Frustration follows Fernando Alonso from Ferrari to McLaren

Saddled with an under-performing car once again, the Spaniard also may be seeing age catching up to him in his rear-view mirror as he pursues a third F1 title.

Frustrated at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso is now with a McLaren team that is  struggling mightily, while Ferrari are second on the grid to Mercedes-GP. Juan Medina / Reuters
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The Spanish fans roared and waved their national flag in approval in the final seconds of qualifying at the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday.

That has been a regular sight at the Spanish Grand Prix in past years as the heroics of double world champion Fernando Alonso have thrilled his home supporters.

But the spectators were not cheering Alonso, who has two wins in the race.

This time, when they went wild, Alonso had already been eliminated from qualifying in the second part of the session after going only 13th quickest in his McLaren.

It was the efforts of Carlos Sainz Jr, who put his Toro Rosso fifth on the grid, that thrilled the crowd at Barcelona, with Alonso almost an afterthought as he again put a brave face on another frustrating day.

It was the first time in 33-year-old Alonso’s F1 career, dating back to 2001, that he had a compatriot start ahead of him in his home race, which emphasises the low ebb he is at. Alonso failed to finish Sunday’s 66-lap race because of brake problems, and he and McLaren have not scored a point in 2015 as his British team continue to struggle with an underpowered Honda engine.

It is McLaren’s worst start to a F1 season and it is 38 races since Alonso last won, his longest sequence in F1 without a triumph. That run will continue because McLaren, despite some small signs of progress, are not going to be challenging for victory this season.

It cannot be a help to the emotions of the double world champion that Ferrari, the team he departed last winter for McLaren, have improved their performance considerably and are established as the second-fastest team on the grid behind Mercedes-GP.

McLaren will improve as the season goes on – they have too many resources not to – and they will almost certainly score points before the final race in November at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

But for a man of Alonso’s history, used to winning or challenging for world titles, this is going to be a long year.

The second of his two world titles came in 2006 making this the ninth attempt at winning a third drivers’ championship.

He has had his chances. He missed out in 2007 with McLaren by a point and, in 2010 and 2012, he went close with Ferrari.

Those latter two came because he overachieved in an uncompetitive car as his rivals made mistakes. You have to go back to 2007 for the last time Alonso had a genuine championship-challenging car, when he was in his first spell with McLaren.

His frosty relationship with the team and teammate Lewis Hamilton back then led to a hostile atmosphere. He was released from his contract at the end of that year despite just missing out on the title to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Since then he has had two years at Renault, five at Ferrari and is back at McLaren. Not once has he had the fastest car in the field.

Alonso has long had a reputation for being the best driver in F1 in terms of aligning raw pace with consistency and getting the maximum out of the machinery at his disposal.

But drivers are not interested in reputations. They are only interested in winning, and Alonso has not done much of that of late.

History is also against him as no driver has ever won a world championship with such a long gap between titles.

The only hope for Alonso, who is signed to a two-year deal that commits him to McLaren until the end of 2016, is that his employers and Honda find some form, and quickly.

If not, a frustrating summer being overshadowed by the likes of Sainz Jr lies ahead.

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