As the build up to the 2008 season continues, today we have the the second of BlogF1’s guest post series to enjoy. This time we welcome the thoughts of Sidepodcast writer and podcaster, Christine Blachford. Christine discusses the return of Fernando Alonso to Renault and the pairing of the Spaniard with young hotshot Nelson Piquet Jr.
We all hope Alonso can return to Renault, keep his head down and bring the car up to scratch so he can return to doing what he does best – winning. Unfortunately, he’s been teamed with Nelson Piquet Jr, a confident rookie, aware of his ability and not afraid to show it out on track. Sound familiar?
Presumably Renault know what they’re doing in pairing the two this year. I believe Heikki had to make way for Alonso, both in ego and in budget, and they wouldn’t sacrifice the opportunity by putting Hamilton: The Sequel in his place.
During the torturous year that was 2007, Briatore was quite happy to claim he would never let his team get into the state that McLaren were in. Claiming that he wouldn’t make the same mistakes, is one thing, but does Flavio have what it takes to keep peace and harmony? The one advantage he has is that he knows how Alonso works. He knows what makes the guy tick, and what upsets him. I also imagine that Flav isn’t afraid of putting his foot down. Where you can see Ron playing nice and trying to placate both sides of his warring team, I imagine Flav just lays down the law and people listen – even Alonso.
Flavio is probably as prepared as he can be for the season ahead, but does he know what Piquet is capable of, or just how fragile Alonso really is?
The long, long 2007 season with Lewis Hamilton will have scarred Alonso. Whilst at all times he defended everyone, proclaiming that he was being treated fairly and saying he didn’t regret his time at McLaren for a second, his actions belied the truth. No one deliberately holds up their team mate in qualifying unless there is a serious problem there.
And the problem wasn’t just Hamilton’s failure to listen to instructions. Alonso hates to be beaten. We probably knew this before, but it’s never been more apparent. The only thing he despises more than being beaten is losing to a rookie. Fighting for the title with a seven times world champ is a lot different to battling the new guy on the block.
Even if he’s telling himself otherwise, there’s no doubt that Alonso’s confidence is knocked, his ego bruised. This year, though, he’s back in the bosom of his favourite team, his family, where he should feel more at home and confident to throw his weight around.
The media spotlight will be on him once again, waiting for any sign that yet another rookie is getting the better of him. Even if it’s only a couple of tenths between them, hungry journalists will be waiting to see whose door the helmet knocks down this year.
It’s amazing how quickly two world championships can be swept under the carpet, and Alonso’s reputation and future in the sport will most likely depend on how he carries himself this year. He has everything to lose.
Nelson, on the other hand, has everything to gain.
The Piquet dynasty has always looked out for number one. Nelson Piquet Sr was known for not playing well with his team mates. At best, you could say he kept himself to himself. Now Jr is here to continue the tradition. He’s risen through the ranks, knows the business inside out, and how to get what he wants – do you know of any other young drivers who gets an F3 team built around them?
Like Hamilton, Piquet was strong in GP2. In fact, 2006 saw them against each other in a season-long struggle of teams and wills in which Hamilton eventually triumphed. Perhaps the only thing Piquet and Alonso will have in common is that they know what it’s like to battle with (and be beaten by?) Lewis Hamilton.
2007’s third driver role saw little mileage for Piquet at Renault. He won’t be as experienced on the tracks as Alonso, despite his GP2 and testing practice. Unlike Hamilton at McLaren, Piquet won’t benefit from a state of the art simulator, so learning every inch of the track before a race is not possible.
Despite the lack of testing mileage allowed, Piquet was never shy about saying the race seat was waiting for him. Unafraid of jinxing the drive, he was convinced he’d be the next Alonso before even Flavio was. Now he has the chance to prove it.
The calendar ends as it always does, in Brazil – Piquet’s home country. If it’s a close fight between them, momentum will end with Piquet. However, Alonso effectively has two home races this year, Barcelona and Valencia. This echoes the situation as it was with Michael Schumacher – the defending champ having the home crowd behind him twice. This is bound to affect Alonso, in a positive way, but how will Piquet react?
When it comes down to it, the pair have to work together. Alonso claims to bring vast amounts of speed to a car, and with Renault recovering from a bad season, his concentration needs to be on that and not on a rowdy teammate. Meanwhile, Piquet can learn a lot from the double world champion, both good and bad. As long as the pair can remain civil, this could be a successful partnership, but I believe the fate of the relationship will rest mostly in Piquet’s hands.