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Why Alonso still believes he can win the title
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Why Alonso still believes he can win the title
Posted By:   |  22 Apr 2009   |  10:00 am GMT  |  48 comments

Fernando Alonso interests me greatly, as regular readers will know, particularly his pronouncements and predictions. He rarely wastes his breath on hype or pr. He’s focussed on what is possible and regularly achieves it, as he showed at the end of last season when he took sensational wins in Singapore and Japan.

Alonso

Alonso


To see today that he still believes Renault can develop quickly enough for him to have a crack at the title is very interesting.

“It’s still an early stage in the year and already the team has made incredible progress, which gives me the belief that we can still fight for the championship. We will have more updates when we get back to Europe, but at this stage in the year it’s important that we score as many points as possible at each race so we can be in the fight at the end of the season, ” he said this morning in a Renault statement.

Last year Renault started the season with a poor car, the result of some problems and disruptions in the aero department as much as anything else. But boy did they improve the car over the year. Despite having an engine which was clearly not the best, they came up with the right car in the end.

This year they again started poorly, the car was not right in the first tests, but even by the start of the season it was getting closer to the pace and Alonso’s performance in qualifying in China, not just the low fuel final run, but the whole hour, was impressive. Renault had a version of the double diffuser and other updates in China and will have more over the coming races.

Part of his reason for saying this today is to motivate his team, of course, but as I said he’s not given to empty promises and he must realise that with the updates he knows about, he can have a car with which he can challenge. Alonso has never had the best car in F1, but he’s shown consistently that if the car is in the ball park, he knows all the tricks and ruses to win races.

He’s 17 points behind championship leader Jenson Button after three races and will have to rely on the pace of development at Brawn falling away. He reason to believe is, as he said in China, that this season with everything being so new, every update will have an effect on the pecking order, so we will see teams going up and down.

Of the big names from the ‘top teams’ he and Lewis Hamilton are the only ones to have got properly off the mark and he clearly thinks that he can be in the hunt come November. No doubt expecting McLaren, Ferrari and BMW to do likewise. As I said on Sunday, we could end up this season with four or five teams at the front, because of the relative pace they’ve all started at. That is an exciting prospect.

With two rain affected races in a row it’s been hard to pin down the gaps in performance between the top cars. Some are relatively better in qualifying trim than race trim, but hopefully on Sunday we’ll get a good read on how many tenths Renault are behind Brawn and then we’ll know what they have to aim at.

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48 Comments
  1. I think it would be absolutely fantastic for F1 if we end up with 4/5 teams in the running, let’s hope it goes that way.

  2. ade says:

    Fernando’s also fortunate in that he can rely on Piquet to be an effective ‘rear gunner’… oh.

  3. martin says:

    “Alonso has never had the best car in F1, …”
    How about 2007? Clearly McLaren was the car to beat that year, there were other reasons why they lost both titles as we all remember

  4. Veck says:

    I think Fernando is mentally prepared to win with an inferior car due to the experience from last year. He’s very motivated and trusts his team because they showed him they can develop fast last year. The car now is not bad at all, had it not been for the strategy disaster in the last race he would have finished 4 or 5th (even with the spin). I think it was also very nice from Fernando not to blame his team for this mistake. He’s definately maturing in this aspect.

    I think he could be on of the title challengers this year. He definately has the determination for this and if Renault stays competitive for a while it might be enough. Of course this is not going to be easy. Mclaren are going to resurge and Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota are pretty strong. But it’s possible.

  5. Stephen Singh says:

    For sure it is still possible, partly because Renault can devlop a car very quickly, and have won double championships in the past, but also Fernando’s ability behind the car, to constantly get the maximum plus a little bit more out of his Renault. But the key is like he said, to keep getting points on the board until they’re at the level where they feel they can challenge for the win. Malaysia and China were two rain affected races where you would expect someone like Alonso to take advantage of, in a non front running car. However, he ended up off the track in Malaysia (in extremely tough conditions), and spun while chasing Kovalainen in Shanghai, then lost a large amount of time. Both races were key opportunities to score some much needed points, and any more no-scores that he gets could put them out of the championship hunt – it’s not just the Brawns they have to worry about beating them to the championship, it’s a Neway Red Bull, using the same engine as them also.

    Bahrain isn’t the most difficult track on the calendar in terms of circuit layout, (though there always is the sand storms) and with a certain dry race, and loads of run areas, it very much should be the first race of the season with no rain or safety cars to interupt the flow of the race, so hopefully can get a clearer picture of where everyone stands.

