Lewis Hamilton was the man of the moment in qualifying on Saturday afternoon at the Hungaroring but who will bet against The Maestro?
Hamilton dominated all three qualifying sessions to take pole by a convincing margin and the British driver is now favourite for victory, because even in this modern era it’s difficult to pass at the Hungaroring without a little assistance from the man in front. But with thunderstorms threatening to pay us a visit tomorrow afternoon, anything could still happen. The only thing we know for sure is that Fernando Alonso will go into the summer break leading the championship.
Plenty of drivers say they don’t pay attention to the numbers (and some of them might even be telling the truth) but Fernando isn’t one of them. In fact, when it comes to trotting out statistics, Fernando is the master.
It’s actually pretty amazing. Watch him after a race when he’s in the top three: he jumps out of the car, hits the weighbridge, grabs a towel and champagne, then he’s straight into the press conference knowing full well how the championship table has changed. Just a quick glance at the timing screens and he has it locked down in his head. He’s also a dab hand at then putting these numbers into a historical context, thus saving us from having to work too hard on the research.
He’ll be fully aware, then, that history looks kindly on drivers who lead the championship as they depart the Hungaroring. Only twice since Fernando’s F1 debut in 2001 has the driver leading after Hungary failed to collect the big pot at the end of the year. It happened in 2007 when McLaren imploded (at the Hungaroring!) and Lewis Hamilton’s lead was slowly ground down by Kimi Räikkönen.
It happened again in 2010 when Mark Webber led into the summer only to be pipped at the post by Sebastian Vettel. The other nine times, the man leading after Hungary has gone on to claim the World Championship. Including Alonso… twice.
It’s bizarre that six months ago no one gave Ferrari the proverbial cat in hell’s chance of success in 2012. Now Alonso is being touted as a favourite. Humility isn’t a strong suit of Fernando’s but he did brush off that idea very quickly this week when asked if he regarded himself as the favourite.
"Just a quick glance at the timing screens and Alonso has it all locked down in his head"
“I think we are in a good position in terms of the points that we’ve achieved in the first half of the season – but we are only halfway,” he said. “We did 10 [races] and there remain another 10 important races with the same possibilities for everybody. The distance between the top five, top six, is not a distance or a gap that is impossible to recover. You just need one or two good races and you are up there.”
“In terms of the championship, it’s obviously way too early to think about it. McLaren, Red Bull, Lotus, Mercedes, everyone is in contention at the moment.”
He’s right, but the fact this has been a scrappy season doesn’t hurt his chances. Last week, Alonso took his 22nd pole position. It was remarked on by people in the press room that 22 poles doesn’t seem like very many for a man who’s achieved so much; Vettel, the other double world champion on the grid, has 33, and Lewis Hamilton also has 22, the latter pair with considerably fewer races under their belts.
It’s only on reflection that one remembers that, while having driven a string of very good cars, Alonso has never been blessed with a dominant car. The most poles he’s taken in a single season is six – not for him an RB7, FW14B or MP4-4. Alonso has delivered by making the most of what he has: unlike Vettel or Hamilton, he has more wins than poles. But this season, the key to him leading the championship hasn’t been his three victories as much as it’s been about him taking what’s on offer.
“Sometimes that can be a podium, sometimes maybe it’s fifth position or seventh,” he said. “We can’t afford to make any mistakes or do anything we regret.”
He’s scored in every race so far – the only driver to do so. This year’s Ferrari looks like it’s morphed into a fairly good car, but while Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren have all had weekends where they’ve had the upper hand, the F2012 has never really looked like a winner. Fernando seems to be achieving through sheer force of will.
A blog on Redbull.com may seem an unusual arena to wax lyrical about another team’s driver, but you really have to take your hat off to him. And elsewhere in the paddock, others have felt free to genuflect before the altar. “We hear at Ferrari they call you The Maestro,” was slightly sycophantic question he received on Thursday.
“At Ferrari they usually call me Fernando,” he deadpanned in reply.