Comment: Fernando Alonso has become used to taking the walk-on role - he and Ferrari need a change of script

Alonso was supposed to be the one racking up the titles in a career among the best

“Excuse me, Fernando,” Martin Brundle said as he eased the two-time world champion out of camera shot to get to the winner of the Chinese Grand Prix. Brundle would be back to Alonso in sequence after he had spoken to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the lucky boys at Mercedes galloping away with the season.

Alonso is used to the walk-on part. It hardly matters that he is picking over the bones left by Mercedes after four years feeding on the scraps discarded by Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. That was supposed to be his fate, the youngest driver to win a World Championship racking up the titles in a career that might rank among the very best.

It must make Alonso smile to listen to Vettel’s ill-humoured bellyaching after successive reverses to his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Not to mention the allowances made for him by team principal Christian Horner, Vettel has four consecutive world titles to console him.

He is, of course, a marvellous driver, a fierce competitor and a sharp manipulator of the political space within a team, just as Alonso was at Renault when he was the one smashing the stranglehold on Formula One held by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.

Alonso was the driver identified by Luca di Montezemolo to return the Scuderia to the dominance of a decade ago. Both are still waiting.

Alonso’s contract at Maranello runs until the end of 2016. There was talk of an extension last year when speculation linked him with an unlikely return to McLaren. You wonder in which direction his private thoughts are taking him as he ponders what will almost certainly be the last big decision of his career.

Alonso is in his fifth year in red. A third world title already looks beyond him in 2014. The season is only four races old yet just one team has tasted victory, the margin of conquest dispiritingly huge. The account he gave of his race weekend when Brundle eventually made it to the end of the podium walk has become the soundtrack to his Ferrari experience.

“Good weekend. We improved the car a little bit. We were more competitive. The race pace was a nice surprise. We didn’t have the start we wanted but we are fighting,” he said, effectively running off a series of bullet points attending failure.

Ferrari have recognised the need to do something by allowing Stefano Domenicali, the team principal, to fall on his sword. In comes Marco Mattiacci, yanked from his bed before the hour had struck 6am by  Di Montezemolo, who began the telephone exchange with a line that might start a novel: “This is my idea.”

Figures as powerful as the Ferrari president do not do introductions. Within hours the head of Ferrari North America was running a grand prix team in China, not surprisingly behind the veil of Raybans. Will Ferrari see the light under his command? The answer is unlikely to be revealed on this year’s asphalt. The gap to Mercedes is too great even for a team with as much financial grunt as Ferrari.

The best hope is that the brains trust at Fiorano come up with a solution for 2015 that gives Alonso the chance to resurrect his career and Ferrari to retain his services until the end of his racing days. At 32 he is not done by any means, yet nine years have passed since the first of those consecutive world titles that seemed to presage a future of far greater import.

Alonso was a groundbreaker, raising Formula One to a new level of significance in his native Spain, a country in thrall to love on two wheels, be it automotive or pedal power fuelling the romance. With grand prix meetings in economic retreat across the rest of Europe, Spain added a second race in Valencia to the staple in Barcelona, such was the euphoria that greeted Alonso’s rise.

The McLaren launch in 2007 in Valencia was the last of its kind in Formula One, a lavish affair on the Valencia waterfront featuring the Cirque de Soleil paid for by Spanish money from the vaults at the Bank of Santander. This was all made possible by the brilliance of the kid from Oviedo.

Had Alonso and McLaren’s owner, Ron Dennis, managed each other better then greater control of debutant Lewis Hamilton could have been had and, who knows, the World Championships of 2007 and 2008 might have been the Spaniard’s, too.

That was certainly the idea. The failure of that association proved catastrophic, costing Alonso two further wasted years treading water back at Renault before what appeared the perfect match with Ferrari. It would be some second marriage were Dennis to persuade Alonso to return to McLaren. Don’t dismiss that out of hand. Dennis outmanoeuvred the great Formula One song-and-dance man Flavio Briatore to land him in the first place when the champagne corks were still popping after his first championship success at Interlagos in 2005.

Needs must, and as things stand both Alonso and McLaren are in need of something.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before