WORDS BY ADAM DICKINSON | IMAGES BY ALPINE
When Fernando Alonso waved goodbye to Formula 1 in 2018 after 17 years in the championship, the BBC ran a special five-part series of articles on the champion entitled ‘The F1 great who couldn’t catch a break’.
They were all fantastic reads, an ode to the man who’d animated F1 perhaps more than any other driver for nearly two decades, crafted by Andrew Benson, one of the smoothest wordsmiths in the paddock and an unashamed 'Fernandophile'.
The series began with the start of Alonso’s McLaren career and finished the end of it, 12 tumultuous seasons later.
Covering spy-gate, crash-gate, the Ferrari championships that never were and his ill-fated decision to return to Woking when usurped at Maranello by Sebastian Vettel, the title did a perfect job of summing up the misfortune that characterised El Matador’s fall from double-world champion.
But three and a half years on, it seems that the more that’s changed the more things have stayed the same - we’re now halfway through the 2022 season and Alonso is inexplicably tenth in the championship, just one place above his finish in 2018.
But rather than dragging an anaemic McLaren to mid-table against all odds, he’s been unable to make the most of an Alpine that’s clearly the fourth fastest car this season.
And instead of dominating his team-mate to the point where a crushed Stoffel Vandoorne has never returned to the cockpit for a grand prix weekend, he sits two places behind Esteban Ocon with barely half the Frenchman’s points tally.
It’d be easy to put this down to an aging driver being past it and if it were any other 40-year-old on the planet then that’d be fair.
But as always with Alonso, the numbers don’t tell the new story, so can the double world champion catch that break - for this season at least?
Bad luck or bad driving?
Some people have the mantra that luck doesn’t really exist in sport, but looking at Alonso’s 2022 campaign, if he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.
In Jeddah he retired from eighth thanks to a fuel pump error, at Imola he again lost a potential top-10 finish after contact from Mick Schumacher that was the closest thing to a backheel it’s possible for an F1 car to do (if you don’t believe that, go back and watch a replay).
He looked like he could be on for pole position in the Australian Grand Prix and would’ve certainly mustered a top four position for Sunday, but this time it was Alpine’s hydraulics that failed Alonso and sent him into the wall at turn 11.
Though he recovered to take the start 24 hours later, Alonso’s wrists were spotted still in bandages nearly two months later at the Monaco Grand Prix, and Alonso explained it was still indeed an effect of the shunt.
“Bones, ligaments, tendons, everything is a mess at the moment,” he told Reuters after the race.
When fully fit and finally given the chance to show his true speed in Canada, the Oviedan qualified with a stunning front row result. But a poor start, badly timed virtual safety car periods and an engine issue meant the 40-year-old slipped back to a disappointing ninth.
And he wasn’t even given the chance to turn a wheel in anger on Saturday in Austria, with an electronics failure ending his sprint race before it had even begun, and turning his Sunday into a fight from the back to a creditable 10th place.
One positive is a key difference from his McLaren days - his mindset.
Even after retirement from the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix left him with a paltry two points from the opening rounds, Alonso refused to be downbeat.
“I remember last year after Imola I had only one point and the season was a little bit rough at that point,” he told reporters.
“Then we ended up high in the championship and quite competitive. So let's see if this year we can do the same.”
And his advantage has to tell at some point. He has a significant qualifying margin of a couple of tenths over Ocon, and has wiped the floor with him whenever it’s been wet (conditions the Frenchman usually excels in), indicating he’s more than comfortable finding the car’s limit without breaking it.
Any driver would hope retiring from over a quarter of their races come the halfway point of the season is an anomaly, so it’s fair to hope for better luck on that front heading the Spaniard’s way too.
Looking ahead provides yet more reason for positivity. Alpine’s brutish engine looks a valuable asset held over McLaren for the next round at their home race, whilst the Alonso’s ‘minimum race time’ approach suits the Circuit Paul Ricard more than most tracks.
Then last race before school’s out for summer takes place in Hungary, arguably the Spaniard’s greatest track.
He holds a freakishly good record at the Hungaroring, having scored points there at every race since 2009.
In both 2015 and 2017 he only scored points at two European races, but still the record remains.
It was also the scene of his most iconic performance from last season, holding Lewis Hamilton’s superior Mercedes behind for 12 laps to seal Ocon’s victory. And it was where he took his first ever F1 win, with Renault in 2003.
The next two rounds couldn’t be set up better for Alonso to hit the heights this season that he’s already shown us he can. So by the time F1 breaks for summer, there’s every reason to believe Alonso’s bad luck will have broken too.
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