FORMULA 1

FERNANDO ALONSO

The giant-killing performances were what caught your attention first: hustling an uncompetitive Minardi around Suzuka to finish a barely credible 11th in 2001; seemingly appearing from nowhere to grab his first pole position (Malaysia 2003); and becoming the then-youngest-ever grand prix winner (Hungary, again in ’03, appropriately nabbing the honour from Bruce McLaren himself, who’d achieved in way back in 1959) in truly effortless fashion.

With his intent signified, his move to the Renault team gave him the firepower to fulfill his ambition.

Armed with 2005’s R25, the greatness that had been glimpsed in snatches was quickly and thoroughly refined. It was immediately apparent at that year’s San Marino Grand Prix, where his incredibly precise defence of the lead kept no less than keening, hungry world champion Michael Schumacher at bay. It was a performance marked by the skill of an old veteran rather than a hungry newcomer.

The trickle of victories quickly turned into a torrent: seven wins by the end of the season, but – just as important – a steady stream of podium positions (five runner-up spots and three third places) that cemented his ascent to the title. Underlining the point, his was a world crown won with the seasoned experience of a master, not that of a fresh-faced youngster feeling his way nervously toward his first championship.

He was crowned in Brazil, finishing third behind – presciently – two McLarens. Standing on the podium, his ear was turned by Ron Dennis, who quietly assured the Spaniard that his future surely lay in one of Woking’s silver cars.

A deal was quickly signed – but for 2007, leaving him to once again race for Renault in ’06. That season, the old enemy – Schumacher – was back in contention, and both he and his Ferrari team used every weapon in their sizeable armoury to peg back Fernando’s progress.

It made for a tense, nervy and paranoid season – but one where Fernando once again triumphed by playing the numbers game whenever he lacked the outright competitiveness to win. For the record, he still scored seven victories, and backed those up with seven further runner-up spots.

His 2006 title made him the sport’s then-youngest-ever double world champion.

Buoyed by this momentum, he quickly made his mark at McLaren in 2007, winning his second race for the marque and quickly re-establishing the team at the competitive vanguard after a disappointing ’06 season.

More victories followed – he led home an emotional McLaren one-two at Monaco, showcased his controlled aggression to snatch victory at the Nurburgring, and pummeled the opposition into submission at Monza. But his winning progress was matched by his rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who also took four victories – and, at season’s end, the McLaren challenge wasn’t concerted enough to stem the singular charge of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who took the title by just one point at the final race in Brazil.

If the title near-miss was a blow, it wasn’t the most problematic issue in a season that was overshadowed by competitive rancour both on and off the track. The fallout was intense, both McLaren and Fernando parted company – the Spaniard returning to Renault for two largely uncompetitive seasons before joining Ferrari for 2010.

Fernando’s time at the Scuderia was a rollercoaster of highs and lows – he won his very first race in a red car, at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, but went on to lose the title by the narrowest of margins after a strategic error cost him dearly at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, he scored a solitary victory at Silverstone, then wrestled a less-than-competitive Ferrari to three magnificent victories in 2012 as he spearheaded the charge to usurp world champion Sebastian Vettel. While Fernando gave his all, his brave campaign once again came undone at the final race.

While his final two seasons at Ferrari coincided with a dip in the Scuderia’s competitive fortunes, his period with the Maranello squad would repeatedly underline his credentials as the greatest, and most respected, driver in the sport. And while the record books won’t fully reflect his successes, history will tell us that Fernando Alonso stood a shoulder above his peers in terms of reputation and ability.

At McLaren Honda, he resolutely vowed to take the reunified giants back to the top step of the podium, while at the same time replicating the past successes of his favourite driver and his childhood idol, Ayrton Senna.

While he was unable to drive a McLaren Honda that did full service to his considerable talents, his drive and ambition remained undimmed. His races throughout 2016 and 2017, when given the merest sniff of an opportunity, were sublime.

For 2018, and armed with a Renault-powered McLaren MCL33, Fernando has the utter conviction that he can help return the McLaren name to the front of the Formula 1 grid.

FORMULA 2

FUOCO DOMINATES SEASON CLOSER

Italian leads sprint race from lights to flag

Antonio Fuoco has closed the FIA Formula 2 Championship season with a strong win, his second of the season, in this afternoon’s Sprint Race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, leading all race long for victory ahead of Lando Norris and Roberto Merhi.

The win was set up when the lights went down: poleman Merhi has a poor getaway while his fellow front row starter Fuoco had a great one, easily leading the Spaniard into turn 1 ahead of Nyck de Vries, Norris, new champion George Russell, Louis Delétraz, Luca Ghiotto and Dorian Boccolacci up the hill to the top of the circuit.

FIA Formula 2 Series – Round 12. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sunday 25 November 2018. Antonio Fuoco (ITA, Charouz Racing System), celebrates in Parc Ferm Photo: Zak Mauger/ FIA Formula 2. ref: Digital Image

Norris was soon moving forward, slicing up the inside of de Vries at the marina for P3, while further back Sean Gelael tagged Niko Kari and spun, leaving Tadasuke Makino nowhere to go: the pair were out on the spot and the VSC signs came out as the Finn limped back to the pits and retirement on the first lap.

The race was live again 2 laps later, with Delétraz making a lovely move inside Russell at the marina to move up to P5: Artem Markelov was looking for more too, easily dispatching Boccolacci: Russell soon repaid the favour to take his position back, while the Russian continued his forward momentum by dispatching Ghiotto on lap 7, just as Russell nicked another place by mugging de Vries at the marina for P4.

FIA Formula 2 Series – Round 12. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.Saturday 24 November 2018. George Russell (GBR, ART Grand Prix), celebrates on the podium. Photo: Glenn Dunbar / FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image

Russell was soon closing on Norris and looking for a last F2 podium, but too many laps in his countryman’s slipstream meant his front tyres were soon unable to assist him, while further back Markelov has tyre troubles of his own, running wide all around the circuit and forcing him to look closely at his mirrors as Ghiotto started to come back at him.

Having held off his rival behind, Norris started to look at what he could find ahead of him, closing the gap to Merhi as the laps rolled down until he pounced on the final lap: the Spaniard locked up under pressure at turn 9 and simply didn’t have enough left to retake the position at the marina.

And at the flag it was Fuoco who took all the plaudits, controlling the pace for a strong 2nd victory of the season, with Norris delighting his team by stealing 2nd before almost blotting his copy book by losing control of his car as he waved to them on the pitwall, and Merhi bringing home a second podium of the weekend for Campos. Russell hung on for a lonely 4th, with de Vries following a few seconds back ahead of Delétraz, Markelov and Alexander Albon, who dispatched Ghiotto for the final point of the season in the closing laps of the race.

At the end of the 2018 season George Russell has been declared the FIA Formula 2 champion, with Lando Norris grabbing the vice-championship position ahead of Alexander Albon with today’s podium finish. In the teams’ title fight Carlin have claimed the honours in their debut F2 season, ahead of ART Grand Prix and DAMS.