Fernando Alonso 2008 - 28/08/08

We would all love to think that having returned to Renault, Fernando Alonso would once again be the gritty but cheery fighter who had earned the respect of one and all. The driver who ended the reign of Michael Schumacher and could possibly become the greatest driver of his generation. However, how has Fernando Alonso really done so far in 2008? Is he still the same Fernando Alonso fondly remembered from the 2005 and 2006 championship campaigns?

As much as it had become one of last year's most attractive bandwagons, did anyone actually feel that F1 was a better place having Alonso to direct all of their negative sentiment towards? There was McLaren's punishment and Lewis Hamilton's "delayed" first victory. Then there was the lack of loyalty, sportsmanship and camaraderie in today's super-competitive business-driven F1. Finally, there was the matter of espionage between top F1 teams. Alonso became a manifestation of all the above and a convenient scapegoat for everyone's distaste for the aforementioned issues.

In order for people to love him again, they would first have to forgive him. Many will feel too aggrieved by his oft-mentioned disagreements with McLaren, Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton. Some may never love him again. However, in order to respect him again, Alonso would have to deliver on the track. Everybody remembers Schumacher's stellar performances in inferior Ferraris throughout the years. In comparison, this year's Renault R28 is far from the second or even third best car. Alonso's performances would have to be judged accordingly.

The first race of the season was classic Alonso, a gritty and never-say-die race performance that lasted until the very final lap, resulting in an opportunistic last gasp fourth place at the hands of Heikki Kovalainen and his steering wheel. The fire within, set alight by last year's McLaren experience, was evident in his immediate post-race comments. Since then, notable performances include a slightly misleading front row grid slot in Barcelona and good race (until retirement). Alonso's fourth place at the Hungaroring was also impressive.

If we assume that for the better part of the season so far, Renault have been the fourth best team, does Alonso's championship position reflect this fact? Currently lying 8th with 18 points, it's a fair reflection of the team's form and general position respective to the others. However, in the case of a double world champion, should this championship position reflect the relative strength of Alonso's team? Shouldn't it be the case that a driver who won both of his titles while in cars not considered to be the best over any entire season, be further up the order?

Yes there have been retirements, but also mistakes. Canada was an example of a great opportunity to score strong points, as was Monaco. The wrong choice of tyres have also cost Alonso on a couple of occasions. Before last year, Fernando was renowned as a driver who made extremely few mistakes. Undoubtedly things have changed for him in terms of motivation and having different things to prove, and of course he has not got a vehicle capable of being a frontrunner. That has not been the case since his year at Minardi. Despite all of this, you can't help but feel that he should have been higher up the standings, at least ahead of Jarno Trulli. This is a driver who qualified fifth at Monza in a car which had aero pieces broken off, then suffered a penalty, started 10th and made his way up to 3rd in the same race. To be fair, Alonso has put in some stellar qualifying performances this year, but had he put himself in better positions in the races maybe the sole Renault podium this year would not belong to Nelsinho Piquet.

Fernando Alonso has a reputation for being a driver who if given even the slightest sniff of a victory, will put on a devastating charge. Also he is known as a driver who can majestically dominate a race from the front, destroy the opposition without putting a single wheel wrong. In 2008, Alonso has generally not had a car to challenge for top positions and you are forced to wonder how driven he has felt at various times in the cockpit.

We are talking about a man who, lest we forget, is the most successful driver on the current grid of drivers. A man who came within one solitary point of a third consecutive drivers' championship in a team with which all communication and affection had broken down. And so we hope that when given the opportunity to run towards the front, we will once again see the best of that man, Fernando Alonso. So far this year, we have not yet seen this man.

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