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Why Fernando Alonso is still a threat in 2018 season?

Dev Tyagi
ANALYST
Feature
598   //    28 Apr 2018, 15:22 IST

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Previews
Fernando Alonso

McLaren's main-man and a lion-hearted competitor in the tumultuous world of Formula 1 is arguably the best current driver on the grid. Lewis Hamilton has said it repeatedly and Vettel in a tight-lipped smile seems to echo Hamilton’s sentiment.

But Fernando Alonso knows that the accolades surrounding him can do no better than only increase expectations fans have of him. 

When you are in the same race featuring Alonso, you don’t simply drive alongside him. You compete for every little corner of space, every nano-second available to undermine his marauding charge.

Naysayers might reckon at 36, ‘El Nino’ is losing the reflexes to compete at the highest stage. But his competitors are aware of the Fernando Alonso threat, in a visibly improved car, fuelled by a better engine output.

While the number on the machine may be the same, the man controlling it and the engine breathing life into it seem to have turned a corner. That is when 17 races still await the attention of globetrotting fans sitting seat-buckled in admiration of one of F1’s favourite sons.

The days of long-suffering thanks to a lackadaisical and hugely underpowered Honda engine are over.

While on some occasions the Honda-powered machinery would break down and limp back haplessly into the pits, on other occasions, it wouldn’t start at all.

This exacerbated the woes of a man who’s so desperately wanted to compete for top honours but was devoid of any chance. Having 10 DNF’s and 1 DNS (did not start) against the name of a former double world champion was akin to a damning blow, severe enough to cause mental trauma. It did little to describe the man who’s as feared as he is respected.

But where the ordinary languish in upsets, the samurais prepare to rise

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2018 has already demonstrated the Spaniard’s will to fight, even if stats don’t exhibit the magnanimity mirrored by Vettel in his SF 71H or Bottas in his W09.

The former double world champion’s car, launched earlier in February, captioned an impressive tag line, perhaps an indication of things to come.

The papaya orange livery read - “Be brave”.

Given how 2018 has begun for Alonso, there hardly seems to be a gap between promise and performance.

However, no mention of the 2018 improvement stemming from MCL 33 could be rendered complete without throwing some light on the inadequacies of the McLaren in 2017. 

Alonso, who then in his Renault-stricken car secured 3-back-to-back DNF’s in the opening 3 races, has for starters already amassed 22 points from just 3 Grand Prix races.

Clawing into action

While doubters may suggest what is in a stack of stat, you understand Alonso’s sizeable improvement when you are reminded that all he managed in a forgetful last season were just 17 points.

Not that the laconic Kimi Raikkonen would care much about points, but that the McLaren’s nose is already sniffing the tail of Kimi’s Ferrari, standing 8 points shy of the Finn- speaks of Alonso’s emergence.

A slimy or incoherent move here and there by either “Mad Max” or any of the cars in the mid-field at the street circuit of Baku may well hand a likely advantage to the Spaniard on Sunday.

But putting aside conjecture, Alonso’s fight-back from obscurity mirrors the man

He got the better of Vettel, getting into the hairpin bend in lap 55 during the closing stages of the Chinese Grand Prix. It was a snubbing; a cold-blooded one of a four-time world champion.

In the opening lap of the season-opener at Melbourne, Carlos Sainz Jr. found car number 14 breathing on his tail as the duo battled heading into a stiff right-hander. Under a heavy braking zone, Fernando Alonso mounted enough pressure on his compatriot to extract a driving error: a heavy lock up upon exiting the challenging turn.

2018 has already mirrored a barraging Fernando Alonso in a reinvigorated car that mirrored the deviousness he exhibited in 2017, when he all but denied championship winner (another 4-time world champion) Lewis Hamilton to claim P9 at Mexico. Challenging a visibly stronger Mercedes albeit in a recalcitrant McLaren, Alonso fought Hamilton who dived into the inside of Turn One, lap 68 and then cut him across as the two approached a chicane. Eventually, as Lewis used higher straight-line speed to get the better of Alonso, the McLaren kept chasing him down with the fight to the checkered flag continuing for 3 laps.

The driver, who it could be said was embittered in having driven what was a hardly drive-able Honda-powered McLaren has since the woes of last season, shown us what he truly capable of. 

A new and improved Fernando Alonso

You can sense it in the way Alonso walks back into the garage upon parking the MCL 33 shining with an orange livery. He sports the calm and composure that stemmed from the sight of a relaxed man who not only set the fastest lap in Hungary, finishing P6 but gave his critics a jaw-dropping rebuttal.

And now, driving in a car that seems to respect the weight of one of F1’s decorated marksman, it seems, a podium or two, or maybe in multiples may just be lurking around the corner. 

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Dev Tyagi
ANALYST
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