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Fernando Alonso – the most disliked F1 driver in Brazil

Published November 26, 2012

When the Grand Prix of Brazil ended on Sunday, and Fernando Alonso was still second in the world championship of drivers, thousands of Brazilians at the Interlagos circuit and millions more throughout the country rejoiced.

Why?

It was not primarily because Sebastien Vettel won his third consecutive driving title, which he did by finishing sixth behind winner Jenson Button in an astounding drive from the back of the pack after crashing shortly after the start.

It was because Alonso, the most disliked racing driver in Brazil, had come up short, albeit by a mere three points, and that was the cause for the celebration.

And why is the two-time world champion from Spain so despised in the South American country?

Because every time there is sleight-of-hand that benefits Alonso, the loser has been a Brazilian driver.

Nelson Piquet Jr., who is reinventing himself in NASCAR currently, was a young F1 driver with Renault when, in 2008, acting on instructions from the disgraced team principal Flavio Briatore and the equally disgraced chief engineer Pat Symonds, he deliberately crashed his car at a strategic moment in the race and this enabled his teammate, Alonso, to leapfrog to the front of the pack and go on to win the Grand Prix of Singapore.

If that wasn’t bad enough, last week at the U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Tex., Ferrari had to figure out a way to move Alonso up in the starting order. He hadn’t qualified well and was starting eighth – and on the “dirty” side of the brand new race track.

So Ferrari deliberatly broke an FIA seal on the gearbox of Brazilian hero Felipe Massa’s racing car, which resulted in a five grid-position penalty. Massa went from sixth on the grid to 11th and Alonso moved up a spot, which put him on the “clean” side of the macadam.

The manipulation of Piquet Jr.in Singapore was bad enough but when Ferrari used Massa to benefit Alonso in Texas, it was the last straw. And then, of course, they had to watch Massa on Sunday ride shotgun for Alonso, even giving up his second-place position late in the contest so his teammate could score more points.

Yes, Massa still finished on the podium but his post-race interview with Nelson Piquet Sr. was telling. He suggested that instead of playing second banana at Ferrari in 2013, he’d be driving to win right from the beginning of the season – something that hadn’t appeared to be the case this year.

The dramatics aside (I have contacts in Brazil, and that’s how come I know this stuff),  the curtain-closer on the 2012 season Sunday was a race to remember, starting with the weather.

The race began with the Autodromo Carlos Pace damp. A number of cars were sliding around – Alonso lost third place early in the race when he hit a wet spot and went off – and many times during the race you saw team managers looking at the sky and wondering what kind of tires to fit on the cars.

It ended in pretty much a downpour and the McLaren rainmeister, Button, who seems to excel when conditions are awful, was the winner by about 20 seconds.

The drama was incredible.

Vettel went into the final race leading the championship by 13 points. He didn’t qualify well and had a poor start. Approaching the fourth turn, with everybody bunched up, he was suddenly backwards on the race track and by the time he got straightened out he was dead last.

The fact that he was able to battle his way back into the points after his team told him the car’s floor was damaged beyond repair as a result of being assaulted by Senna and he would just have to make the best of it was nothing short of miraculous.

Then, for awhile, it looked like German driver Nico Hulkenberg, driving his last race for Force India-Mercedes (he’s going to Sauber-Ferrari in 2013), was going to win his first F1 race. But then, when racing Lewis Hamilton for the lead toward the end of the race, he lost control and spun off, hitting the McLaren driver in the process and damaging Hamilton’s car beyond repair.

That is the incident that put Alonso onto the podium; if Hulkenberg doesn’t spin and take out Hamilton, and goes on to win, or Hamilton isn’t clobbered and goes on to win, there is the distinct possibility that Alonso wouldn’t have finished higher than fourth or fifth and would have lost the championship by a wider margin.

As the race wound down, Massa let Alonso past to move into second and, with Vettel running seventh, within a point of the championship. But then Michael Schumacher, running his last race for Mercedes before retiring forever, did not fight when Vettel passed him for sixth (worth two more points) and that was the three-point margin at the checkers.

Sebastian Vettel has now won three consecutive world championships and Red Bull-Renault their third manufacturer’s championship. Everybody is back for 2013: team principal Christian Horner, designer Adrien Newey, No. 2 Mark Webber and Webber’s trackside engineer Gavin Ward, who’s from Toronto (I just thought I’d throw that last bit in).

Is a fourth title a possibility? We’ll find out, starting next March.

Notebook jottings:

– SPEED TV’s Bob Varsha had a great line on Friday during the telecast of the second F1 practice session. He was kidding around with his studio sidekicks, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs and they were talking whether Sao Paulo was a good vacation spot. Said Varsha: “It’s one of the safest cities in the world – as long as you’re armed to the teeth.”

– Speaking of Texas and the Circuit of the Americas, which we weren’t but what the hell, an article I wrote about the future being bleak for F1 races there drew a ton of reponses. Many took me to task for what they considered inaccuracies in my reporting of the cost of attending the Grand Prix – although others agreed that they’d been gouged.

In any event, perhaps I should have left that part out because it took away from the point of the column, which is that the economics of F1 do not make sense and the race at that facility is not sustainable. It is why it is highly doubtful that there will ever be a Grand Prix in New Jersey and, as I have written on a number of occasions, it is why the Grand Prix of Canada at Montreal is under threat when the current contract expires following the 2014 race.

The only place that made sense in recent years was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway It is a racing facility, the people who own it are in the business of putting on races, and it is paid for. All they have to do is open the doors and there can be a race. But even there, the economics of Formula One eventually hit a brick wall and the race went away.

The stark reality is that nobody will be able to afford F1 much longer.

– A report in the Daily Mail at the end of last week said the reason Lewis Hamilton decided to leave McLaren for Mercedes is because of something that happened during negotiations.”I do know what has happened,” an unnamed ‘senior figure’ told the paper. “Everyone makes mistakes and Ron made a mistake. Everything went pear-shaped and I don’t think it would be fair to say any more than that.”

F1 is an amazingly political game. The media are used to settle all sorts of scores and to stick in all sorts of knives. This is one such instance.

Ron Dennis didn’t make any mistake. Lewis Hamilton did when he Tweeted out confidential data at the Belgian Grand Prix. He did it to see what the reaction would be. He found out he’d pushed the wrong button. That’s why he’ll be driving for Mercedes next year, and not McLaren.

But not before trying to make it look like it was someone else’s fault.

– Michael Schumacher is done with Formula One. Or is he? He has all the money in the world. Will be buy a team? HRT is available.

– Finally, the safety car was dispatched on Lap 23 because of debris on the circuit. That should take about a second to clean up, right?

Well, it took them until Lap 30 to restart the race. That’s NASCAR time.

How come?

Well, they now allow lapped cars (of which there were about a dozen) to pass the pace car and go around and catch up with the cars on the lead lap. That can take forever, as Sunday’s race illustrated.

Why not just have them pull out of line and let the cars on the lead lap pass them and then fall into line behind them? Wouldn’t that be a lot faster?

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