F1 Insider - The Power Of Dreams
F1 Racing UK|October 2017

F1 Insider - The Power Of Dreams

01 THE POWER OF DREAMS

He is 15th in the championship, has not won a race for four and a half years and it’s hard to see when or even if he might win again. But there Fernando Alonso was on the Thursday before the Italian Grand Prix, underlining his status as one of Formula 1’s biggest box-office draws.

In the McLaren motor home for his regular media briefing, Alonso was swamped by journalists wanting to know the latest twists in a saga that leaves the career of arguably the greatest Formula 1 driver of the past decade hanging in the balance. Had he ‘parked’ the car four days before in Belgium? Had he told McLaren that if Honda stayed as their engine supplier, he would leave? Would he go to Renault? For a man who is fundamentally a bit part in the unravelling drama of the 2017 F1 season, there was an awful lot to find out, and an awful lot of interest.

This is how it has been with Alonso for years now. The man is a walking story generator, the potent mix of his talent, charisma and status in the sport demanding attention, forcing people to take notice. And, by extension, giving McLaren and Honda a much bigger role in the narrative than they would otherwise deserve.

Wrapped up in that cocktail is the reason the team are desperate to keep him for 2018, despite the baggage he brings. It seems very likely, for example, that he unilaterally took the decision to retire his car from the Belgian Grand Prix. Lying 12th, having been passed on the straights as if he were standing still after a trademark brilliant start put him seventh on the first lap, he asked whether any rain was forecast. He was told no. A lap later, Alonso said: “Engine problem.” And pulled into the pits.

In Monza, he did not even bother to deny it, offering instead what is called in the trade ‘a non-denial denial’: a statement that sounds like a denial, but actually is not. He merely said he was “surprised” to read reports that he might have ‘parked’ the car – normally a cardinal sin in F1. “It seems that people forgot that I am racing here for three years fighting for Q1s,” he said, “giving my maximum at the starts, pushing the car in Hungary in Q1 uphill just to get another chance in Q2, trying to race with a broken rib in Bahrain. When I read that, I think people are not very concentrated on the real things that happen.”

Bad as it looks for McLaren-Honda at the moment, ponder how much worse their performance would look without Alonso. Yes, he moans on the radio. Yes, he uses news conferences to make political points. Yes, he can be high-maintenance. But no one else available to them can offer them anything like the same performance in the car.

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