So, Fernando Alonso has joined Twitter. First of all, trust me when I say that I’m genuinely happy and excited for all the Ferrari and Alonso fans I know. This is something that’s been way overdue and after seeing Kobayashi-san join Twitter earlier this year, I can appreciate how exciting it is to see your hero become a part of the amazing worldwide community that Twitter has become. However, with that said, I have to be honest with you all. I’m not exactly thrilled about the prospect of Alonsomania running wild on my timeline over the coming season. In fact, I’m really not looking forward to it at all.
But why on Earth don’t you like Godnando, Geoff? He’s so amazing and brilliant and sexy and other superlatives!
Well, this is what I’m about to explain to you all. I should point out that I’m not trying to turn anyone off the guy, I am simply (as the blog title suggests) musing about my own reasons for disliking one of the most heavily supported drivers of all time.
Let’s set one thing straight before we get going, though. Fernando Alonso is one of the best drivers in the world. There is no doubt about that. Before Vettel went Super Saiyan over the winter of 2010-11 and totally obliterated the most talented grid of all time last season, I agreed with many observers that Alonso was undisputedly the best driver in the sport. There’s no doubting his ability in the dry, in the wet, in a race-winning car or a no-hoper and I would genuinely be surprised if he ends his career as just a double world champion. But there are a few occurances over the last few years that have caused me to lose a lot of respect for Fernando Alonso, and I feel it’s only right that I outline them for you all so you know I’m not just being a blind fanboy.
1) The Doornbos Incident
On September 25th 2005, Fernando Alonso crossed a small black and white line in Interlagos, Brazil for the 71st time and in that instant became immortalised as Spain’s first ever Formula 1 world champion. I remember watching that race, thousands of kilometres away in a living room in Dorset and applauding him. As in, actually putting my hands together in respect for the youngest ever world champion, as pointless as that sounds. Finally, a new, exciting young world champion had arrived to dethrone the mighty Schumacher after five consecutive seasons. It was a great moment, and I couldn’t have been happier for him.
Then came 2006. Under pressure from a resurgent Michael Schumacher who had won the previous three races in a row, Alonso arrived at the Hungaroring with his championship lead under threat and a seven-time world champion right behind him carrying some serious momentum. Then in practice, Alonso had one of his hot laps spoiled by Robert Doornbos who was carrying out Friday tester duties in his Red Bull. Rather than doing what any sensible racing driver would’ve done – remembering that it was only practice, maybe waving his hand at Doornbos in annoyance and then carrying on – Alonso decided to weave at Doornbos after passing him, before deliberately blocking him at the apex of the following corner. It was a silly, childish and, above all, dangerous thing for any driver to do – let alone a world champion. As a punishment, two seconds were added to each of Alonso’s fastest times for each qualifying session. It was this incident, the first of what would be many, that caused made me re-evaluate my opinion of Alonso the driver.
2) The McLaren year
After securing his second consecutive world title, Alonso joined McLaren alongside the exciting and inexperienced rookie and reigning GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton. Things started off well, with Fernando taking two wins in the first five Grands Prix. But then Fernando’s plucky young teammate won the very next race in Canada from pole, before snatching a second pole position start in succession the very next Saturday at Indianapolis. Lewis led the field away from the start, with his far more experienced team mate close behind. This shouldn’t really have been happening. A double world champion, being beaten fair and square by a rookie for the second race in a row. But then Alonso found some pace and began putting Lewis under pressure down the main straight heading into Turn 1. Hamilton held firm and showed he wasn’t going to give up his lead too easily. As the pair rounded the famous banking the next time by, Fernando did something that, sadly, was to become a trademark of his. He started moaning.
He drove up to the pit wall and gesticulated in a way that could only be interpreted as ‘why aren’t you telling Lewis to let me through?’. Considering that it was the middle of the season, Lewis was leading the championship, was leading the race on merit and had defended his position the previous lap perfectly legitimately, it was hard to work out what possible reason Alonso had to feel that the team should force Lewis to move over for him. It smacked of ‘I can’t overtake him by myself, but because I’m Fernando Alonso, I shouldn’t have to’. Hamilton won the race, as he deserved to, but that incident set the tone for the childish, bitter conflict that was to undermine both of their seasons.
Flash-forward to Hungary. Still in the middle of the season, but with the team now entangled in the Spygate scandal, it was clear the relationship between the rookie Hamilton and his double-world champion teammate had begun to deteriorate. In the third session of qualifying, Alonso blew his first flying lap by running wide. Angry at what he thought was Hamilton ignoring team orders to let him through before their first lap, Alonso passed Lewis and pitted. With only two and a half minutes remaining, Alonso stopped in the box and was given fresh tyres while Lewis started queueing behind. With 1:48 remaining in the session, Fernando was given the signal to leave the pits for his final run. But he didn’t. He didn’t do anything. Instead, he just sat there. For 10 seconds. By the time he finally got going, he had just enough time to get around a start a new lap. By the time Lewis got new tyres and got out of the pitlane, he hadn’t. Lewis failed to make the line in time while Fernando duly took pole position.
