Alonso Under Pressure

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Lewis Hamilton's astonishing performances in his early Formula 1 races have demonstrated that he is a world champion in waiting. But his speed has also put massive pressure on the man who currently holds that title. Mark Hughes investigates how Fernando Alonso is reacting to being beaten by his 'number two' at Sakhir.

ITV viewers will have no doubt noticed Fernando Alonso’s non-plussed response to Louise Goodman pointing out what a great race McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton enjoyed in Bahrain.

If you’re looking for a feel of how seriously to take that reaction: seriously.

Alonso’s still-young relationship with McLaren is at a very delicate formative stage - and Hamilton’s stunning performances in the first three races are testing that relationship before it’s yet properly annealed.

Alonso is a complex character: very much his own man and intensely proud. Fearing no-one, he has no compunction about speaking his mind if he feels strongly about something.

These are strengths in most circumstances but when combined with a little bit of paranoia the world champion could be about to box himself into an awkward corner.

Whilst Hamilton is the new boy to F1, it’s important to remember he’s been with the McLaren family for almost a decade.

Alonso, by contrast, is still settling in, trying to understand the complex dynamics you get in any family.

If it’s only natural that he should be on his guard for favouritism, such thoughts would soon have evaporated had Hamilton not been able to put such pressure on him right from the start. Bear in mind Alonso is not a guy that has ever before been troubled by a team-mate.

In Bahrain he was a lacklustre fifth on a day that Hamilton was keeping the pressure on the winner.

Searching for answers

He needed to rationalise this and sure enough afterwards Fernando spoke of a dire lack of grip and how he couldn’t even feel any difference between the supposedly grippier soft tyre used in the first two stints and the hard used at the end.

He said the car had felt like this since Saturday - after the garage gantry had fallen on it Friday night. Also, he was not at any point in the weekend happy with the feel of his brakes.

He is adamant something was amiss with the car and will be taking a keen interest in anything the team find when they strip the car down between now and Barcelona.

Taking the stance of ‘there must be something wrong with the car, because it isn’t me’ reveals the outward confidence of a double world champion. But it might also betray an insecurity, a feeling of threat from Hamilton’s performances.

Psychological pressure

When the team then quite naturally speak in gushing terms of praise for their star rookie, it is quite natural for Alonso’s paranoia antenna to prick up.

Especially from a guy who feels that his paranoia in the second half of last year - when the governing body banned his Renault’s mass dampers and penalised him in qualifying at both Hungary and Monza - was justified.

But psychologically he could be on tricky ground by setting himself up on the eve of his home race.

What if they examine the car and nothing is found? What sorts of questions will that place in his head?

In reality, these are the normal psychological stresses you tend to get whenever two exceptional drivers are lined up on the same team.

McLaren has seen this sort of thing before - notably with Alain Prost/Ayrton Senna in 1988-89, though on that occasion the battles had an edge of acrimony, even warfare.

That isn’t the case here. And furthermore Alonso is quite capable of turning up at Barcelona, putting it all to the back of his mind and delivering a mind-blowing performance.

This is one of those times when we’re reminded of the full multi-faceted fascination of this sport.