  6. Adrian says:

    “He rarely wastes his breath on hype or pr.”

    I think the opposite, whenever Alonso opens his mouth he’s usually got some ulterior PR motive (not necessarily saying a bad thing).

    The present discussion being a case in point:

    “If the diffusers are legal, the Brawns are going to be nearly unreachable for any other team.” (Alonso before the diffuser decision) – obviously trying to give the FIA and Court of Appeal a steer.

    Then after the decision, Alonso goes on about how difficult it will be for the teams to redesign their cars to adopt a DDD, well knowing, presumably, that he’s going to be the first to turn up with one at China.

    Now “he still believes Renault can develop quickly enough for him to have a crack at the title”. Would he have said that before the Court of Appeal decision: of course not.

  7. George says:

    I could see Fernando challenging for wins like the end of last season, but the championship? Not so sure.

    If he does it will rely more on Brawn dropping off than Renault gaining performance I think (although obviously they need to find some to be able to capitalize).

  8. Jason C says:

    I rate Alonso very highly, and if he does win this year’s title it will surely cement his position as one of the greatest ever.

    He also seems to be at the peak of his powers right now, driving superbly.

    Sort of off topic, three races in, what are your thoughts on Kimi staying at Ferrari next year, and Alonso’s possible move?

  9. Eric says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Alonso have the best car at the starts of both his championship winning seasons (2005 & 2006), and he maximised its potential while that was the case? In 2005 the McLaren was faster by the end of the season but Kimi had too many reliability problems to challenge for the title. Alonso drove consistently well, maximising not the fastest car in all the later races. Similarly in 2006, again I feel that the Renault was the superior car at the start of the season only for the Ferrari of Schumacher to be faster by the end.

    I’m not trying to take away from Alonso’s achievements, but I think to say that he never had the best car is a bit of an exaggeration.

  10. John of Woking says:

    Good artical, but Alonso’s comments are laughable, he said he was fighting for the championship last year and look what happened. OK he won two races and drove very well but the Renault was never better than the 3rd best car and the 2 races he won, all the better cars had major problems (pitstops, 1st corner red mist etc).

    You need to drive a car that is consistantly one of the best 2 cars on the grid to win. Renault wont have that this year.

  11. Konstantin says:

    Just another brilliant analysis :-)

  12. LeighJW says:

    I hope that Fernando is correct, it will make for a great season. Imagine five drivers in with a shout at the last race! A dream maybe but possible?

  13. tentonipete says:

    well the renault engine appears to have the performance as red bull have shown so far this season.

  14. Antonis says:

    Nice analysis James, thank you!
    I hope that Alonso indeed has the car to challenge for the championship. If that is that case he could make easy work of Button and co :)

  15. Stevie P says:

    Presumably Alonso feels…

    1, as the traditional protagonists are not up front and stretching their leads in the respective championships…

    and 2, that Renault can develop their car quite quickly (as last year progression throughout the season showed us)

    … that he’s still in with a chance of the Drivers title, provided that the current front runners don’t develop too much… and that Renaults’ new diffuser works accordingly.

    Don’t think the Constructors title is an option though, it takes 2 cars to contribute… and young Nelson just isn’t doing it.

    I love the idea of Brawn, Toyota, Williams, Red Bull etc being “hares” to the “tortoises” of Macca, Ferrari, BMW and Renault.

    As for 4 or 5 teams being in the running… well, yeah, bring it on… :-) It’s what we have all wanted for so long!!!!

    Peace!

  16. Ray C says:

    As good as Alonso is, (Imola ’05 springs to mind). I think it’s fair to say that his Two World Championships were largely due to a (2005) a massive tyre advantage, and (2006) Schumacher thew it away.

    Don’t forget, he also said he could probably match Rossi on a MotoGP bike…….now that’d be good television.

  17. Glen D says:

    Alonso is easily in the top 2-3 best drivers in F1. Yes he may have got a bit petulent when things didn’t go right for him at McLaren but his talent and desire are clear for all to see when he sits behind the wheel of a race car.

    I hope he does get a car worthy of winning races. He is a great driver.

    And a new Renault teamate might help. Piquet is no ‘rear gunner’, well the way ‘rear gunner’ is meant to be anyway.

  18. Finn says:

    In the second half of last season, Alonso outscored everyone else on the grid. If he does the same this year, he will need to be closer to the front runners in the first half of the season if he is to stand a chance of winning the WDC.

