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Alonso showed his class hasn't faded an ounce

Last updated on: March 27, 2012 17:23 IST

Minardi scored one point between 1996-2001

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Raja Sen
Last Sunday's Malaysian GP, says Raja Sen, was all about a master driver outclassing the field with a bad car.

Back in the day, as a sprightly Minardi driver, Fernando Alonso Diaz went to the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix, qualified 18th and finished out of the points, in 11th place. An unspectacular sounding statistic, yes, but consider how much of a write-off the measly-budgeted Minardi team was back then, armed with a dog of a car and scoring one point between 1996 and 2001.

What Alonso did at Suzuka, however, was to rattle off a raceful of laps faster than that car should ever have gone, a wonderfully pointless but immensely demonstrative feat his team boss famously described as "53 laps of qualifying". Alonso was twenty.

It was something Renault mechanics begrudgingly complained about when Alonso was picked up by them immediately after, his unnatural ability to camouflage a car's merits by wringing out top-rung lap times from beastly machines. In Alonso's hands, both fine car and hound went the distance, the driver feathering throttle and often outbraking himself to ensure a stunning performance almost regardless of the car given.

The reason mechanics complained was because they felt helpless to improve on the engine without sufficient driver feedback, and Alonso's instinctive supremacy let him shove an undeserving car up the timesheets while barely helping the developmental programme. Or his teammates.


Image: Fernando Alonso with Minardi in 2001
Photographs: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

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At Renault, Alonso ended Schumi's five-year winning streak

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That peculiar complaint, valid despite being masked in admiration, went some way to distance the Spaniard -- soon the golden boy of motorsport -- from his team. He ended Michael Schumacher's legendary five-year run from 2000-2004 by winning titles for Renault in 2005 and 2006, but all was not champagne-soaked applause.

In 2006, when his campaign seemed to be falling to pieces, he accused Renault of intentionally sabotaging his cause and compared himself to a lonely Tour De France cyclist. Bridges were burnt as he left Flavio Briatore's outfit and joined McLaren, where, with Lewis Hamilton at his side, he realised the universe didn't revolve around him. Fernando Alonso, the Michael-beating Spaniard midway between writing his own legend, was soundly trounced by his teammate. By a rookie!

That was five years ago. In the interim, and Fernando quit McLaren, went back to Renault and had a significantly unspectacular time there, besides being a part of the infamous Crashgate saga in 2009 -- the only 'fixed' race in Formula One history was manipulated thus to ensure an Alonso victory.


Image: Fernando Alonso at Renault
Photographs: Mark Thompson / Getty Images

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He's played the team game

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Meanwhile, in a car incapable of challenging for the top step, the whingeing continued. A dismissive driver eager to shove the blame onto others he considered less 'special,' Alonso wasn't the most popular man on the grid. And, yet, as Kimi Raikkonen picked up his World Championship for Ferrari and looked content to eat ice-cream instead of defending his crown, the red overalls beckoned.

Any Ferrari fan will attest to the sacrilege of first seeing the Spaniard in scarlet. The tifosi loathed him, as a crybaby, as a poor sport, and as a man they had rooted hatefully against. Back in 2006, Fernando Alonso voodoo dolls were a popular weekend accessory in the red stands at the season finale in Brazil. And yet here we were, with Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes and Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari. And stranger still, the first unholy pictures of Alonso in red showed The Incredible Sulk actually grinning.

And what initially looked like a massive PR-exercise to ingratiate himself with the legions of scarlet supporters across the planet, to win them over after being on the other side looked to be for real. His uncharacteristically generous statements in support of other drivers weren't mind games or snide jabs any more. He's played the team game and has since established himself in as Ferrariesque a mode as can be, even if they haven't quite repaid the favour and instead given him not just bad cars, but, as of this year, truly bad ones which happen also to be unsightly.

Image: Fernando Alonso celebrates on the podium after winning the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday
Photographs: Mark Thompson / Getty Images

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Alonso showed his class hasn't faded an ounce

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The F2012 is a scarlet-snouted mongrel often endangered by Williams pursuers and not in the same league as a Sauber. McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Renault all look comfortably faster. On Sunday in Malaysia, the rain came down hard enough to give it a fighting chance, but it took a master driver to outclass the field with a bad car, lapping three to five seconds a lap faster than his teammate in the same car. 22-year-old Sergio Perez was the race's sensation, a youngster in the running for red overalls himself, but there's absolutely no shame in losing to Fernando Alonso, driving as breathtakingly spot-on as he did on Sunday.

Without a storm to help, Alonso might not even win another race in all of 2012, but Sunday showed us his class hasn't faded an ounce. As soon as Ferrari give him even half-capable wheels, a grid full of world-champions will feel a chill run down their collective spine.

Or perhaps, given his career trajectory, he and Raikkonen should trade teams and make everyone happier.

Image: Fernando Alonso celebrates on the podium after winning the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday
Photographs: Mark Thompson / Getty Images

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