But with this universal admiration and respect that Fernando has amassed for his skill and determination, it’s cost himself in terms of advancing his career. Ferrari has been his blessing for confirming to us all just how great and complete a driver he is, but also, why he needs to get out of there.
Ferrari are a beloved team to many, and who have had decorated success in the last decade with Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, but now have gone nearly 6 years without a major trophy, and if anything, they seem to be sinking further and further backwards, as a team, and individually.
A part of that comes down to their philosophy. Ferrari’s emphasis on a lead and supporting driver is a policy that only really works if your team is a dominant, leading one, like it was at the turn of the century, and that’s why Barrichello was so valuable to them, he cleaned up Schumacher’s occasional slip-ups and could very easily win races on his own. When you’re in a dogfight with another close running team or lower, you’re leaving valuable points on the table.
This is why they went for an all-out play to bring back Kimi Raikkonen, putting together such an established team thinking it would be enough to take them over the top. Problem is, they’ve dropped off even further than the largely criticized Massa, and now have a real chance of falling to 4th in the Constructors Championship, and en-route to their first winless season since 1993.
Ferrari haven’t been under this kind of pressure in a LONG time. Arguably their strongest EVER driver line-up, and in a new era where getting the technical regulations right means striking gold (Brawn GP, Red Bull, Mercedes in 2014, Renault in 2005), they’ve gotten it terribly wrong, and it’s just forced Luca di Montezemolo to resign, taking responsibility for the shortcomings of the team as President. Ferrari have made the same old excuses for years, and unfortunately for them, FIAT’s patience has seemingly run out. Having a team principal “resign” three races into a season, a replacement with no F1 experience, and a President resigning three days after Monza is never a good sign. Could Ross Brawn steady the ship?
But here’s another problem – If Fernando leaves, where else does he go? Mercedes have struck gold in nailing the new hybrid cars and have amassed an incredible team in the last few years, headlined by a homegrown stud in his prime with Nico Rosberg, and the sports most popular driver in Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull will most likely bounce back from Sebastian Vettel’s sub-standard season, and have a new star in Daniel Ricciardo.
Going back to McLaren? Sure, but that poses an enormous gamble as no-one has any true idea what Honda’s partnership will do for the performance of the car going forward. Besides that, they’re a midfield runner now and have been for a couple of seasons. The new boys at the top, Williams, have confirmed Bottas and Massa (Who’s faster now, Fernando?) Anywhere else isn’t worth the thought right now.
BBC F1 broadcaster and former team owner, Eddie Jordan called Fernando Alonso “A Ferrari prisoner” after the Italian Grand Prix this weekend, and going by his logic, it’s easy to see why. He’s caught between an power unit and a hard place. There’s no team that would take him on who has a better car than what he has, and there’s little upside in going anywhere else. So by default, he has to stick it out because his only chance in the short-term at least, is Ferrari getting better… And that’s a long shot at the moment.
And to make matters even worse, Alonso’s got a battle against “Father Time” looming. He just turned 33. He’s the second oldest driver in the field, in a sport constantly becoming a younger man’s game. The average age of the field now is just 26 and a half, and with Max Verstappen coming in at just 17 next year, it’s only going to drop further. Most drivers are already in, or are entering the twilight of their careers at this point. Fernando may only have a couple of prime seasons left in him, especially when he’s already considering a switch to Ferrari’s return to Endurance racing if the opportunity presents itself.
Fernando might be the best driver in Formula 1 today, pound-for-pound. His raw speed isn’t what it once was, but his race craft, his car placement, his race pace and his ability to extract every bit of performance out of the car is unmatched. The problem is, he’s now a prisoner of his own success, and needs to break free if he ever wants that elusive third Championship, and the promised land he so desperately craves.