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.”