It was a tough decision knowing whether to place Hamilton or Alonso first, but ultimately the latter got the nod as though he triumphed only twice, he did so in a car that should on its own merits never even have won at all – and one that, in the early stages of the season, had languished woefully off the pace.
Renault began 2008 in poor shape, and it was only Alonso's canny nous in keeping out of trouble in Australia that earned the Spaniard fourth place. That there would not be a similar result until the Hungarian Grand Prix
almost five months later was proof of just how much the Régie
was struggling, and the former double F1 World Champion's stunning and wholly unexpected front row grid slot on home turf in Barcelona owed practically nothing to the car and everything to the sheer brilliance and talent of the driver sitting inside its cockpit.
Come season's end, however, the R28 was the third-quickest machine on the grid, having leapfrogged not only Williams, Red Bull
Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso
and Toyota, but even BMW-Sauber – and that, in large part, was thanks to Alonso's tireless efforts in motivating the team to keep working hard and developing. It is little coincidence that he was also the only driver on the grid to out-qualify his team-mate on every single occasion.
Yes, there were errors along the way, with mistakes in Monaco and Canada that cost him points and potentially even podiums, but they were symptomatic of a man trying to push his car faster than it wanted to go. Hockenheim too was a rare 'off' day for the 27-year-old, but the fact remains that over the second half of the year Alonso was the highest-scoring driver of anyone in the field, and his victories in Singapore and Japan – the former from all the way down in 15th position on the grid – were as fine as any from his world championship-challenging years.
Not finishing lower than fourth in any of the final six outings enabled Alonso to vault both McLaren
successor Heikki Kovalainen
and BMW's Heidfeld into fifth in the overall standings, and if Renault
can begin the 2009 campaign in the same manner as that in which it concluded 2008, the man from Oviedo could just go another four spots higher still next year. Have no doubt – Fernando Alonso
remains very much a class act.