Alonso: Hamilton struggles highlight Formula 1 is a ‘team sport’

Fernando Alonso has welcomed Sir Lewis Hamilton to the midfield battle.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso believes that the difficult season that Sir Lewis Hamilton is enduring in 2022 is emphasising the fact that no matter how good a driver is, it may count for little if the car does not have the pace. 

Having narrowly missed out on his eighth world champion last season, Hamilton and Mercedes came into 2022 galvanised in their hunt to turn the tables on Red Bull and re-claim the Drivers’ Championship, but it looks as though their eight years of constructors’ dominance is about to come to an end this year.

The Silver Arrows have suffered with a woefully underperforming car this season, and both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell have managed a best finish of third after capitalising on poor reliability for Red Bull and mistakes from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

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These results have done little to cover over the cracks though, and the German outfit find themselves 62 points behind leaders Ferrari, whose Charles Leclerc has won two of the five races so far in 2022 and leads the Drivers’ Standings.

Max Verstappen, who beat Hamilton to glory on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season, has claimed the other three, but finds himself 19 points adrift of the Monegasque after retiring from the races in Bahrain and Australia through engine troubles.

Alonso knows what it is like to be a world champion driver in an underperforming car.

The Spaniard managed 23 points finishes with McLaren between 2015 and 2018 as the Woking side failed to integrate themselves with Honda or Renault power, and that move came right after he had left Ferrari, who returned to race winning form with Sebastian Vettel following the Scuderia’s horrible 2014 – the first season in the Turbo-Hybrid era.

Alonso did not take any race wins that year after winning 11 races with the Maranello side before that, missing out on the title amid the dominance of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.

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His time with the Italian giants was preceded by two titles at Renault, while his four wins with McLaren in 2007 nearly took him to glory, but for in-team fighting with Hamilton perhaps costing them both as Kimi Raikkonen sealed his sole championship that year by one point.

It is fair to say then that Alonso has not had the best of luck in the pinnacle of motorsport since 2006, and he has endured more misfortune in 2022 as well, with reliability failures as well as accidents in his Renault-powered Alpine keeping him on two points in 16th in the championship.

The 40-year-old has become accustomed to putting his all into a lap and finding that it is only good enough to scrape into the top 10, but he affirms that it is simply the nature of the beast.

“This is the nature of the sport. Sometimes you have a better car, sometimes you have not such a good car and you still need to fight and make some progress,” he told BBC Sport.

“This year we see that the driver is very important in F1 but not crucial.

“Lewis is driving as good as he has been the last eight years. He was dominating the sport and breaking all the records and [103] pole positions.

“And now he is doing a mega lap – as he said in Australia or somewhere like that – and he is one second behind. So, yeah – welcome.”

Hamilton has out-qualified Russell three times in 2022, but has found himself beaten in the race in all of the last four events due to a combination of blinding pace from the 24-year-old and misfortune under the Safety Car.

More than that though, he just does not have the car at the moment to add to his seven championships, and it is at times like these, according to Alonso, that we see just how important the rest of the team is to the driver’s success.

“This is F1. It is not going to be a fair sport in terms of numbers,” he explained.

“This is a team sport more than anything and we tend to forget this, especially when we have success. We are so happy for what we are achieving that even if we try to share with the team, all the headlines are for the driver.

“It happened to me when I won the two championships. I was beating Michael Schumacher. This was a big topic.

“But my car was more reliable at that time and had very good performance and you cannot praise enough that package because the headlines will still be the driver. And with Lewis, it’s the same.

“To have more than 100 pole positions in F1 is something unthinkable. You need to have the best car and package for many, many years.

“We were doing magic laps sometimes and we were P15, and how do you explain that to people? It will be impossible.

“He deserves everything he’s achieved in the past but this year is a good reminder that in all those records and numbers there is a big part on what you have in your hands as a package in the car.”

Russell’s performances have left him 23 points ahead of his compatriot in the standings, and Alonso was asked if he is surprised to see him doing so well against the 37-year-old.

“Yes and no. George has been very fast in the last few years,” said the 32-time race winner.

“I think everyone was expecting him to be a tough competitor for Lewis but I still believe Lewis will eventually finish the championship in front.

“This is just a five-race championship, but eventually when things are more tricky or [there are] difficult situations, Lewis will still have more experience and maybe more talent.”

All told, Alonso has not scored points since his P9 in Bahrain after a reliability failure in Saudi Arabia preceded further anguish.

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He might well have found himself on pole in Australia had it not been for an oil seal failure before his race was unravelled by a Safety Car, and contact with Mick Schumacher cost him another shot at points in Imola.

Contact with both Hamilton and Pierre Gasly in Miami was symptomatic of a difficult year so far for Alonso, who will be aiming for better fortunes with an upgraded Alpine at his home race in Spain this weekend.