Before a race he has only won once – the Hungarian Grand Prix – it seems Fernando Alonso is not happy with the state of Formula One, but a relative lack of success at the Hungaroring is the least of his concerns.
Before a race he has only won once – the Hungarian Grand Prix – it seems Fernando Alonso is not happy with the state of Formula One, but a relative lack of success at the Hungaroring is the least of his concerns. The Spaniard’s latest expression of distaste comes via an interview with Autosprint magazine, in which he bemoans the current direction of the sport, the cars and even the dearth of a physical challenge, before, now somewhat inevitably, making come hither eyes at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indy 500.
The cars, he argued, could not be driven to their limits due to the tyres overheating and losing grip, while pushing the engines forced them over consumption parameters. “To be quick in today’s F1, you must not attack too much, that’s the secret, but that’s something against a driver’s instincts,” he said. “These days, F1 is in a time of highs and lows, for several things the series’ direction isn’t clear.”
This formula, he continued, was not even truly testing drivers’ stamina. “Before, after 10 laps you had to have a two-hour massage, while now you can drive 150 laps and barely sweat by the end,” he said. “Current cars aren’t as pleasing to drive compared to other periods, when the technical rule book was different. This situation doesn’t make me too happy.”
Seasoned Alonso watchers will find little new in this. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a period when he has actually been happy since his two world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006. The turbulent year alongside Lewis Hamilton was next, followed by two more years in a relatively uncompetitive Renault before the much-heralded signing to Ferrari. A revitalised and successful partnership was expected for both driver and team. The former did initially occur, with five wins for the Scuderia in his first season in 2010, but the latter singularly failed to materialise and there were no victories in his final season, 2014, before the relationship fell apart and he returned to McLaren.
But this was not, of course, the McLaren of 2007. Now the team were starting with the new Honda power unit and were seriously off the pace, a situation that is improving only slowly. And it is clearly not one Alonso is happy with, as his calls to end races early because trawling round at the back of the midfield is proving to be as unedifying for him to take part in as it is for fans of McLaren to watch. None of which is a good recipe for any driver, let alone one who knows he is in the latter part of his career, fully aware that he is one of the best drivers of his generation and yet one who still only has two world championships. Well known to be demanding and with a reputation for toy ejection, attempting to manage him under these circumstances must be quite the task at McLaren.
His contract with the team lasts until the end of the 2017 season and he suggested that should the sport not improve to his liking that he might go elsewhere. “If I see F1 carries on going in a different direction compared to what I knew and loved in the recent past, at that point I could consider other alternatives and leave F1,” he said. Which is reasonable enough but it is worth considering the subtext to all this.
Firstly, Alonso repeatedly backs his team publicly. His pronouncements on optimism for the future and how united and confident McLaren and Honda are behind the scenes are many and varied. In this sense, at least, Ron Dennis still has him firmly on the leash. To an extent then, venting his frustration at the sport as a whole is the main way he can publicly express his unhappiness at his position, without pointing the finger at his team.
Secondly, there is the obvious issue that winning drivers, and championship-winning drivers especially, very rarely find any fault with a formula in which they are successful. Alonso is doubtless being honest that he would like to be tested more, that he would like to push more, to attack and to drive on the limit. Would he be making such public announcements were he on top of the table? Few drivers in that position do so (Hamilton, to his credit, is one, recently criticising the 2017 regulation changes for their lack of driver input) and it is hard to imagine an Alonso in the middle of a title fight, allowing his focus to shift onto such broad issues.
There is a point behind the steam coming from his ears and the idea that drivers are managing rather than racing, is not one the sport should promote. But it is more complex than simply giving drivers what they want – which would likely result in a formula where the idea of entertainment comes a very slow last place. The tyres are built as they are to enhance the on-track racing and spectacle, while the engines are hybrids with energy recovery systems at the behest of manufacturers, with an eye on public opinion. There is, as always, more to the sport than pleasing Alonso.
“Many things will change next year, let’s hope the joy of driving will return to be a major factor,” he said. As one of the true greats and still a driver it is a pleasure to watch, let’s hope it does. Or at very least his car becomes quick enough to compete at the front and we will see if the joy returns, regardless of the changes.
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