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Alonso and the Engineers

In previous posts in this blog, I have wondered just how good a driver Fernando Alonso is. New evidence as to his abilities emerges all the time, but the Renault team have now released some thoughts on the matter. Fernando’s race engineer, Rod Nelson, had this to say about Alonso’s battle with Schumacher in Turkey:

“Fernando knew that the only passing opportunities were on the back of the circuit after turn 8, and he was saving his high revs for the two straights between turns 8 and 12 – literally turning the engine up and back down around the lap.”

“His engine engineer (Remi Taffin) and I were discussing what revs he had available to use, when we saw he was managing the situation already. It was typical Fernando – always thinking ahead, working his way around problems and delivering the goods. He was calm in the car – but I was pretty stressed on the pit-wall!”

That is a very revealing indication, not only of Fernando’s racing brain, but also of how complex driving an F1 car is these days. There are innumerable settings within the car that can be tweaked during the race and, to be able to fiddle with these in the heat of competition, is some measure of a driver’s ability.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

It was Ayrton Senna who first admitted to using a two-foot driving style through corners, staying on the accelerator and adjusting the car’s speed with dabs at the brake. It took time for the others to copy this (some never managed it) and it is a useful example of how small refinements of technique can make the difference between a competent driver and a gifted one.

These days, everything about a driver’s style can be known; so much telemetric information is fed back to the engineers in the pits that they can tell exactly where a driver hits the brake, how he handles the throttle and what adjustments he makes. There is nowhere to hide.

So, when a driver’s race engineers offer an opinion on his skills, we can be pretty certain that they know what they’re talking about. If Rod Nelson thinks Alonso is the business, he is almost definitely right. Loyalty may have an influence on such judgments but no-one enthuses unless they mean it from the heart – and Rod was enthusing when he made those remarks.

I was coming to the same conclusions (honest) even before the Renault team offered their opinion but now I am sure. McLaren are getting one excellent race driver for next season. And he will probably be World Champion too.

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