Fernando Alonso: What are the problems facing the double world champion?


Fernando Alonso: What are the problems facing the double world champion?

Fernando Alonso: What are the problems facing the double world champion?: The plight of the double world champion, who some still consider the best driver in the world, was illustrated perfectly over the course of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend – both on track and off.

On the circuit, there was evidence of the best and worst of this complex man. Off it, the McLaren driver’s future was one of the key topics.

Essentially, Alonso has found himself in an awkward catch-22 situation, the core of the issue being whether the 36-year-old will even be in Formula 1 next year.

He has lost faith in engine supplier Honda – as the Japanese company’s F1 boss told – but if the team are still using their engines next year, his other options appear limited in the extreme.

McLaren are trying to get out of their Honda contract but are finding it difficult to do so.

“We will see what happens in the next couple of weeks,” Alonso said after Sunday’s race.

“I am happy with the team. We are having difficult seasons in the last three years but McLaren is one of the best teams in the world. I would be happy to keep working with them but we need to see how things evolve in the next couple of weeks.”

Over three days of track action, the Belgian Grand Prix provided a perfect microcosm of the situation in which Alonso and McLaren find themselves.

Their other driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, was hit with 55 places of grid penalties over the weekend for using far beyond the permitted number of engine parts this season.

The first half of the penalty came when an upgraded engine was fitted before the weekend, the second half when that engine developed a problem on Friday and had to be replaced.

Alonso, meanwhile, was surprisingly competitive – in relative terms – at Spa, which is behind only Monza in terms of the influence of engine power on lap time.

He was contending for a position in the top-10 qualifying shootout – thanks to help from ‘tows’ from Vandoorne to minimise the Honda’s deficit on the straights – and would have got it had he not suffered a bizarre engine-related issue on his final run in the second knockout session.

The Honda failed to deploy its hybrid power boost after the fast Pouhon double left-hander because of a programming error in the electronics.

On that lap, Alonso took Pouhon flat out for the first time – something the Ferrari drivers managed but the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers did not, albeit all of them arriving at the corner faster. The problem was the Honda electronics were judging track position – and therefore where to deploy electrical energy – partly by throttle action. As Alonso had not lifted the accelerator, the system did not realise he had taken the corner so did not deploy after it.

In the circumstances, his anguished cries of “no power, no power” were understandable.

For the race, Alonso was promoted to 10th on the grid by a five-place penalty for Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, and made one of his trademark brilliant starts to be seventh on the first lap.

Then the inevitable happened – he started to be picked off on the straight by other cars with much more power than his Honda, which sources say is about 80bhp down on a customer Mercedes engine.

This led to a series of grumpy radio messages from Alonso, as he allowed his frustration to show.

By lap 24, he was down to 12th, out of the points and with no prospect of scoring any. He asked if any rain was on the horizon to give him hope, was told no, and a lap later reported an engine problem and pulled into the pits to retire.

Honda says it has found no evidence of any problems on the data. McLaren are not commenting beyond what they said on Sunday – that Alonso retired because he felt an engine problem.

Some believe he ‘parked it’ – retired a healthy car. This is normally a cardinal sin in F1, where everyone’s default position is the driver races as hard as he can until such time as he can no longer, either because the race finishes, he crashes or the car develops a problem.

If he did, it may not be the first time this season – some believe he did the same with a couple of laps to go in Bahrain in April, when he was similarly out of the points after a frustrating race.

Alonso denied this, and will almost certainly do the same if he is asked about Spa. So people are left to draw their own conclusions.

Whether Alonso did or did not ‘park it’, it has not changed McLaren’s desire to keep him in 2018. They continue to refer to persuading Alonso to stay as a “priority”.

As such, it seems that whether what happened in Belgium was restricted to a few mardy radio messages, or whether Alonso stopped racing out of sheer frustration and anger, McLaren are regarding it as a reflection of where he is at.

If that sounds surprising, it’s perhaps because McLaren are in the same place. After three years of terrible performance and awful reliability, the team’s leaders are at their wits’ end with Honda.

Again, they are not commenting directly on the issue publicly, but their attitude to the engine they would -like to use next year can best be summed up as ABH – anyone but Honda.


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