Frustrated? Bored? Fed up? What's eating Fernando Alonso?


Is Fernando Alonso tired of Formula 1? Or was the Spaniard just trying to get a message across when he said he's tempted by other series? Jonathan Noble analyses what's behind Alonso's comments.

Fernando Alonso's tactical genius on track is well known, but he is equally a master player when it comes to getting his message across off it.

That's why it is always important to listen to not only what he says. You have to understand exactly why he has said the things he has.

The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend was no different, as Alonso raised a few eyebrows right at the end of his regular Saturday appearance at McLaren's post-qualifying media session.

After more than 20 minutes of the team talking about fresh frustrations in qualifying, Alonso cheekily let the world know that all was not right with how he feels about F1 these days.

“I love motorsport, all the categories, and it is true that F1 is not exactly the same, or as exciting as it was in the past – at least to me – to drive the cars two or three seconds faster than GP2 car,” he said, when asked about current motivation levels.

"Right now, there is huge motivation and a fantastic project that I am in right now with McLaren-Honda. My first go-kart was a McLaren-Honda replica and I am in a real McLaren-Honda, so I am enjoying this process of getting competitive starting from zero.

"But with no testing, with these tyres, with these limitations, with the calendar for example of next year, there is the temptation [for doing] other categories, that is true."

A real quit threat?

Had Alonso not countered his final remark with an explanation about his motivation for the McLaren-Honda project, then it may have been interpreted as a quit threat. But the reality is this was anything but.

However, there was a message he wanted put out there.

It is fair to say that Alonso's performances on track right now are nowhere near what he was expecting when he signed up for the new McLaren-Honda era.

There was always an expectation that the early days would be a struggle, and that there would be a long climb to the summit of F1 glory.

The scale of the challenge was rammed home to him on the eve of the season, amid McLaren's huge testing woes, and since then life has not been much easier.

But don't imagine for one second that Alonso's temptation to see what else is out there is fuelled because he is fed up that the McLaren-Honda partnership isn't pushing on as much as he would have liked.

In fact, you only needed to look at how he reacted as soon as his car stopped short of the pits during his first run in Q2 to know that he is committed to the cause.

Did he mouth off at the team at another opportunity gone begging when his car rolled to a halt? Did he throw his steering wheel on to the ground and storm off in a huff? No.

Instead, in the punishing hot conditions, and up a bigger gradient that is ever noticeable on television, he did all he could to try to push his car back in to the pits in the hope that he could get it fixed and back out on track.

"I love my sport you know," he said afterwards. "It doesn't matter if you are last, or if you are 15th or if you are on pole position, you want to drive the car and you want to enjoy it out there."

So what is wrong then?

The answer is simple: F1's rule book is annoying him.

For Alonso has found himself trapped in a scenario where progress in pushing forwards with McLaren-Honda is not limited by the capabilities of his team or his engine partner: it's hampered by restrictive regulations.

Having Honda on the back foot is one thing; but having Honda in difficulty and unable to make the progress it wants – amid limits on the number of power units it can use, engine homologation restrictions and a tiny token allocation – has left him a prisoner of circumstance.

It was quite telling that, during his media session on Saturday, a question about tyre sensors on modern F1 cars was steered in a different direction. It showed what is dominating his thought process right now.

"It was more fun before, but I don't think it is because we have more sensors or more information," he explained. "Before we had some freedom in terms of testing and in terms of improving the car as well.

"If you find your car that is not competitive in the first quarter of the season and then you have some solutions in plans, maybe you end up in a competitive way.

"Now having more sensors or less sensors, Mercedes will win all the races and Manor will be last in all the races, with more or less sensors or more or less input of driver or team.

"It is not the amount of information we get. It is that we have the hands tied for the season. So when we put the car in Barcelona or Jerez for the first test, it is a coin in the air [to decide]. If it is competitive you will have a good season and if it is not competitive you will have a bad season."

Dennis shares rules frustration

McLaren boss Ron Dennis agrees that it is the handcuffs Alonso is facing in terms of there being so little scope to improve that is gnawing away at the Spaniard.

He and Alonso are hugely competitive animals, and it is that in-built desire to succeed that put them on such a collision course back in 2007.

Now though, it is leaving them both equally annoyed that a wish to display their talents is being denied.

I bumped into Dennis on Sunday night in Hungary and asked him about Alonso's comments. In response, there was no effort to suggest that the media has whipped up a storm and got his driver to say something he did not want to.

Instead, there was a shared angst within the whole McLaren organisation about it being unable to do what it needs.

"I think really, Fernando shares my frustration – which is not being able to test," explained Dennis. "When you are not competitive is such a huge handicap. It isn't F1."

He added: "Engine modifications, limitations – the issues of tokens. It is much more difficult to improve both the performance of the engine and the performance of the car. And it actually doesn't save money as we have to bring developments to the cars in quantities without proving it out.

"We don't always get it right, and when we don't get it right we waste money. So it is a false economy. It is more about hampering the performance of the larger teams than it is about really saving money: it doesn't save anybody money but the smaller teams.

"That isn't what F1 is about. F1 is about competition. It is not about handicapping. And perversely the biggest handicap in F1 is no testing."

Testing times

Therein lies the root of Alonso's unease right now. F1 has always been helped by an in-season development race that has delivered unpredictability and a varied story line over the season.

Now though, the chances of such a varied swing are wiped away. Periods of dominance last for longer spells, and those who are the hunters find it much harder to close down on the hunted.

There has been a lot of soul searching in recent months about trying to make the drivers the stars again – through banning team assistance and making cars harder to drive again.

But perhaps some more thought needs to go in to letting drivers knuckle down with their teams, and give them a platform to show more of what they can do. That means getting them testing again (in a way that does not lead to an all-out spending war), so cars can be improved and more developments brought in.

If the 'coin toss' that Alonso referred to in pre-season testing has not gone your way, and you've not come up with a good car, then there should be a way to catch up.

F1's DNA is that if you do a better job, you should be rewarded. It should not be that you cannot do a better job because the rule book says so.

No one benefits from having former world champions like Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso scrapping around near the back of the grid.

But worst than that is that if drivers feel that all hope is gone, then they will go and do something else. And then everyone loses.

These are testing times for Fernando Alonso, but testing may be exactly what he needs.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso
Teams McLaren
Article type Analysis