F1 Drivers: Will Fernando ever be faster than you?
McLaren have chosen Renault for one reason, and that it that they need good, consistent results. The relationship with Honda had reached a point where McLaren just cannot keep waiting for Honda to come good, as they are losing sponsors, prize money, fans and respect in the Formula One paddock.
This is amplified by the fact that McLaren have a very rich heritage, full of good results and with this comes high expectations. It may not sound like a good deal to most people, especially as they are changing from the worst engine in Formula One to the second worst, but the deal does have a silver lining. It will mean that instead of fighting to be in the final parts of qualifying, they could be fighting for the top three and on some circuits, even the pole position, as Red Bull have shown this season.
This comes with a caveat however, which is that we don't know whether McLaren will produce a great car, and whether Renault can keep up with the rapid development of Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of both performance and reliability.
As I mentioned, McLaren has a very rich history, and is the sport's second most successful team, after Ferrari, but has not won a race since Jenson Button took the chequered flag way back in 2012 at the Brazilian Grand Prix: To put it in perspective, this was Lewis Hamilton's last race with the team.
They also have a good history when it comes to designing the car, with a strong technical lineup led by Tim Goss and Peter Prodromou, a lineup which has led to Fernando Alonso saying multiple times in the 2017 season that McLaren have the 'best chassis' on the grid. This statement is certainly debatable, but it cannot be said that McLaren did badly when it came to tracks where engine power didn't play a key part, with the Hungaroring being the best example.
Will it be hard to adapt to the Renault engine?
Well, the short answer is no, according to Tim Goss in a recent interview with Autosport, the short answer is no, because they have managed it:
"You have two fundamental engine architectures out there. You have the Mercedes/Honda approach, and you have got the Ferrari/Renault approach.
Essentially the difference comes down to where the turbocharger sits.
The Mercedes/Honda approach is you have the compressor on the front of the engine, the turbine on the back of the engine and the MGU-H sat in the middle of the V.
The Ferrari/Renault approach is that you have got the compressor sat at the back of the engine, the MGU-H behind it and the turbine behind that.
They require a very different approach to your chassis and your gearbox, and now we have had recent experience of both we can see there are pros and cons of both.
There are things I love about the Renault approach and there are things that frustrate me a little bit, but in the end we were fortunate that the decision to move from one engine to another was made just in time.
It couldn't have been made any later."
Whether the new engine and the late change will have ramifications in the coming season will soon become clear, as winter testing starts at the end of February. Personally, I expect to see McLaren prioritising setup of the engine over performance (especially in the first test), so they are fully prepared and know what to expect when qualifying takes place down under.
Is Fernando past his prime?
Let's start with the obvious: It has been twelve, yes twelve years since Alonso won his second world championship for Renault. In those twelve years, we've seen both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel win four championships each, and Fernando get very close on a number of occasions (most noticeably in 2012, where he lost out to Vettel by a mere three points).
Even though he didn't win any championships, from 2007 up until 2013 (2014 wasn't that awful either, regardless of the lack of victories), he was there or thereabouts. 2015 was where the shit hit the fan. And in a big way.
He re-joined McLaren in 2015, under the promise from Ron Dennis and Yasuhisa Arai that he would definitely win races, and then go on to be world champions in the coming years. Well, we all know how that turned out.
However, in all of his years in Formula One, nobody has ever called him slow, and there is a reason for that: He will drive the arse of any car he is given, and will extract the best possible performance regardless of whether he is fighting for first or last. Aside from the 2012 championship, where Vettel was clearly the one with the better car, one of the more recent displays of his ability was last season in the final part of qualifying in Spain. The video below shows his amazing qualifying performance (if the content is blocked by FOM, click here to go directly to YouTube).
Another example is his battle with Hamilton in Mexico where he refused to give up his position without a fight (again, you'll probably have to click here):
This footage clearly proves than Fernando is not past his best, and has definitely not lost his motivation for motorsport as he wants to compete 'every weekend' if he could (whether that be in F1, IndyCar or the WEC), so what went wrong?
To put it simply, it was his decision making skills. What I mean by this is that he may be a great driver, but he can't seem to choose the right team at the right time. There are numerous examples of this, for example the switch to Ferrari in 2010, when he had an offer from Red Bull to partner Mark Webber for the 09' and 10' seasons, on a two year deal. However, Alonso elected to stay at Renault for another year, and then go on to join Ferrari. Little did he know about the success he could have had if he had just accepted the two-year deal that was offered by Christian Horner, instead of demanding a one-year contract.
So, will Fernando ever be faster than you?
I am optimistic about the team's chances in the 2018 season now that they finally have a reliable (ish) engine, an engine which won races last year in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. However, you have to take into account how much Ferrari and Mercedes are going to improve, and the question of Renault's ability to keep the good performance without sacrificing their reliability.
As a McLaren fan myself, it has been hard to watch the last five years, seeing one of the greatest teams and some of the greatest drivers fail to get the results that they so desperately need. However, with a new boss in Zak Brown, and renewed optimism within the team, I am more confident than ever before that they can return to the front of the grid.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments what you think McLaren's fate will be next year, as well as some topics that you would like discussed in future articles. Also, don't forget to vote in the poll below!