x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Alonso in unfamiliar territory

Condemned to start from the pits, Fernando Alonso knows he is in for a long, hard afternoon in Monaco today.

Fernando Alonso, the Spanish driver, wrecked his Ferrari car during practice yesterday.
Fernando Alonso, the Spanish driver, wrecked his Ferrari car during practice yesterday.

MONTE CARLO // Condemned to start from the pits in the wake of a practice accident that damaged his car beyond immediate repair, Fernando Alonso knows he is in for a long, hard afternoon in Monaco today. The Ferrari's pace and the circuit's customarily high rate of attrition mean a points finish remains attainable, but it will be a damage-limitation exercise that hinges on patience and a little luck.

"It was my mistake," Alonso said, "but I was also unlucky. "When you crash at 90kph you don't normally write off a chassis." The angle of impact did the damage, but Alonso knows it is but a temporary setback to his title challenge. For others, starting at the back is a matter of routine. Rookies Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok could scarcely have endured a tougher F1 baptism. The HRT team only made it onto the grid after a last-minute change of ownership ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where their cars were completed in the paddock.

They have been trying to hang on to the other new teams, Lotus and Virgin, but progress has been slow. "You can only do the best with what you have, " Chandhok says. One year ago the Indian was on course to win the GP2 Series sprint race in Monaco, until driveshaft failure left him to salvage crumbs of comfort from a moral victory. This weekend he is performing on motorsport's biggest stage, but his lap times have only improved by a couple of seconds since he was last here - a snapshot of life at the other end of the F1 grid.

"If everyone had the opportunity to drive Mark Webber's Red Bull," he said, "I think the difference between all 24 drivers would be fairly small - four tenths, perhaps, or half a second at most. The current situation is frustrating and we need to make progress. It's nice that we'll have a Ferrari behind us at the start tomorrow, because it might earn the team a bit of TV exposure, but would it be better to waste time trying to defend against him or let him go and focus on staying with our closest rivals?

"I think I know the answer to that one." How do they retain their motivation? "I intend to have a long F1 career," Senna says, "and need to use this opportunity to prove I'm good enough to deserve one. That drives me on." The Brazilian had the edge on his teammate yesterday, recent handling difficulties having been cured by fitment of a new floor, while Chandhok suffered braking problems that almost caused him to crash at the entry to the chicane.

"At that point on the track," he said, "Bruno used nine degrees of positive steering while I had 240 degrees of opposite lock. "I might print out this weekend's telemetry traces as a memento." sports@thenational.ae