Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Driver File: Fernando Alonso

This article kicks off a weekly series that details drivers in the Formula One World Championship past and present. It is intended to be informational, but also rendering a little opinion. Given that we are in Spain this weekend, Da Professor Files takes a look at 2-times World Champion Fernando Alonso.

On the weekend of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, one must look at one of the factors that inevitably made a second F1 race in Spain possible, Fernando Alonso. Of course, there are other factors; teams test routinely in Spain and the weather is good. Also, there has been a huge increase in popularity of F1 in Spain. This surge is an effect of the native son of Oviedo, Spain success.

In 2005, Fernando Alonso became the youngest F1 Champion and after defending the title in 2006, he also became the youngest double Champion. In 2007, he became the second F1 driver to score at least 100 points for three consecutive seasons; the other is 7-times F1 World Champion, Michael Schumacher. What makes Fernando Alonso valuable to a team? He is a very quick driver and prides himself on being consistent across the range of conditions and circumstances that a driver may encounter. Also, he is very capable as it relates to a driver's responsibility to car development. This quality has been acknowledged by F1 Insiders. For example, Pierre Dupasquier, former head of Michelin's Competition Department has said of Alonso when Michelin was in F1, "Fernando has always been very precise in his comments. First of all, he has an incredible memory: he can recall the reference numbers of tires used in a test several months previously. He does the first part of the technical analysis for us, making selections. That is a rare quality."

Also, his former Team Principal at McLaren, Ron Dennis has remarked, "It's very obvious that all the guys who drive cars are competent drivers, but until you work with them as individuals, you don't know how much knowledge they have of the car, what makes a car go fast, and how to communicate to the engineers and designers in such a way that you're moving the development of the car in the right direction. He's clearly in a class of his own. It took me immediately back to the experiences I had working with Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. He really knows what he wants, and he's able to explain it to the engineers in such a way that we can give him what he needs."

Nevertheless, over the course of his career, just as Michael Schumacher, Alonso has been bashed for the most trivial of matters. However, he also has been justly criticized for some major lapses in judgment. Alonso's reputation has taken a serious beating particularly in 2007. He came across as a brat at times because his double World Champion status did not give him preferred treatment over his then teammate, rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton. Also, Alonso was implicated in an industrial espionage scandal in which Ferrari information had been leaked to McLaren and Alonso had access and seen the Ferrari data. It had been reported that during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, Alonso attempted to use this knowledge of McLaren spying to blackmail Ron Dennis into giving him the desired preferred status within the McLaren team. Even with this debacle, Alonso finish only 1 point behind Kimi Raikkonen and tied his phenom teammate, Hamilton. Needless to say, Alonso and McLaren parted company at the end of 2007 and he reunited with his old team, Renault.

In 2008, Alonso has put in some championship caliber drives mixed in with some poor performances that may be symptomatic of the Renault package. Still, he is the eternal pragmatist when it comes to his chances and seems measured with his statements. Recently, Alonso remarked to Cadena Ser radio about his chances with Renault in 2009. "Honestly I think it's difficult, because although there are going to be completely new rules. Next year there could be changes, but I've never seen a car that's fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next. It's always step by step. So it's hard to close the gap, whether it's the aerodynamics, the engine, or the tires. Whatever our problems are, we'd have to work very hard to close that gap. But, to be honest, it's going to be difficult to move ahead of them (top teams), and to make a car that will be superior to theirs." I suppose we will gauge Renault's chances if Alonso is driving another car next year or stays put with the team.

Next Da Professor Driver File: the enigmatic, defending F1 World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen.

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