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The Big Loser
Sunday 2nd December 2012

El Nano, second                           (Pic:Sutton Images)

Fernando Alonso’s relentless pursuit of the world title, even after the Brazilian GP has finished, reminds Dave Jorgensen of El Nano’s darker side

Fernando Alonso has spent a season gaining our admiration for some of the most remorseless driving yet seen in an F1 championship. While his team-mate was floundering with the troublesome F2012, “Tenacious-F” (As Andrew Davies has dubbed him) grabbed the car by the scruff of its neck and scored points.

He could never qualify it that high up the grid but come raceday a combination of supreme racecraft, some blinding starts coupled with dogged determination resulted in a championship lead that many in the pitlane couldn’t quite believe, given that the benchmark car was battling it out with the mid-grid. Now, with the post-race farce of Ferrari asking the FIA to review the footage from the race in order to overturn the result, the Scuderia, pushed by Alonso, have gone too far.

Alonso seemed to have matured as a driver. This version seemed nothing like the paranoid individual who yelled at his own Renault team and accused them of not wanting him to win the title in 2006 because they knew he was off to McLaren in 2007.

The incident happened after the 2006 Chinese GP where Michael Schumacher took control of the drivers’ title race after some botched Renault tyre stops handed him a win and almost promoted Fisichella above Alonso. Alonso accused his team of only wanting to win the constructors’ title and that there were those in the team who didn’t want to see him waltz off with the No.1 to McLaren in 2007.

In the end he calmed down and after Michael Schumacher’s failure in Japan he became World Champion again.

The following season and Alonso thought he’d be walking into a McLaren team where he was a definite No.1 and Lewis Hamilton was No.2 – and expected to be favored. When McLaren turned round and told him that they gave their drivers equal equipment and equal treatment he was not impressed.

This was at the time when McLaren were up to no good and using illegally obtained Ferrari designs via Mike Coughlan (McLaren) and Nigel Stepney (Ferrari). So when Lewis Hamilton annoyed Alonso in qualifying for the Hungarian GP and Alonso retaliated by leaving his car in the pitbox so that Lewis couldn’t get a final qualifying run in and beat his pole time, the relationship between Alonso and team boss Ron Dennis achieved meltdown.

The FIA intervened (quite unfairly because it was an intra-team argument) and pushed Alonso back to sixth on the grid. The points he lost that day ultimately lost him the World Championship. On the morning of the Hungarian race Alonso allegedly threatened to go to the FIA with evidence of Spygate unless he got his own way, so Dennis then phoned FIA president Max Mosley himself.

At the subsequent FIA inquiry in Paris Dennis revealed that Alonso had deliberately not attended the Paris hearing, even though the Spaniard had been asked to by the team.

Then there was the Singapore sling of Nelson Piquet Junior in 2008, when Nelsinho deliberately threw his car into the barrier to bring out a Safety Car so that Alonso could win the race. The Renault team had pitted Alonso improbably early and under the old Safety Car rules the Spaniard was able to get into the lead afterwards and stay there for the rest of the race. Flavio Briatore was banned for life when the scam was revealed, technical director Pat Symmonds was exiled, Nelson Piquet Jr became persona no grata in the paddock, but there are many in the pitlane who believe Alonso must have been in on the conspiracy.

Fast forward to this season and the moment Sebastian Vettel overtakes Alonso in the drivers title race the Ferrari press team give a briefing to the BBC that Vettel has reached an agreement to drive for them from 2014. Vettel denies it fiercely and has to issue strenuous denials to his team and his fans.

After the race in Brazil last Sunday Vettel revealed that he was proud to have won the title without resorting to ‘dirty tricks’ which was a reference to that particular piece of gamesmanship. Judging how mentally unhinged Alonso sounded after the Chinese GP in 2006, when Schumacher took over the lead of the championship, you even have to wonder if Alonso encouraged the release of that piece of dis-information.

The clutching at straws represented by Ferrari (backed by Alonso who tweeted about rules being enforced) studying Vettel’s whole race to see if he made a mistake that could gain him a penalty is a sad reflection on the psyche of someone who we admire for not giving up, but who needs to know when to give up. There is a thin line between absolute determination and raving obsession and in pursuing the title victory after it’s been well and truly lost, Fernando’s showing us an unhealthy aspect of his personality that doesn’t seem to have matured as well as the public image.

In 2007 there was a big controversy after the Brazil race that Kimi Raikkonen won (Massa handed him the win) because many of the teams were using illegally cooled fuel. This wasn’t spotted by McLaren but actually brought to the attention of the FIA by technical delegate Jo Bauer. Cars that had finished in front of Lewis Hamilton could very well have been disqualified making him World Champion not Raikkonen.

After the 2007 race Fernando went on Spanish radio and said that it was stupid that McLaren were trying to pursue a challenge to the race result and that if they changed the World Champion now it would be a “joke”. And in this case McLaren were going on information supplied by an FIA official, not on claims brought up by evidence they’d dug up.

We had an epic 2012 racing season, with an amazing finale and a miraculous finish for Vettel. Alonso along with Stefano Domenicali had won plaudits for their unceasing struggle against faster cars and a wind tunnel that wasn’t calibrated properly. They took the prize for being gallant losers. Not any more. Strike the word gallant.

Dave Jorgensen