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
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent