Fernando Alonso probably hates the well-known scene in the 1950s film On The Waterfront where Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, laments that he “coulda been a contender” if only things had been different.
After staying near or at the top of the Formula One points race, despite driving a car that isn’t a match for his rivals’ equipment, it wouldn’t be reckless to assume the Ferrari driver would find that kind of attitude completely foreign.
Instead, Alonso seized every opportunity that has come his way this year and has made the most of every chance.
Sunday’s German Grand Prix was no different. Alonso used his massive talent to put his car on pole in a rainy qualifying on Saturday, before using his skill and craftiness to keep all challengers behind in the race. In the end, the Spanish driver scored his third win of 2012 in a car that still doesn’t quite match his top rivals, Red Bull and McLaren, in outright pace.
“We were competitive yesterday in wet conditions and today, starting on pole was, I think, the key factor, because it was difficult to overtake. We were maybe not the fastest, but we keep the position,” said Alonso, who turns 31 later this month.
“The car was feeling good on traction and top speed, so it was enough to keep the lead into [the best overtaking area at] Turn 6 and then after that it is not possible to overtake in the last sector, so you try to control the tires and, a little bit, the race.”
The victory kept Alonso at the top of the world championship at the halfway mark of the 20-race season, and he extended his lead over Red Bull driver Mark Webber to 34 points. With two wins, Webber is the only other racer to have taken more than one victory in 2012. Webber’s teammate and reigning two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is third with 110, while Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen is fourth on 98. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton rounds out the top five with 92. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
While Alonso controlled things from the front and only gave up the lead when the field was jumbled during pitstops, it wasn’t an easy win. Late in the race, he battled both the McLaren of Jenson Button and Vettel’s Red Bull as the pair tried to harry the Spaniard into an error.
“I had to push really hard to push Fernando and [hope] he would hurt his tires or make a mistake, and he didn’t,” said second-place finisher Jenson Button, who insisted his car was likely the quickest in dry conditions.
“We wanted a victory – that’s our aim, but I just couldn’t find a way past Fernando and I drove as aggressive as I could to get close to him, but it was a no-go.”
Button crossed the line third behind Vettel, but the German had 20 seconds added to his time after the race for an illegal pass, which knocked the Red Bull driver down to fifth. The penalty promoted Lotus’s Räikkönen to the final podium position of third.
The usually understated Alonso is now insisting his Ferrari racer is much more to his liking, so his rivals will need to prepare for more of the same in the second half of the season.
“I think at the moment the car seems OK in all areas. There are no weak points, as maybe we had at the beginning of the season,” he said.
“We were suffering a little bit on traction and top speed – now, I think that we are OK on that.”
All in all, it shoulda been different. Alonso started the year in a car that looked like a dog at best in pre-season testing, something which had many counting him out of the championship before it started.
Even the two-time world champion admitted things were not great when the car hit the track in pre-season testing.
“We made a very good recovery when you think of where we started in the Jerez test where we were maybe two seconds off the pace. In [the season opener in] Australia, we were 1.6 seconds [off the pace in qualifying],” he said.
“We are very happy with the points that we have achieved in the first half but it means nothing. There are still another 10 races in which we need to improve the car. We need to be consistent and we need to keep finishing all the races.”
Consistency has been one of the keys to Alonso’s success in 2012, with the Ferrari driver scoring points in every race this year. His closest rivals have all gone home empty-handed at least once in 2012. He has six podiums in 10 starts this year and a worst result of ninth.
The steady performance has kept Alonso in the mix and given him the opportunity to pounce when his rivals falter. For example, in last month’s European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia, he pushed hard to keep touch with the two frontrunners and then capitalized when both retired and handed him an emotional win at home.
He also took an unlikely victory in the season’s second race when a downpour gave him the conditions to deliver a magical win in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Not that he needs more incentive to push harder, but Alonso’s next victory will tie him with 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell in fourth overall in career F1 victories. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is first with an incredible 91 victories, followed by Alain Prost at 51. Three-time world champion Ayrton Senna is third with 41.
Alonso’s first chance to equal Mansell comes in a week’s time in the Hungarian Grand Prix. When things get going on the tight and twisty Hungaroring Circuit, Alonso will be simply looking to deliver more of the same.
“In Hungary, we need to make a perfect preparation again, a perfect qualifying, because you can be starting in 12th or 13th if you make a little mistake,” he said.
“So, we need to approach the race in the same way we did the last couple of races, try to maximize what we have in Hungary and hopefully bring in some new parts that can help us in that circuit.”
Should Alonso continue to defy the odds and ultimately take his third championship despite driving in a lesser car for most of 2012, the rest of the F1 field might want to watch a different film: 1976 Oscar winner Rocky.
His rivals just might identify with one of the protagonist’s famous lines: “Who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.”
Don’t blink, you might miss something
Everything happens fast in Formula One, but Jenson Button’s pitcrew took that idea to a whole new level in the German Grand Prix. The 2009 world champion’s McLaren sat stationary for a measly 2.31 seconds in his final pitstop as his crew changed all four tires and sent him on his way.
It was the quickest pitstop in F1 history and most likely the fastest four-tire change ever.
The crew’s lightning speed also allowed Button to leapfrog rival Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull for second. Although Vettel got around the McLaren late in the race, the pass was ruled illegal and Button ended the day second.
Auf wiedersehen Michael?
With Michael Schumacher saying that he’ll decide over the summer whether to re-sign with Mercedes for another season, Sunday’s German Grand Prix may have been his final career F1 race at home.
The 2012 season has been a tough one for the seven-time champion, with retirements in half of his 10 starts so far. While things have improved in the past few races and Schumacher even scored his first pole since he returned from retirement in 2010, he is only 12th overall in the title standings. It is likely that he will again end the season being outscored by his younger teammate Nico Rosberg, who has 76 points to Schumacher’s 29 at the halfway point.
Happy birthday dear Lucas
A little more than 24 hours after Klaus Graf celebrated his 43rd birthday with a third consecutive pole position at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont., his teammate Lucas Luhr went one better, giving himself the 33rd birthday present of an overall win in Sunday’s American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Grand Prix of Mosport.
The pair of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Le Mans Prototype 1 Class drivers used the pretense of their respective birthdays to take their fourth straight victory. Despite a late 20-second stop-and-go penalty for a pitlane violation, the Honda drivers finished 10.965 seconds ahead of the Dyson Racing’s Lola-Mazda driven by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith.
In LMP2, Conquest Endurance’s Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson were victorious, while Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek of Extreme Speed Motorsports eventually took the GT Class win, but only after Flying Lizard Motorsports was disqualified for failing post-race technical inspections.
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