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.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?