x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fernando Alonso is a driver truly on top of his game

The Ferrari driver proved his excellence by winning in Germany, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Fernando Alonso showed his class in winning in Germany.
Fernando Alonso showed his class in winning in Germany.

The McLaren-Mercedes team principal perhaps put it best when he revealed that there is nobody he would like to have ahead of his two drivers less than the impish yet imposing figure of the indefatigable Fernando Alonso.

Sebastian Vettel, the reigning back-to-back world champion, dominated conclusively last season with Red Bull Racing, but few in the Formula One paddock view the German as complete a driver as Ferrari's 30-year-old Spaniard.

Alonso is the complete package: clever, quick and doggedly determined. He is the only driver to finish in the points at all 10 races this season and last year - in a questionably slow car - failed to score just once.

When he nailed pole on Saturday in torrential rain in Germany, it was not only due to the commendable strategy of the Italian manufacturers, but also his brilliance.

Pole proved crucial as Alonso converted without problems on Sunday, yet his admission post-race that he did not have the fastest car left some wondering exactly why he won. When Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, was asked that precise question, he was unequivocal in his response: the driver made the difference.

"Fernando was perfect: not one mistake, not one hesitation, pushing to the maximum for an hour and a half. What a driver," said the Italian.

The two-time world champion now leads the drivers' standings by 34 points at the midway stage of the season and is in exhilarating form having secured consecutive pole positions and triumphed at two of the past three races.

Yet were it not for the absence of Lady Luck and certain strategic calls from his team failing to pay dividends - most notably in Canada - his record could have read even more impressive.

Alonso, in truth, could have won every race since his home event in Barcelona, a run of six grands prix, had the stars aligned in his favour.

At Circuit de Catalunya, he led early on and would have beaten Pastor Maldonado were it not for a mistimed pit stop.

In Monaco, pit stops proved pivotal again: were he called into the garage two laps later he could have jumped the eventual winner Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg, who finished second.

In Canada two weeks later, Ferrari were criticised for their risk-laden strategic call, which saw their driver slip from first to fifth after suffering severe tyre degradation late in the afternoon.

Victory in Valencia was followed by the British Grand Prix, where he was passed for the lead by Webber with four laps to go after Ferrari, again, employed a debatable strategy.

At the Hockenheimring, Alonso's performance was straight from the vault labelled Exemplary. Vettel and Red Bull knew the Ferrari was not the fastest car on the track in dry conditions, they knew it was most probably not even the second fastest car, and yet they could not catch him.

Alonso implemented a flawless start and controlled the race from there on in.

He managed his tyres and only pushed the car when required. For instance, he was constantly on the limit as he approached the DRS zone - the section in which his rivals could use their adjustable rear wing if they were able to close the gap to within a second - but eased off in the second and third sectors of the lap.

McLaren-Mercedes had advised Jenson Button that Alonso's tyres would lose grip three laps before his own, but the Ferrari driver bit his thumb at such assertions by posting his fastest lap of the race on his penultimate lap. As Button flailed, Alonso sailed.

The quiet man from Asturias is understandably reserved ahead of this week's Hungarian Grand Prix, but all involved with the famous Prancing Horse stable must be confident of another bulky points haul come next Sunday evening in Budapest.

With the race at the Hungaroring being paired back-to-back with Hockenheim, the possibility for teams to bring substantial upgrades is limited. Ferrari are certain not to be the fastest car on track.

Yet with Alonso in their arsenal, the Maranello-based marque have a not-so-secret weapon: the best driver in the 24-man field. As he proved at a monsoon-hit Malaysia in the second race of the season, give him an opportunity and he will grab it, hold it and refuse to let go with all the tenacity of a bear trap.

In a car so off the pace it qualified ninth, he raced it to victory in the rain at Sepang.

Nowadays, while still preferring the wet, the Italians appear to have developed the car so it is consistent in all weather conditions.

Hungary tends to be hot, so Alonso will have no easy ride and a 34-point lead can quickly evaporate, yet the way Alonso is driving just now - "at the peak of his personal performance" according to Domenicali - he will take some stopping.

"You couldn't beat me?" the championship leader was overheard asking Button immediately after the race. In this form, it is little surprise.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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