At times, the standard operating practice in Formula 1 is that of writing off drivers who’ve been there and those who, according to some, have sort of overstayed their welcome.
The manner of one writing them off is akin to writing a cheque in a big fat chequebook with the realisation that there’s plenty of buck or dime in the bank so simply striking one off won’t hurt as much, will it?
Though, an underlying truth is that such acts are forged with a glaring misconception; that those who are old are dusted and have nothing new to offer the sport.
Perhaps Fernando Alonso, in the light of his recent Canadian Grand Prix, is the foremost name that strikes the mind in this regard.
Though make no mistake, much of 2022 hasn’t been a fairytale for him.
On April 9, 2022, Fernando Alonso crashed out of qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix. A race earlier, i.e., the street circuit at Jeddah, home to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Alonso registered a DNF.
Though rather interestingly, the Formula 1 veteran had opened his account at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, wherein he gathered a ninth.
Although scoring points in the opening race of the championship helped keep the Alpine team in good stead, in each of the three events- whether Australia, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain- Alonso was outperformed by his teammate, Esteban Ocon.
Where Alonso scored a P9 at Bahrain, DNF at Jeddah, and the seventeenth at Australia, French driver Ocon claimed a seventh, sixth, and seventh, respectively.
In the context of experience, Alonso cut no dash to the wire. Moreover, there may have been quite a few who’d have questioned whether the old guard of Formula 1 still had it in him being beaten by a significantly younger teammate at Spain, which lest you forget, is Alonso’s home racing event.
It didn’t help Alonso earn any brownie points at all that it wasn’t until the Monaco Grand Prix, an event utterly shaped by Ferrari’s strategic blunder and Checo’s great racing, where the Alpine driver finally outraced Esteban Ocon.
Fernando Alonso collected a strong P7 and hence, six valuable points, in comparison to Esteban Ocon’s P12.
And while the acerbic critics for whom F1 is only about youthful exuberance and nothing else really would’ve thought of it as being a flash in the pan, the great driver reserved his best for what was to come.
At the most recent Formula 1 Grand Prix, i.e., the Montreal-bound Canadian race, Alonso stuck his Alpine onto second in qualifying.
It wasn’t just a good drive; it was an emphatic one.
And that’s not only down to the fact that for much of Saturday, the Montreal-bound Gilles Villeneuve circuit was as splashed by rain as is an F1 race by overtakes, but also because the last when Alonso broke into the top three in a quali was a decade back in time.
It was so far back in time, circa 2012 Germany, that only two other drivers from the current grid barring the iconic Spaniard were part of the sport back then. Their names- Sir Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
In Germany 2012, Alonso won from pole and took what was prior to entering his 2022 Canada contest, the last that he had positioned an F1 car on the front row for a race.
But Alonso’s sensational act of finding grip on 18 June, 2022, i.e., the qualifying was special in that most simply tried to hold on to a wet track but withered away.
Alonso, with his 1:21:944 emerged just seven thousandths of a second behind pole-sitter Max Verstappen.
It was an effort that was lauded and marveled at in parts.
Though in reality, it wasn’t the first time that a true titan of the sport, someone who has against his name 98 podiums and 32 race wins, had put his Alpine ahead of the other.
While for some reason it hasn’t been possible for Alonso to muster strong race results for Alpine this year, garnering a best result of P7 (not more), his qualifying pace has been anything but uninspiring.
The Alonso on Saturday is the terminator we so want to see on Sunday but don’t.
Which is why much like Norris constantly outperforming Ricciardo in that McLaren, is one of the more undersung stories of this season, Alonso easily outracing his teammate Ocon in 2022 also a hugely under-covered story in mainstream Formula 1 media.
Now how is that? We all savour strongly backed stories where claims have records as proof and uninformed punts are nothing but snide remarks.
Perhaps that Alonso has scored 18 points in comparison to Ocon’s 39 as revealed by the Drivers’ standings, we’ve simply forgotten the fact that in events like Bahrain, Emilia Romagna, Miami, as well as Monaco, it was the 40-year-old who outqualified the 25-year-old youngster.
One wonders, what might the Alonso naysayers and singers of the one-track-minded prophecy that F1 is about age, reflexes say to this?
It’s a long season ahead. Neither Esteban Ocon, one of the most gifted drivers of this era nor Fernando Alonso have probably delivered a belter of a result as yet.
Surely, Ocon can go higher than his P6, the best-result as on date. Ditto for Alonso; the double world champion who back in the day, took on Schumacher at the peak of the German’s powers can do considerably better than his best-place finish of seventh.
We’ve seen how boldly Ocon defended against the rip-roaring Ferrari of Leclerc; the Monegasque ultimately exclaiming over team radio that he just couldn’t get past the French driver.
We’ve also seen Max Verstappen alerting the Canadian media about how he’d have to be ‘careful’ about Alonso passing him in the opening lap at Montreal, something that didn’t really happen.
But what can happen- and may just- are results like 2021 Qatar. Weren’t any among Leclerc, Sainz or Norris much better placed to gather what a 39-year-old Alonso did?
Surely, Alonso, with 345 races against his name, isn’t getting any younger. But that he’s done and has nothing more to offer a sport where he’s done incredible things such as posting the fastest lap at Hungaroring (2017) in a recalcitrant McLaren and thus beating Ferrari and Mercedes to it, is a theory only the uninformed will put forth.