Few losers in frontline sport have had so much universal acclaim heaped upon them as in the worthy case of Formula One’s Fernando Alonso.
Ferrari’s principal hope for the title lost out by three points to Red Bull’s young master Sebastian Vettel in the final countdown of a season of unforgettable quality, drama and excitement. But far from being criticised for his failure to win the championship for a third time after 2005-06,the Spaniard has been hailed uniquely and enthusiastically as the star of the 20-show spectacle.
And, ironically, by no less self-biased and knowledgeable a group than the bosses of his rival teams who all wanted the 2012 championship for themselves. In a poll they have voted Alonso ahead of triple-champion Vettel, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, comeback sensation Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, the 2009 title holder and Aussie veteran Mark Webber.
Webber, Red Bull’s number two, Vettel’s crucial helpmate, rushed to typically and ungrudgingly add his praise to that of the 12 team chiefs.
“I don’t think he put a wheel wrong all season,” said Webber, “and that’s why he is so disappointed he missed out on the title — he probably felt he had done everything he could. He could not have done much more.”
The same could not be said of the Italian Grand Prix legends, who fell foul of a costly lack of creativity in the performance department and pitlane calls ill-judged enough to sometimes negate Alonso’s immaculate driving skills and courage.
They need this upcoming season to vastly improve to provide their genius of a driver with a machine to match his ability and ambition. It is an urgent quest and Maranello, the team’s headquarters, should be a hive of inventive activity in their efforts to learn from their shortcomings.
The man himself, pledged to the Prancing Horse set-up for the remainder of his career,looked back on his year of glory — three wins and 10 podiums — and its near miss finale in the championship chase with: “I am very happy. Aside from losing out in the end, it was the perfect year which will be difficult to repeat.
“But is is my intention to make it better.”
He can only do that if Ferrari can get their act together and he reminds them: “We have a lot of work to do with much overtime throughout the winter. There is always room for improvement.”
It is a valid plea from a supremely gifted driver, a hero, who was champion in all but the final reckoning...