Fernando Alonso's domination over his team-mates
McLaren Mercedes (2007)
In 2007 Alonso would join McLaren Mercedes which turned out to be one of his worst seasons since coming to Formula 1. He would team up with the then rookie Lewis Hamilton during the season. The atmosphere was totally different in McLaren for Alonso, he no longer had Flavio Briatore as the Team Principal, and the McLaren team didn’t back him as much as Renault would have.
The reason for this may be the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren Team Principle Ron Dennis. These two shared a similar relationship to that of Alonso and Flavio Briatore, Ron Dennis had discovered Lewis when he was young (the famous incident when a young Lewis told Ron Dennis that “I want to race for you one day … I want to race for McLaren”) , and McLaren and Mercedes-Benz had signed him to their Young Driver Support Programme as well. So, McLaren was like an extended family for Lewis, where there was an emotional connect between them.
The 2007 season started well for Alonso with a second place finish in Australia and then a one-two finish for McLaren with Hamilton coming second. But in Bahrain and Spain, he trailed his rookie team mate Hamilton, which gave Hamilton a lead in the driver’s championship.
Alonso came back in the following race in Monaco and won it. Next, Hamilton would win in Canada, following it up with another win in Indianapolis, which was a closely fought battle where Hamilton and Alonso went wheel to wheel. I think it is here that things went out of hand, Alonso never had a team mate who was so competitive (with all due respect to Trulli and Fisichella).
Besides, he didn’t find the kind of support Flavio Briatore would have given him in Ron Dennis. Surely Alonso’s ego must have taken a beating, after all coming from back to back championship wins, he was being pushed to the brink by his rookie team mate who was into his first Formula 1 season.
Finally, things culminated in Hungary where Alonso and Hamilton, tried to spoil the each other’s qualifying session. Hamilton eventually won the race. As the season moved on neither of the drivers were ready to relent, which paved the way for Kimi Raikkonen to win the drivers championship in a dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix, where Alonso finished third and Hamilton finished seventh.
Clearly, any of these three could have won the championship going into the last race of the season, especially when two of the drivers in question are from the same team, but neither of them wanted the other to win and hence Kimi took advantage of the situation and won his first drivers title. After the dreadful season where the relationship between McLaren and Alonso had reached new lows, both the parties agreed to terminate Alonso’s contract. Alonso would then go back to Renault the following season.
Alonso was back to a team where he was clearly the No.1 driver. Nelson Piquet Jr. would partner Alonso for the whole of 2008 season halfway through 2009. Even though Nelson Piquet Jr. was considered a rookie akin to Hamilton, he couldn’t perform at the level that Hamilton did, securing a single podium finish in Germany. Besides, Renault were not competitive enough compared to the 2005 and 2006 season.
So, Alonso continued to beat his team mate each weekend without any fuss. He somehow dragged his Renault to wins in Singapore and Japan to finish the year fifth on 61 points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. finished the year on just 19 points.
Following year was no different as Piquet Jr. toiled, while Alonso’s dominance continued. But Renault was again lagging behind in performance. As a result, Alonso could only manage one podium, in Singapore, and no victories despite qualifying on pole in Hungary.
He finished ninth, scoring 26 points while Piquet Jr. could not score even a single point. The season saw Renault stoop to a new low as they were convicted orchestrating a crash involving Nelson Piquet Jr. in Singapore 2008, which brought out a safety car and handed Alonso the win. The Team Principal Flavio Briatore was also convicted and was banned from F1 (which was later overturned).
In 2010 Alonso replaced Kimi Raikkonen, who was forcefully pushed out of Ferrari (by paying his contract out) to accommodate Alonso. Felipe Massa would be his team mate in Ferrari. 2010 was a year where Massa was making a comeback after his horrific accident during qualifying in Hungary. But something had changed in Massa after the accident, he was never the same again. Gradually as usual, Alonso cemented himself as the No.1 driver in Ferrari.
Massa’s performance was deteriorating further. As was with Renault during 2005 and 2006 seasons, Ferrari built their team around Alonso, strikingly similar to the Schumacher era. Massa was used as a pawn just as Barrichello during the Schumacher era to aid Alonso in his championship pursuit. Ferrari were somewhat successful to an extent as Alonso finished second in the drivers championship in 2010 and 2012 though they didn’t have a competitive car.
After an elaborate look into Alonso’s career, there is no doubt that he is going to end up as one of the greatest drivers to race in Formula 1. But, somewhere I feel that Alonso is a driver who doesn’t want any competition from his team mate. He wants the team to focus their complete attention on him and when the need arises, he expects his team mates to make certain sacrifices for him so that he can finish higher (which currently poor old Massa has to do).
If his team mate doesn’t co-operate, then he tends to loose his focus, a clear example is the 2007 season with McLaren. But we can see similar traits in other world class drivers like Michael Schumacher, who had Rubens Barrichello to aide his championship ambitions, Barrichello was even made to give up his victory in Austrian Grand Prix to Schumacher to enable him to clinch the drivers title ( This incident led FIA to sanction a ban on team orders from 2003, but team orders still exist, albeit in a different form where the No.2 driver is told that his team mate is quicker than him, indirectly informing him to let his team mate pass ).
Coming to the current season, Sebastian Vettel also has shown similar traits where he clearly doesn’t want his team mate to come in his way (The famous Multi 21 incident with Mark Webber during the Malaysian Grand Prix) . May be a true champion does need to be selfish, as these three combined have 12 drivers championships between them! It will certainly be interesting to see how Alonso cops with new team mate Kimi Raikkonen for the 2014 season. Fireworks can be surely expected at Ferrari next year!