x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fernando Alonso being outpaced by limitations

The Spaniard has been brilliant for Ferrari all season, but Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel has a better car.

Fernando Alonso, right, has been remarkably confident despite Ferrari being unable to provide him with a faster car. Suhaib Salem / Reuters
Fernando Alonso, right, has been remarkably confident despite Ferrari being unable to provide him with a faster car. Suhaib Salem / Reuters

Ever since suffering a first-lap puncture and being forced out of the Japanese Grand Prix last month, Fernando Alonso has cast himself as a samurai: sharp, determined, focused, relentless, successful.

There is no denying he shares the characteristics of Japan's famed swordsmen, yet it is that final attribute that is almost certain to elude him.

Success is of course relative and even if Alonso finishes – as it now looks certain he will – second in the drivers' championship, few could deny he has had anything other than a monumentally impressive year.

Naturally, second place is not what he craves, but under the circumstances, it is deserving of much admiration. The Spaniard has been made to fight with a blunt sword.

Ferrari's grandest failure this season has nothing to do with the undoubtable talents of Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel, the sport's soon-to-be youngest three-time world champion, and everything to do with the Italian marque's inability to provide a car that is capable of qualifying high up the grid.

Alonso has started in pole position only twice this season – in Great Britain and Germany – and both arrived under wet conditions. In those two weekends, the imperious Alonso took 43 points from a possible 50.

In dry conditions, the F2012 is simply not quick enough over a single lap.

Alonso has never qualified on the front row in the dry this season, a remarkable statistic considering his position in the championship.

At his home race in Barcelona, he started in second – but only after he moved up one grid position when Lewis Hamilton, who had secured pole, was disqualified.

There is little doubt Ferrari are throwing everything they have at this world championship as they desperately try to find the improvement required to perform better in qualifying.

Yet they are also guilty of recklessness. They unprecedentedly broke the sport's stringent paddock curfew twice this weekend at Yas Marina circuit, but the second exemption was confirmed by a team spokesman as having been a mistake – a staff member arrived at the track an hour early and no additional work was carried out.

Ferrari managed only the seventh and ninth fastest laps on Saturday and for Alonso to finish in second in Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is testament to his battling abilities.

However, had Vettel not been disqualified from qualifying, it is the German who had qualified third and would have almost certainly have inherited Lewis Hamilton's lead rather than Kimi Raikkonen, the eventual winner.

Instead, Vettel, starting from the back of the grid, coursed his way through the field to finish third and minimise the impact his previous day's disqualification had on his world title hopes.

If he wins a third successive championship, it will be this peerless performance that will be viewed as the afternoon he truly earned it. It will also be remembered as the race Alonso missed a massive opportunity, albeit through no fault of his own.

"A samurai works without hesitation, without confessing fatigue or the slightest discouragement until his goal is complete," Alonso tweeted on Sunday evening.

The 31 year old's level of belief must surely be waning though. With only two races left, Vettel leads by 10 points and has proved even when starting last, he has the car and the ability to finish on the podium.

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren-Mercedes team principal, spoke this weekend about how the competitiveness of Formula One brings out the worst in people.

That being the case, Alonso must be hoping for a Vettel retirement for only that will realistically now refuel the championship.

Technically, Ferrari's fate is still in their own hands. If Alonso wins in Austin and Sao Paulo, he wins the title, but he knows the Italian marque has not achieved back-to-back race victories since the grands prix of Italy and Singapore in 2010.

Vettel, in contrast, had won the four previous races when he arrived in Abu Dhabi and would have been expected to add a fifth had the FIA not intervened.

The samurai will never surrender, but his team are restricting his ability to attack.

If they can find qualifying pace before arriving in Austin, the Spaniard could yet fight another day.

If not, however, his championship challenge will be slain under the United States sun.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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