Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dear Fernando, Start Cheering On Lewis

Thursday 6th November 2008

Fernando Alonso may have pledged to do all he could to help Felipe Massa win this title but if he wants a third Drivers' Championship of his own he first needs Lewis Hamilton to win again in 2009...

For Fernando Alonso, the red devil is likely to be in the detail. While confirmation that the Spaniard has signed a two-year extension with Renault appears, at first glance, to be a long-term commitment, the likelihood is that his pledge for 2010 will have included that all-important get-out clause, either performance-related or a straightforward buy-out. Alonso is too clever, too ambitious, too good to have not kept his options open.

2009 will thus be a wait-and-see, deliver-or-else type of year. Having won two previous World Championships, Alonso's goal is another. Nothing else will do. Improvement? That's for the also-rans. Fernando is dreaming of a third title and his contract is bound to reflect that demand. If Renault cannot deliver the required machinery then the Spaniard's patience is unlikely to stretch beyond another 12 months.

There is not a single person in the paddock who does not believe that Alonso is not eyeing a move to Ferrari. They make for a natural alliance. And unlike Kimi Raikkonen, Alonso speaks Italian fluently. That Ferrari make championship-winning cars also helps, of course.

Still bitter at his experiences with McLaren last year, Alonso caused a stir last month when he admitted he would help Massa to the title if he could (For such an intelligent man, Alonso displays a remarkably petulant streak whenever he does not enjoy his own way. To paraphrase former team-mate Jarno Trulli, Alonso is a dream when he is a winning, a nightmare when he is not).

Yet, upon reflection, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that, as a return to McLaren is out of the question, Alonso needs Lewis Hamilton to win next season.

Because if either Felipe Massa or Raikkonen win the title, Ferrari will have no reason to change. But if Hamilton delivers back-to-back titles, Ferrari's patience will snap. The team might not be as temperamental as it once was but a second year without the Drivers' Championship after practically monopolising the title for the previous decade will prompt intolerable pressure for change.

Alonso, whose reputation continues to flourish away from F1's top table, and will continue to do so next year in direct competition to the underwhelming Nelson Piquet Jr, will be the obvious - and grateful - solution. There will be other claims, most notably from Robert Kubica and possibly Sebastian Vettel, but who else to be first choice to resurrect Ferrari's challenge to Hamilton than the driver considered to be the best pound-for-pound operator in the sport and one boasting the proven pedigree of two championships?

Having scored more points than any other driver in the final two months of the year, Alonso has reason to be optimistic for next season. "After a difficult start to the season, we have overcome our difficulties and constantly improved our performances," he remarked in explanation for extending his contract. "My back-to-back wins in Singapore and Japan, and my recent second place podium finish in Brazil, have proved how competitive we can be."

Yet the irony is that at the start of next season, Alonso may have cause to regret that improvement. While Renault continued to upgrade the R28, BMW changed focus and, after Robert Kubica's win in Canada, shifted all their development work towards the coming campaign. Likewise Honda, who have essentially spent all of the past nine months concentrating on 2009. As Renault cannot match the budget and resources of either McLaren or Ferrari, or Toyota for that matter, there is cause to suspect that they will be back amongst the midfield in March.

In which case Alonso will be wise to check the small print of his contract - and swallow a bitter pill by cheering on his former nemesis at McLaren...

Pete Gill

Source : Planet F1

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