  19. Peter says:

    I agree as the points this year will spread on a much larger scale amongst teams compared to last year. No team will have a large gap. Even Ferrari could win with a great updated car and better management.

  20. Darren M says:

    I’m looking forward to Bahrain, but I think the key race will be at Spain. The first European race of the season often sees the teams take up a slightly different order than at the previous fly away races, so Barcelona should give us a good idea of who the serious title contenders will be. But not only that, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the new regulations can produce a remotely interesting Spanish GP for a change… if they can overtake in Spain, hopefully they’ll be able to overtake pretty much anywhere.

  21. koord says:

    I’m not sure what sport you think you were watching in 2005-2007 Allen, but Alonso for sure had the best car in those years. Obviously the car was not the fastest at EVERY race, but why should it be? It doesn’t matter if someone has a car that is a full second faster per lap if that car won’t finish half of the races.

    That’s why I’m kind of surprised by these comments about Alonso never having the best car around because very rarely does the one with the worse car win the championship. In 2007 Ferrari managed to do it, very much due to the rivalry inside the McLaren team.

  22. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    James,

    I vastly disagree that Alonso has “never had the best car” in F1.

    In 2005, the Renault was simply unmatchable in pace for the first three races of the season. Thus, the swept the first three races of the year in poles and victories, with Alonso having wins of 13 seconds and 24 seconds and coming through the field from a 13th place starting position to finish 3rd in Melbourne. It is true that the McLaren achieved superior pace by San Marino, but it certainly had inferior reliability. Thus, when considering the whole package of a car- speed and reliability- the Renault was, on the whole, the best car in F1 in 2005.

    The same is the story in 2006. Their performance advantage over Ferrari wasn’t as great at the beginning as it was over everyone in 2005, but it was still there for the first 3 races. Ferrari caught up to their pace by San Marino, and then after the FIA took away the mass damper system from the Renault, the Ferrari was definitely quicker. However, the Renault was also far more reliable. So once again, the Renault was the best car, all things considered.

    The McLaren was probably equal with the Ferrari for most of 2007, and at times it was the best car. However, Alonso was also bested by Hamilton throughout the year until Hamilton blew it in the last two races.

    Alonso is a great driver: definitely in the elite tier in F1. But to say that he’s somehow this God who won championships without the best car is just rubbish.

  23. Peter says:

    Alonso won’t move to Ferrari unless they shove Massa out as well I bet. Massa would provide some stiff competition for the man who doesn’t like competitive team mates. I would love to see Massa showing Alonso how it’s done at Ferrari. Shame for Felipe that he didn’t get the deserved finishes at Australia and China. If he had then he would have at least got on the podium in one of those races. I think Felipe has driven heroically and better than Alonso in a bad car.

  24. Francisco says:

    Brilliant input James.

    Linking to this, what is your view regarding Alonso?
    Not just as a driver but as a character.

  25. Caan says:

    . Hi James

    I respect your opinions with regards to f1, however after following f1 for over two decades I believe Alonso is a very good driver but not a great yet. You stating that he has never had the best car can not further from the truth. He had the best car in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

    In 2005 the McLaren was faster but very unreliable. Kimi was faster in most races but his car broke down allot. How good a car is, is based on speed and reliability. The Renault was the all round best car that year.

    In 2006 he had a massive car advantage. The Ferrari was not even the second fastest at the beginning of the year. Remember the Ferrari were on the Bridgestone tyres which were far inferior at the time. Half way through the Season the Ferrari Bridgestone package caught up, and after the Mass damper ruling for the final couple of races the Ferrari was quicker. However during the first half the season the Renault and Alonso had a massive advantage. It was amazing how Schumacher came back at the end of a season despite having a far inferior car in the first half of the season and an unreliable one throughout in comparison to the bullet proof Renault.

    In 2007 The McLaren was strong at every race track. The Ferrari was inconsistent.

    Overall I believe Alonso has been very lucky to have had the best all round car for three years. Let’s not forget Hamilton outperformed him several times during the first half 2007 while he got up to speed with the McLaren, although he did dominate Hamilton in the second half the season. He also failed to match Trulli for raw pace while they were teammates, something that never happened to other greats such as Senna and Schumacher.

  26. Joe says:

    Good article James.

    I was wondering what you thought of the possibilities of Lola and Adam Carroll coming to F1 in 2010.
    With Carroll having been a Honda tester for so long, he’s a bit of a Anthony Davidson. Plus Ireland are leading the A1GP championship, so he’s certainly not a bad driver.

