driver and fans, is something that F1 should cherish.

Raikkonen on Schumacher at Spa

This was just spectacular. There is not much to say about it when you could just open YouTube and watch it again. There is something magical about Spa and both these two drivers are masters of it. Kimi was the master in this particular moment. He went ahead at the Bus Stop but Schumacher stole it back in the DRS zone as they headed up to Eau Rouge. At the fastest point of the track and one of, if not the, best parts of any track ever, Kimi took the position again with a move that took some serious courage. It was a gasp out loud moment, followed by me standing up in my living room and applauding. Fantastic stuff.

Seriously, go watch it!

There are many more of course. Vettel’s charge to the podium in Abu Dhabi is one I struggled to leave out, for example, as is Lewis’ victory in Austin. Alonso has had many a great performance too. Perez impressed early on in the season, and Maldonado stole that win in Monaco. We were truly spoilt. So what are your top moments of the season? Personal bias is allowed! We all take enjoyment from different things. Keep it friendly and let me know what got you excited in the comments so we can relive the best of 2012!

A Spectacular End to a Spectacular Season

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What an incredible climax to the season. Have we all caught our breath?

Sebastian Vettel is a three time world champion, joining Fangio and Schumacher in having won three in a row. That is illustrious company and anybody that says he does not deserve it is kidding themselves. Of course, had Alonso won the title, he too would have deserved it. Yes, the Red Bull was the stronger car but it certainly was not dominant. Yes, the Ferrari was a dog at the start of the season but after the first chunk of races it really was not all that bad. Alonso has had an incredible season and it is gutting that he leaves Brazil with nothing to show for it. Yet that should not blind people to the fact that Vettel was 40 points off the championship lead at one point. He fought his way back just like he fought his way back in the last two races from the back of the grid. He was incredibly lucky In Brazil that his car survived that first lap shunt, but he has also had his share of bad luck with two alternator failures early in the year. Alonso was unlucky too with two first corner incidents wrecking races in which I am confident he would have finished strongly. But he was also lucky at times, just as he was in Brazil, that cars ahead of him dropped off the track.

So you see there is little point in arguing that one driver deserved it over the other. They were both fantastic and both would have been worthy of the title but there can only be one winner. That winner was Vettel and with five race wins to Alonso’s three, perhaps it is right that the scales tipped his way. Fingers crossed that next season the title race is just as compelling. I am rooting for Alonso. Surely a man can only lose a championship in the last race of the season so many times?

Of course, there were other talking points in the race. You had to feel for Lewis Hamilton when his last race for Mclaren came to a rather unsightly end. It was clearly an emotional weekend for him and the team and it would have been fantastic to see his time with them end with style, just as it began. That was not to be and who knows what is in store for the future. I cannot find it within myself to believe that the Mercedes next season will be a race winning car. Lewis insists that he does not regret his decision to move but I am not sure that I believe him. Still, as long as Lewis keeps his frustration in check then I believe that he can wring some performance out of anything. He is a great driver; perhaps he can do a Schumacher (a la Ferrari) and build the Mercedes team into a dominant force.

Speaking of Schumacher, it was great to see him finish the season well. The car is simply not good enough for him to have done anything truly spectacular but he got the best out of it that he could and was a great deal faster than his team mate. His first two seasons back in the sport were not anything to sing about, apart from the odd race, but he has been strong this season. Yes, Rosberg has a much larger points haul but most of those points came in the first half of the season when the car was more competitive and Michael suffered from a string of unlucky DNF’s. He was still able to compete with these ‘youngsters’ and that is a huge testament to his legend. For a man to race the likes of Senna through to Vettel is something I doubt we will see again and it is heart-warming to see more fans appreciate the ‘old’ man. If anybody suggests that Schumacher has damaged his legacy with this return then I shall roll my eyes and move right on.

There is so much to look forward to for next season. Will Vettel and Alonso slug it out once more? Can Hamilton challenge in the Mercedes despite the new regulations? Will Jenson take heart from his season end victory and lead McLaren to success? How will Perez fare as his team mate? Can Felipe Massa carry this new found confidence into 2013 and compete with the rest? Is there any hope at all for Mark Webber? Can the Iceman lift Lotus to greater heights? I for one cannot wait to see all of these questions answered and I will be following it all right here on this blog. I hope you will all follow along with me!

Up next: My personal top five moments of the season. Why don’t you think about yours?