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Thursday 18 January 2018

F1: Alonso sparks Spanish fiesta with stunning home run

But Red Bull will have him in their sights at Silverstone, says David Kennedy

It was a tale of two Alonsos last weekend. In Euro 2012, Alonso was doing it for Spain against France on the Saturday, and in the European Grand Prix the other Alonso was adding to the country's jubilation by winning in Valencia last Sunday.

Fernando has some memorable wins and world championship titles to his credit, but that race will be one of his career highlights, coming as he did from eleventh on the grid to victory.

In front of not so much a partisan crowd as a collective passion of wills egging him on, the Spaniard in a Ferrari won against all the odds, in a clearly inferior car, his sublime skills digging away at the hallowed turf to produce a home victory. He took time on his slowdown lap to thank his supporters. A silent paean to a people he later acknowledged were suffering in a dire economy. He gave them something to cheer about, albeit from the gilded cage that is F1.

We haven't even reached the halfway mark in the calendar and still nobody has the faintest clue who's going to win the title, least of all the teams or drivers. Alonso finds himself in the lead of the championship by dint of true grit, some luck and not a little happenstance.

But he has a tenuous hold on a greasy pole that will be hard to maintain, however competent and capable he has shown himself to be with these superlative drives. He has two wins to his credit now, both achieved against impossible qualifying odds. In Malaysia, he was eighth on the grid and won. Only in Canada did he finish lower than his qualifying position.

But come the next race, a points equaliser could emerge in the form of Mark Webber who, incredibly, is just a win away from drawing level with Alonso, should the Ferrari driver fail to finish at the British Grand Prix. Hamilton isn't much further south with a 23-point deficit but positioned more dangerously is fourth-placed Vettel, 26 points adrift. It's probably a safe enough bet to predict that one of this quartet will ultimately be crowned 2012 world champion, although several other contenders would beg to differ.

Vettel was flying in Valencia. He got pole by what is these days considered a massive margin: almost a third of a second. Red Bull showcased their D-spec car in Valencia. Is the D for diffuser or downforce, maybe it's for 'the devil is in the detail'.

They've tweaked the airflow so it's channelled more efficiently to the diffuser which in turn gives them greater downforce. It has the opposition well worried. As Williams sporting director Sam Michael succinctly put it, "the development rate this year is going to be fierce'.

Red Bull's new-found pace could mean they've hit the jackpot. Vettel bowed out of the lead with alternator failure -- a Renault part which also robbed Grosjean of second place -- but the Austrian team will have a skip in their step as they head to Silverstone next weekend.

Forty-four years ago, Jack Brabham at the age of 44 finished runner-up at the British Grand Prix and in doing so became the oldest driver to achieve a podium.

In Valencia, Michael Schumacher at 43 became the second oldest when he finished third. Having reacquainted himself with success, which once used to flow so effortlessly for so long, he would like nothing more than to stand on the top step and do his customary victory leap.

Kimi Raikkonen must have been praying that Pastor Maldonado would take Hamilton out and leave him in peace to take second place. His prayers were answered on the last lap. Maldonado gets a drive-through penalty at Silverstone for his sins.

Given that we are a couple of races from halfway into the season, let's look at how the team-mate v team-mate qualifying war is panning out.

Hamilton, Alonso, Kovalainen and Pedro de la Rosa have one thing in common. They've out-qualified their team-mates in all eight grands prix. Vettel and Webber are equal on four. The surprise is that Grosjean is six to Raikkonen's two. Di Resta is doing a good job with five to Hulkenberg's three, the reverse is true for Schumacher and Rosberg. Maldonado has put away Senna six times, while the new Toro Roso drivers see Ricciardo seven to Vergne's one.

These turf wars are fierce, because pecking order gives you not only bragging rights within the team, but job security, as team managers begin working on their 2013 strategy now.

Next weekend is the big one -- the British Grand Prix. Silverstone is a circuit that favours aerodynamics, making it Red Bull territory, not just in terms of them being based locally in Milton Keynes but having a car that suits the track to a 'T' or is that a 'D'.

Button and Hamilton would like some of that Alonso stardust to sprinkle on home soil. But British drivers winning at home is a rarity. Hamilton won in 2008 but before that it was David Coulthard 14 years ago. For many UK-based teams, this is a big coming home party. It's a great chance to unwind, entertain, barbeque, have a bit of crack, relax and give those team personnel who don't get to travel to the races, a chance to enjoy and absorb the action up close.

In GP3, Conor Daly will be looking to compensate for a recent run of ill-fortune. A lot of drivers will use Silverstone as an opportunity to get noticed. F1 Team managers are chilling out and taking time to do some talent-spotting in what is the F1 industry's backyard.

Status GP is Silverstone-based and our driver Alice Powell will garner a lot of publicity in her homeland, while keeping the flag flying for her grandfather's beloved Limerick.

She had a bad run in Valencia where she crashed into, of all people, her team-mate Marlon Stockinger. Then the following day she crashed again, just to prove the first was no accident. The only injury was a bruised ego.

It happens the best of them and hopefully she's got all her offs out of the way and can give the crowd a great reason to cheer. At 19 years old, she has a bright future ahead of her and she'll be aiming to make it brighter by lifting the silver out of Silverstone.

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