Alonso's 'competitive paranoia' fuels his fight against stewards – MPH


Fernando Alonso's one-man war against the stewards has built up throughout the season, spilling over in Sochi and Austin – but, as Mark Hughes writes, this apparent campaign for on-track justice makes him who he is


Fernando Alonso is in an interesting place in his comeback season. He’s now operating at a consistently high level at or something close to his vintage years. But his Alpine is little more than a midfield contender and for Alonso at 40 years old, time is ticking by. A lot hangs on how effectively the team can take advantage of the new regulations and Alonso, now firing on all cylinders, seems to be in a reflective state of mind, pondering on what might have been.

“I should have left Formula 1 earlier,” he said recently to L’Equipe. “It’s easy to say now, but I shouldn’t have waited until 2018. I should have left in 2015 or ‘16, two years earlier, to try Dakar and endurance. I already had it in mind in 2015, but it took a while to mature. Maybe too long.”

That way, he could have been back on the F1 trail two or three years earlier and wouldn’t be so up against biology’s ticking clock. But there’s no doubting his competitive motivation. His one-man crusade about track limits at the first corner of the race is just one manifestation of that.

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Alonso was peeved by Gasly and Leclerc going off-track at Turn 1 in Styria, even if they did ultimately clash

It seems to have been initiated for him at Turn 1 of the Styrian Grand Prix when both Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc had all four wheels beyond the white line as they passed the Alpine.

As it turned out, Gasly and Leclerc clashed two turns later and ruined their own races, but that wasn’t the point as far as Fernando was concerned. He felt that he wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with what they’d done and his ire was only intensified a week later at the same venue when it was Daniel Ricciardo who took advantage of the first corner lenience. He feels his own scrupulous respecting of the track limit lines has been unfairly penalised.

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At the British Grand Prix sprint race he was brilliant on the first lap, vaulting from 11th to fifth and afterwards he made reference to remaining ‘on the dark side’. It was a curious comment, but when he later explained further, it was about him still being sore about those Austrian starts and about his reputation as the bad guy.

“I’ve been always clean driver,” he said, “and I will remain a clean driver for all my career. I think I’m one of the few ones that I don’t have any points on the license. But what I referred to yesterday is that I felt a little bit like an idiot in Austria by respecting the rules. And we try to speak with the race director, and we try always to say or blame all the things that the people were doing with not many answers. That was strange.”

One can only imagine the steady barrage of pointed Alonso questions to race director Michael Masi. The unofficial policy has always been that with things so crowded on the first lap, a blind eye will be turned to most infractions – so long as the driver is clearly not deliberately taking the mick.

“So, I don’t want to be blaming or I don’t want to be crying every race for something that the others do,” he continued. “The strategy in the first races didn’t have any solutions, or didn’t bring us any solution. So we understood that the solution is to do what the others are doing. That’s the only thing we can do.” Except he didn’t. Not until Sochi several races later. It was as if he’d been looking for the perfect first corner track layout to make his point.

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Alonso makes his point in Sochi by not even attempting to go for the corner, instead heading for the run-off

There, he blatantly challenged that first lap blind eye convention. On the formation lap he very deliberately drove through the Turn 2 run-off, as if advertising what he was about to do on the first lap of the race. Which he then proceeded to do. There was no penalty, and it was almost as if it would have been too inflammable to have applied one. Besides, Alonso didn’t actually make up a place in his move, taking care to rejoin where he’d been.

When asked about it in the following race, he was delighted, feeling just the fact that he was being questioned proved his point. “It was to see the questions I’d get here in Istanbul,” he said, “just to confirm when I do things they have a different behaviour, and a different repercussion on the following event.

“So now, maybe they change the run-off area in lap one in the first couple of corners. I’ve been the idiot on-track for most of the championship while I’ve been overtaken from the outside of the asphalt by many people for the first couple of races.”

“I have always tried to fight against injustices. That is not new, it was the same in the past. There have always been inconsistencies based on nationalities, either with penalties or enforcement of a rule. I remember when I was fighting for the title with Red Bull, we knew they had a very flexible front wing and they won five or six races before it was banned. I lost the championship in 2012 by three points.”

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Alonso was once more at odds with the stewards in Austin in his Alfa Romeo skirmishes

It’s an oddly combative stance, but it’s part of him. Alonso has always carried a certain competitive paranoia; it has even fuelled some of his best performances. Would he really be treated any differently to the others if it had been him going beyond those lines? Who knows, but that feeling of persecution seems to fuel his motivation, as if succeeding against his perceived odds gives him extra pleasure. It’s a trait which be seen sometimes in Lewis Hamilton – and which years ago was epitomised by Nigel Mansell.

But he still has greatness in him. It would be no surprise to see him pull off something special at the next race, in Mexico, given how well-suited the Renault power unit is to the extreme altitude there. His motivation is running sky-high and his having several points to prove to the unappreciative world dovetails well with that one-off Renault advantage. Note, he took a new power unit in Austin and the grid penalty it entailed, so arrives in Mexico fully armed with the best possible stock of ammunition.