He might have blamed Ferrari's lack of performance for his failure to do any better than eighth place in last weekend's Turkish Grand Prix – dealing a blow to his world championship chances – but others are starting to question whether the errors and inconsistencies that have blighted Fernando Alonso's F1 2010 challenge so far are really all down to the car and not the driver.
In one of the worst-kept secrets in recent F1 memory, Alonso arrived at the fabled Scuderia
late last year as a double world champion and the driver widely rated as the best in the field – the only man, indeed, to have beaten the record-breaking Michael Schumacher to the laurels. Twice. It was billed as a marriage made in heaven, between the most famous team in the sport's long history – a legend in its own right – and the driver who would go on to deliver the Prancing Horse a whole host of grand prix victories and titles. Thus far, such a forecast has yet to truly materialise.
There has been, from the opening seven races of the season this year, just a sole triumph – in the Bahrain curtain-raiser, and that was only achieved after the pole-sitter and pace-setting Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel ran into difficulties. Since then, there have been myriad issues and uncharacteristic mistakes, from the first corner spin Down Under in Melbourne, the qualifying misjudgement in Sepang – for a driver of his experience, a cardinal sin – the jump-start in Shanghai, the catastrophic practice shunt in Monte Carlo that destroyed his F10 and left the Spaniard to begin from plum last around a circuit at which overtaking is all-but impossible, and now the error and general lack of pace in Istanbul.
There were gloomy post-race mutterings that his car was 'not too competitive' and 'obviously not enough' to do battle for glory with the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and even Mercedes – but the real question should be, how much blame can be attributed to the equipment and how much the man behind the wheel? In Turkey, team-mate Felipe Massa finished some ten seconds ahead in the sister scarlet machine and set a better fastest lap time to-boot, whilst the qualifying duel between the pair remains finely-poised at 4-3 to the Oviedo native. In Istanbul, BBC F1
commentator and former grand prix ace Martin Brundle referred to Alonso live on-air as a 'miserable so-and-so' – but on the basis of the score sheet and timing screens, miserable slow-and-slow might perhaps be more accurate.
There seems little doubt that the Ferrari – arguably the best car over a race distance back at the beginning of the campaign – has now fallen some way adrift of Red Bull, McLaren and perhaps also even Mercedes, meaning the points squandered in Australia, Malaysia, China, Monaco and Turkey could yet come back to haunt the 22-time grand prix-winner come season's end. He was roundly praised for having hauled a car with serious downshifting issues in Sepang into the points before his engine blew – but then didn't Schumacher nurse a car that was stuck in fifth gear to an altogether loftier second place in the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix..?
And then there is the subject of team harmony. As Lewis Hamilton can doubtless attest, Alonso is not always the easiest person to have as a team-mate, and even Giancarlo Fisichella has stories to tell of toys being thrown in Montreal in 2006, when the Italian had the brazen audacity to vault past the Spaniard at the start of the race and snatch the lead, going on to retain that advantage – to the evident frustration of the driver of the sister machine – for almost half of the race.
You sense there might have been similar ructions when Massa surprised just about everyone
in the light of his injuries last year by out-qualifying Alonso in Sakhir two months ago, and arguably the pair's relationship has never been the same since. Already strained by 'Singapore-gate' – with Massa having previously accused the Renault race-fixing plot and Alonso's consequent victory of costing him the 2008 F1 World Championship – that relationship was subsequently stretched to breaking-point by events in Shanghai on 18 April, 2010, when Ferrari No.8 unceremoniously and ruthlessly elbowed Ferrari No.7 onto the grass entering the pit-lane during the Chinese Grand Prix, in order to make sure his car was serviced first and that it was his team-mate who lost out. The move caused uproar in the paddock and amongst the sport's fans, as Alonso showed Massa in no uncertain terms just who was boss at Ferrari – and paid him back for having dared
to outpace him in Bahrain.
Ethically, the manoeuvre was reprehensible, and drew further comparisons between Alonso and the late, great Ayrton Senna, who similarly had difficulties in comprehending just how any driver in the same car as him could possibly be faster – and who similarly felt precious little compunction in single-mindedly forcing his rivals, team-mate or otherwise, out of the way.
Both, it can be argued, are flawed geniuses, but should Alonso fail to live up to the tifosi's
expectations by not delivering them the crown this year, that genius will appear somewhat diluted. It was suggested prior to the start of F1 2010 that a brace of campaigns struggling with an uncompetitive Renault might have dimmed Alonso's once sparkling talent to a degree, and only time will tell whether or not that is true. One thing, however, appears clear. Having been transformed from a mere hero into a god upon arriving at Maranello, perhaps that deification was just a touch premature.