Why Fernando Alonso faces a fight to save his reputation in 2014

Fernando Alonso Ferrari“FERRARI’S SAVIOUR,” was how AUTOSPORT magazine put it, in definitely-not-over-the-top-at-all fashion, across its front cover at the beginning of 2010.

“The partnership that everyone fears,” was F1 Racing’s take on the grand alliance soon after.

Others baptised him as ‘the hope’, cherished him as ‘the leader’ and married them as the ‘unstoppable force’.

Their vows were renewed little more than a year ago when, in the midst of a perfect storm of loss, defeat and cruel luck, they sought solace in one another, surviving solely on the smoky fumes of trust and determination.

No surrender. No rest. We’ll show them next time, once and for all.

2013 was supposed to be the year that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari became what they had always threatened to be. Should the team provide the two-time world champion with a stronger baseline than the shitbox they had the nerve to throw upon him at the beginning of 2012, it was suggested, Alonso would not only be able to fight Sebastian Vettel on even ground, but could claim the title with the type of ease that the Red Bull driver had previously enjoyed.

A fast, red car and the finest driver in the world – fresh from witnessing, digesting and inhaling the sight of Vettel bouncing around parc ferme at Interlagos in celebration of becoming the youngest ever three-time world champion – would be the combination to beat.

Instead, Ferrari’s limp campaign ranks among the most disappointing of the several let-downs of the 2013 season.

A ‘limp campaign’ that still saw Alonso comfortably finish second to Vettel in the drivers’ standings is indicative of just how strong a combination Ferrari and its favourite son have been, yet also highlights the growing frustration over their continuous underachievement.

The first cracks have appeared in the so-called ‘unbreakable bond’ and have only widened as the Prancing Horse, which prides itself as the most legendary, mystic, romantic (as well as the most successful) institution in the sport’s history, and Alonso embark upon something of a cold war, culminating in Ferrari’s signing of Kimi Raikkonen – a decision that, given Alonso’s previous in such a situation, could leave him fighting to save his reputation in 2014.

It is curious that so many expect Alonso to implode, as he did so spectacularly when partnered by Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, when placed alongside Raikkonen next season. After all, the grace with which he accepted defeat at Sao Paulo in 2012 was a far cry from the man who allegedly removed a door from its hinges and battered the living daylights out of a waste bin within the McLaren ‘Brand Centre’ six years ago, or the stroppy git who gestured towards Vitaly Petrov having allowed the title to slip through his fingertips in 2010.

Given that Alonso has tended to lose more often than he has won in recent years – in stark comparison to his career prior to 2007 – you would hope that he will approach the threat posed by Raikkonen with a much calmer, mature, measured approach due to the knowledge that he, unlike with Hamilton in 2007, expects to be challenged by the Finn, a fellow world champion.

If, however, Mr Ferrari performs one of the most remarkable volte-faces in the sport’s history and diverts to McLaren at the end of 2014, Alonso’s public criticism of the team and subsequent flirtation with rival outfits following this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, his mocking of his colleagues via team radio at Monza barely a month later and the very signing of Raikkonen are likely to be recalled as the exact moments when Alonso’s relationship with the hierarchy at Maranello began to deteriorate.

The events of the Malaysian Grand Prix, though, should be considered just as pivotal when assessing where it all went so terribly and unexpectedly wrong.

In instructing Alonso to sail past the pit entry, despite his car sporting a skew-whiff front wing for much of the opening lap after tagging the rear of Vettel’s Red Bull, Ferrari were guilty of being blinded by love, in the hope that their saviour, their team leader, their miracle worker would, as usual, somehow find a way.

Watching their star man tumble clumsily into the gravel trap only seconds later – unable to manipulate the direction of his car with an entire front wing lodged underneath – acted as a realisation to Ferrari that Alonso is indeed human after all, that he couldn’t turn Malaysian rain into victory champagne and that they needn’t be so entirely and pathetically dependent on him.

Most significantly, it was confirmation that, in sport, in Formula One and within Ferrari – as the team’s founder, Enzo, was so often at pains to preach – no individual is bigger than the team.

Image courtesy of Octane Photographic

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