Looking back, this was the critical moment where I lost the majority of my respect for Fernando Alonso. Not only was it another childish and stupid on-track action, it was deliberate sabotage. This was up there with Schumacher’s Rascasse fiasco and Piquet Jr’s deliberate crash at Singapore the following year as one of the worst examples of unsportsmanlike driving and cheating F1 has seen. Alonso was quite rightly criticised for it and was stripped of his pole position, but what angers me most about this incident is that – like Schumacher – Alonso fans are all too quick to forget or justify this embarrassing act of cheating by a man who really should not have had to stoop to such depths to beat a rookie team mate. It wasn’t the act of a champion or a truly admirable driver and it certainly wasn’t the act of someone who I would want to cheer and support.
3) New team, old habits.
After two barren but impressive seasons back at Renault (albeit tainted slightly by the scandal at Singapore 2008) Fernando finally got his dream move to Ferrari. Now it’s well established that I’m not very keen on Ferrari, so having one of my least favourite drivers move to my least favourite team of all time only served to cemented my dislike of the pairing. However, Alonso made the most of his opportunity to fight at the front once again and took a memorable debut victory at the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix, emulating Mansell and Raikkonen. Then came Monaco.
After a mistake in practice put him in the wall and his car out of qualifying, Alonso was faced with the unenviable task of having to start from the very back of the grid at the most difficult Grand Prix to overtake on in Formula 1. Left dicing with the HRTs and the Virgins after the start of the race, Fernando came up behind young Lucas di Grassi and discovered just how hard it is to overtake around Monte Carlo’s narrow streets – even with a more than significant car advantage. After trying and failing to pass the Virgin and even though di Grassi had every right to be where he was and was defending his position in a perfectly legitimate manner, Alonso lost his temper again and started gesticulating to the young Brazilian as if to say ‘why don’t you move out of the way, I’m in a Ferrari?’. While Alonso eventually did pass di Grassi in a brilliant move, the arrogance he showed in getting angry at a fellow competitor for his own failure to pass him was another unfortunate example of Alonso’s sense of entitlement – something that goes against the very idea of racing and Formula 1.
While Monaco was just a forgettable incident, Hockenheim was, sadly, anything but. For the first time in a long time, the Ferraris were fighting for the lead with Massa heading his team mate exactly one year to the day of the accident that almost cost him his life in Hungary. In the middle stint, Alonso was faster than Massa and had closed right up to the Brazilian. Fernando tried a move, Felipe held firm and just like in Indianapolis all those years ago Alonso found himself running second to a team mate he just couldn’t seem to be able to pass. So what did he do? He did an Alonso, of course. Fernando went straight on the radio to Andrea and started hinting that he wanted them to force Massa to move over. And we all know what happened next. While this horrible mess was more an indictment on the team than it was on Fernando himself, the fact remains that the entire situation would never have happened if it weren’t for the fact that, once again, Fernando couldn’t pass someone by himself, spit the dummy about it and tried to get his team to do his job for him. For a double world champion who is supposedly the most ‘complete driver on the grid’, seeing him celebrate such a hollow victory in the knowledge that he had done nothing truly earn it was embarrassing. It was yet more evidence of Fernando’s childish manner and I honestly cannot find it in myself to take joy in seeing a driver who behaves in such a way be both victorious and so widely adored for being so.
And then we come to the final incident that has contributed to me steadily growing dislike of Fernando Alonso – Abu Dhabi 2010. We all know what happened in that race and so I don’t need to recap it for you, but once again it was yet another example of Alonso blaming someone else for his own inability to do his job as a RACING driver and RACE. Yes, it cost him the world championship, so of course he was angry. But that moment, that image of him waving his fists and riding up close to Petrov in an intimidatory manner after the end of the race will stay with me forever. Not because it made me angry, but because it provided me with an large sense of satisfaction in seeing a man who I see idolised by many despite all the evidence of his childish and arrogant character being well and truly humbled not just by a Russian pay-driver but by the newly crowned world champion. The man who took a championship that by every right was Alonso’s and then followed it up with the most dominating performance over a season we’ve seen since the early ’00s. The man who now has just as many driver’s championships as Fernando, who is infinitely more likable and equally skilled and is still dismissed by many Ferrari fanboys as being less than the Mighty Alonso just because he drives a Red Bull.
Again, Fernando Alonso is an amazing driver. It’s because he is so talented that it makes me so angry to see him resort to such silly behaviour sometimes. And he is by no means my least favourite driver. I have a long-standing dislike of Michael Schumacher that is even more intense than my dislike of Alonso for a number of reasons. But it is for all these incidents, all these silly, unfortunate examples of regrettable behaviour that I simply refuse to cheer for Fernando Alonso. I respect his abilities, I wish I could respect the driver.