  27. jw1980 says:

    I agree with many of the comments above. Alonso had good equipment in 2005/6/7. He is a great driver, probably the best in f1 at present although his margin over Hamilton and Vettel is minimal and both of these drivers have the potential to be greater in due course. I believe that these are the top 3 drivers in f1 today. I am not convinced that Kubica has the ability to join this group, many noted journalists probably got carried away by his performances last year. Raikkonen has the ability but I don’t think we will ever see him at his best again. Massa would be a worthy world champion but in a similar vein to Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, etc.
    On the subject of drivers winning in inferior equipment this is what Hamilton achieved in 2008. The Ferrari was better in half of the races, McLaren for a quarter with the remaining races being too close to call. This was Autosport’s analysis for 2008. Obviously Hamilton benefitted from the fact that he did not have a fully competitive teammate. However, despite of Massa’s problems in Hungary and Singapore he was gifted two wins in France and Belgium.
    I disagree with Caan’s statement. When did Michael Schumacher ever take on a truly great teammate? He was a great driver but Senna was better.

  28. sean says:

    the only way he’s going to catch these guy’s is if his car is on it in the next 2 races.Catching them in the latter part of the season will be to late,they will be able to pottle around in 7th or 8th in the last part of the season as they will have sewn it up by then.

  29. pbyrne says:

    Alonso has been unusually upbeat this year given how slow the car has been for the first couple of races (China excepted). This time last year i remember him saying (rather huffily) that a car never improves dramatically over a season (he obviously never watcched Jordan’s progress back in ’99).

    I think he has a re-newed belief in the team and their ability to turn around their fortunes after the fantastic improvements over the course of last year.

    CONSPIRICY THEORY ALERT: Alonso slagged off the FIA on Fri/Sat for the choice of soft tyres on an abrasive surface. On Sunday the safety car came in almost exactly as Alonso entered the pits – couldn’t have been a worse time.

    Coincidence??? (I’d include a winky smilie if i could!)

  30. PaulL says:

    I can understand people’s criticisms about Alonso’s conduct at McLaren. The public criticisms of the team were probably not the right way to address the problems/difficulties, but I wouldn’t agree that the criticisms themselves were unfounded.
    Alonso left his world championship winning team to join McLaren, he chose them as the team he wanted to win the world championship with.
    I don’t think McLaren “chose” him in quite the same way. Maybe McLaren should have chosen Hamilton alone or Alonso alone, if they had have said to Alonso pre-hand “we’re bringing in our protege, he’s British and has a bond and support with much of the team” Alonso might have said “thanks for the offer, it might serve both our interests if I remain at Renault” though Alonso too should have told the team he wanted to lead them to the championship.

    I think the environment at Renault, with a respect for him as a team leader, a boss who understands Latin drivers, and a technical leader who is calm, level-headed, and intellectual allows Alonso to flourish to his best potential and to achieve the most for the team also. I hope he remains with them for 2010, though Raikkonen’s current form seems abysmal and may vacate that position next year. What is wrong with Raikkonen??

  31. Sam says:

    Hi James,

    I have been following your blogs, which I think, are fantastic. As many people has said before, I think Alonso did have the best package. I guess, it depends what is the meaning of the “best car”, obviously. In 2005 and 2006, I think he had the best overall package through out the season.

    For the first half of both seasons he had the most dominant cars and from the second half of those seasons, he had second fastest and most reliable cars. Current point system allowed him to settle for second and lose two points per race.

    In 2007 he had the most reliable and one of the fastest cars as well. But then if you are talking about a car like Brawn or Williams, yes he didn’t have one of those.

    Anyway thanks for the brilliant blog James and take care.
    Sam

  32. Finn says:

    I think the problem for those people who think Alonso previously had the best car is that they are judging the total performance and putting it down to the car … when, in fact, Alonso did NOT have the best car, but he and the car were the best over all package.

    He drove the car in such a way that people assume he had the best car when he actually didn’t … which is the mark of a truly great driver (but people don’t see that).

  33. jose says:

    I hope alonso is in the fight. But, even though button can be cought, vettel is the one that concerns me. He has the talent, the car, the money, and the team.
    The other pilot with the speed is hamilton, but i am pretty sure he is going to get penalized for the liegate.
    So to tell you the truth in my view the championship is between vettel, alonso and button.

  34. nick says:

    The 2005 started off with Alonso building a massive lead before mclaren got their act together. Renault then went for reliabilty rather than speed to win the champioship.
    Renault proved at the last race of 2005 in China, when they didn’t have to worry about the engine lasting for two races, how dominant their cars were.
    This just goes to show how ridiculous this two race engine rule is and how it limits proper racing.

