The Formula One drivers’ championship fight has been reinvigorated by Lewis Hamilton’s win on Sunday at the British Grand Prix, moving him to within four points of Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg.
But the second half of the Silverstone race was an anticlimax, in the fight for victory anyway, once Rosberg’s gearbox problems had slowed him when he was leading, with Hamilton winning at a canter despite being able to reduce his pace by a second a lap.
The entertainment in the closing laps came from Fernando Alonso’s vigorous defence of fifth place from Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull Racing car.
The double world champion had forced his way past Vettel, after the German had come out of his second pit stop on cold tyres on Lap 32, with a superb pass around the outside at Copse Corner.
The Red Bull, though, was considerably quicker than the Ferrari, thanks to its stronger aerodynamic grip that meant the flowing corners of Silverstone allowed it to play to its strengths.
For the next 13 laps Vettel was parked on the rear of Alonso’s car, but even with the use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) he was unable to find a way past the Spaniard, who would time and again leave his braking as late as possible and would position his car perfectly in the slow corners to prevent the Red Bull getting a run at him on the exit of the turn.
Vettel would moan on his pit radio of the 2005 and 2006 world champion’s defensive driving, but his complaints were groundless as Alonso did nothing more than give a masterclass in how to keep a faster car behind him.
Eventually Vettel did find a way through with five laps to go to take fifth, and the German pulled six seconds out on Alonso before the finish, such was his speed advantage.
The sad thing for Alonso was that all his effort was for a fight for fifth.
He deserves better than that, but this year is turning into another one of frustration for the 32 year old, whose latest world title in 2006 is beginning to feel like a long time ago.
This year, the Mercedes-GP car is the one to have if you want to be champion. Then, to be competitive, you need a Mercedes engine. If you do not have that, then strong aerodynamic performance, which Red Bull have, is the next best thing.
Ferrari have none of that, which explains why Alonso is facing an eighth fruitless year in his desire to become a triple world champion.
He has gone close with Ferrari before, in 2010 and 2012, but both of those were in spite of the machinery at his disposal, not because of it.
The Italian team have regressed in the past 18 months and are in serious danger of their first winless season in F1 since 1993.
Yet, despite that reality, Alonso has not given up.
You could have been forgiven for thinking he was fighting for victory with Vettel on Sunday, not fifth, considering how vigorous it was. The Ferrari’s pace has ranged this season from being the third quickest in a race to the fifth or sixth fastest, depending on the track.
Other than in Bahrain, where the weakness of the Ferrari engine was highlighted, Alonso has not been outside the top six in a race.
That is great consistency for a man in an average car, who is effectively making up the numbers with no chance of challenging the Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Rosberg at the front.
Alonso’s commitment to giving it his all and maximising every opportunity has highlighted the poor form of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 world champion has freely admitted to struggling to get to grips with the F14 T chassis, and there is no doubt it is not an easy car to drive.
Yet the Finn has been absolutely trounced by Alonso, frankly, to an embarrassing level. While Alonso has only finished outside the top six once in nine races, Raikkonen has not been in the top six once, with three seventh-place finishes all the Finn has had to offer.
In situations where you do not have a race-winning – or even a podium-challenging – car at your disposal, the best measure of your speed is in comparison to your teammate, and Alonso has comfortably put Raikkonen in the shade.
The hope has to be that Alonso has a better car for 2015, as his performances and speed deserve better than to be running around making up the numbers.
Realistically he is likely to remain at Ferrari, given there will be no openings at Red Bull or Mercedes, and Ron Dennis, the man with whom he had such an acrimonious relationship during his season at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007, is back in a senior position at the British team, making it hard to believe that the Spaniard would tolerate a second stint with them.
This means that, for the sixth year at Ferrari, Alonso will have to hope that the Italian team can finally give him a car with a good engine and grip. Given their recent offerings, Alonso, sadly, should not get his hopes up.
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