  35. Dermot Keelan says:

    Similarly in 2006 after Renault were told the mass damper was illegal they were trailing the Ferrari’s on pure pace for the rest of the season.

  36. Peter Freeman says:

    I agree! I think he says stuff all the time that is just twadle!

  37. Francisco says:

    Even though JA mentioned on other post Pat S. knows what he we is doing I am 100% with Veck. The Spanish press does not give much of credit to Renault strategy. Sometimes it seems that Fernando is fighting against the rest and the bad strategy of his team.

    I would like to see the very close championship like last season, and maybe these “no-win” points might become key later on.

    I just hope that Pat get right next time.

  38. jtupeck says:

    Only problem is that by the time there are 4/5 teams running at the front, the title will be mostly decided. I dont see it happening.

  39. Tom says:

    He could definitely beat Schumacher on a MotoGP bike…as well as in Formula 1.

  40. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    Ferrari had an advantage over Renault in Australia. It wasn’t on par with Brawn, Toyota, Williams, or Red Bull, but it was still very quick. Both Massa and Raikkonen were podium contenders.

    Massa would be no competition for Alonso, just as he’s no competition for Raikkonen when Iceman is visibly motivated. Aside from Turkey, Raikkonen was way out of sight of Massa after the French Grand Prix in 2007, when Raikkonen was arguably at his most motivated (and best) in his F1 career.

  41. mingojo says:

    I disagree. I think James is right. Last year his car was a dog and Fernando said it straight away. He seems quite honest and doesn’t do pr stuff.

  42. Montague says:

    Yeah I agree. In 2007 the Mclaren was easily the fastest car at alot of the tracks like Monaco, Monza, Fuji etc. And in 2006 had a rocket for the first half of the year. Remember he scored 84 out of 90 points in the first 9 races. I know a lot of that was down to him as well as the car but talent can only get you so far, that must have been easily the most dominant non Ferrari car of the decade.

    Get your facts right next time James dude.

  43. James Allen says:

    This post has certainly got people going! Alonso, like Hamilton, is a driver who attracts extremes of opinion, it seems.

    Montague, my point is that Alonso has never had a dominant car, always had to fight in a car which had equals. He won by consistency and by savvy on his part and on people like Pat Symonds’. In 2007 the McLaren had its moments, but the Ferrari was the fastest car that year. In 2006, I think if you take another look at the race histories of those races you refer to you’ll see that the Renault was always competitive and reliable and the tactics were always spot on but it was never dominant.

  44. James Allen says:

    Well Adam is well in with Martin Birrane and he has the qualifications for a superlicence (I think…from his GP2 wins) he’s an underrated driver and it would be good to see what he might do. He didn’t get many miles in the Honda, mind!

  45. Sam says:

    “When did Michael Schumacher ever take on a truly great teammate? He was a great driver but Senna was better.”

    Well I don’t know if there was such a thing call “great teammate” for him. Massa had been a match for kimi in 2007. But in 2006, Schumacher was usually half a second faster then Massa with heavier fuel load.

    If I am not wrong, Ferrari did try to get Alonso in their second seat and in fact it was Alonso who turned it down and joined Renault.

    Apparently, In F1, a slow teammate and a fast car is the ideal when it comes to protecting a driver’s stock. Its not hard to imagine that Alonso probably realized that driving along with Schumacher has highest chances of hurting his stock so he refused to join.

    As for Senna better than Schumacher statement, it just an opinion. But in 94, particularly in Brazil, Schumacher was beating Senna who had a car to be fast enough on pole.

  46. Damien of Sydney says:

    Senna was outperformed by Prost in 1989. Senna was also given the latest developments (read a faster car) that Prost did not get if my memory serves me well.

    I agree with the comment for Schumacher though – clearly untouchable and his 7 WDC prove it.

  47. Michel says:

    I don’t think James meant four or five teams with race-winning pace at the end, but that number of teams at the top of the championship standings: Brawn (and perhaps Red Bull?) getting a strong start, but potentially fading away towards the end, with the big teams getting a weak start but closing the points deficit later in the season.

    I’d personally want to see Vettel or Button win the driver’s title, but it will be a mightily awesome season if they have to wrestle with the established teams for it, rather than just fighting each other and the Toyotas. And let’s just forget about Williams already… they really need their KERS, and someone to sort out qualifying and race strategy.

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