Is Alonso Cursed?

Is Alonso Cursed?

There are 724 other Formula 1 drivers who would have loved some of Fernando Alonso’s curse. He is one of only 33 world champions the sport has seen. But it’s fair to say, Fernando’s days with the crown feel like a lifetime away now, whereas bad luck seems to follow with permanent DRS enabled.

It was the recent attempt at IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500 that endeared him to a new legion of fans but once again showed the stars will not align for the Spaniard. It would have been the stuff of dreams had he won the big one in his rookie race. Ability wise, it wouldn’t have been shocking, but it is more Hollywood than reality.

This isn’t to say IndyCar is to be taken lightly.

It may appear a simplified sport to F1 aficionados but there is an art to oval racing. On many occasion fans of other motorsports laugh at the idea of going around in a circle. It’s as if they see the Indy 500 as a simple foot down and steer experience.

In contrast, an average of 16.7 turns are dealt with during each race weekend on the current F1 calendar. During the course of the season, 334 are taken, the highest for an individual track is 23, the lowest being 9 (which still dwarfs the Indy 500). This means each circuit becomes a compromise on setup.

No car can perfect each corner and the straights.

Oval endurance racing is about how to optimise the car for what appears to be a narrow choice between downforce and speed. But the changing conditions – both on track and in car – require gentle tweaks in weight distribution and balance. Rather than the optimisation of several sections, with a knowing sacrifice elsewhere (often offset with ERS or DRS), it is a tightrope walk that requires intelligence combined with a supernatural feel.

The two elements Alonso has above all F1 drivers, past and present.

Such a linear setup target, relying on the feel of the car, should sound like second heaven to someone like Jenson Button. Often described as unbeatable when the he feels the setup is perfect. But he dismissed IndyCar in the clearest terms when interviewed at Monaco. Perhaps the greatest acknowledgement: to get that perfect setup isn’t an easy task.

Alonso took to the Andretti based McLaren-Honda and the new formula as if he’d lived on oval circuits. He won hearts and minds in America and ensured his status as an all-time great. Transcending F1 and proving he doesn’t need an Indy 500 win and Le Mans 24 trophy to solidify his legacy.

But again, he does this through failure, not success.

If life is trying to send him subliminal messages, it’s getting bored with how slow he is to take the hint, so it sent a glaring one. The architect of his demise was once again a Honda badged engine. It forms a long line of conspirators against the Spaniard.

His personal choices can, of course, be questioned. But aside from conduct during his first McLaren stint, he’s appeared to be the loyal and dedicated professional teams pay $40m a season to secure.

With his unfortunate turn of luck stuck in a perpetual cycle, one has to consider a sinister form of fate is driving him to retirement without a third world title.

Time and a narrowing market of professional opportunity compound the issue.

McLaren will not be competitive this season and even the most optimistic Honda engineer cannot be expecting to produce an engine on par with the leading pack in 2018. Such a turnaround would be nothing short of miraculous but the talk of it sounds nothing short of folly.

There’s potential for movement in the top two teams of Ferrari and Mercedes. But the Prancing Horse always has a clear Alpha and Omega when enjoying periods of competitiveness and it’s hard to see Vettel losing his number one spot.

Mercedes sell the idea of equal footing but after the strain of the Hamilton/Rosberg dynamic, they’ve opted for the safe Bottas. He’s formally managed by Wolff and likely still influenced by the Austrian. He’s certainly more malleable than Alonso would be if it came down to an awkward in-house championship fight.

Which leaves Red Bull, probably the best driver balance at the front of the grid with years of longevity, should they wish to retain and are able to fend off third parties.

This leaves Alonso stuck in a seat he sought out after giving his prime years to a failing Ferrari. A Ferrari that came good not so long after he departed. Detractors could claim this is indicative of a negative effect he has teams.

Sportsmen are notorious for being superstitious. Whether it be always placing the left glove on before the right or a lucky meal that can never change on the day of the event. Alonso’s must be to break mirrors every seven years, or driving around for hours hoping to see magpies sat on their own. (I personally don’t have any superstitious tendencies and hope to keep it that way . . . touch wood.)

Since the Indy 500 experience, his return to F1 has continued to be tainted by poor luck. In Azerbaijan he collected a bittersweet two points. The not so subtle remark about how they could have won the race was aimed squarely at his engine supplier.

Austria witnessed a good Alonso start off the grid, only to be wiped out at turn one. An innocent party in a collision where the fates conspired against him.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone underlined the woes of living with Honda. Starting from the back of the grid after a thirty place penalty, a mechanical failure added another DNF to this season’s tally.

It must be difficult to remain upbeat when faced with repeated setbacks.

Is it just bad luck? Poor judgement? Or does someone, somewhere, have a voodoo doll that looks like a little Spaniard in a racing suit? Is it a curse that means Fernando Alonso will never complete a hattrick of F1 world titles, let alone the triple crown of Formula 1 Champion, Indy 500 winner, and a 24 Hours of Le Mans victory?

Should he secure any of the above, his arduous journey since his last world title in 2006 will feel like it was worth all the ill-fortune in the world. However, all signs point to his misery continuing indefinitely.

 

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Klitschko and Joshua: Legacy and Legitimacy

Klitschko and Joshua: Legacy and Legitimacy

The King is dead; long live the King.

Saturday night, Wembley saw a record attendance for a boxing match and a bout that will become the thing of legend. It was more than a passing of the torch: it was a fight for the ages. A reminder why the heavyweight division is the pinnacle of the sport, and a moment in time where long burning questions were finally answered.

Previous perfunctory performances, like the Haye fight, had done little to endear Wladimir to fair-weather boxing fans. They want excitement and edge of the seat action. He played his part in providing this against AJ.

It’s a shame Haye couldn’t bring this side of Klitschko to life. Imagine a world where a slicker, more focused Wladimir stomped on the heavyweight division instead of politely keeping it at arm’s length with a jab.

This writer has always been a fan of boxers that box smart instead of taking risks for the sake of show. Mayweather is a genius that bores the untrained eye. Wladimir to many, was dull and a fallacy.

Of course, these claims are untrue. He was a master technician that painfully learnt his weaknesses in his early fights and adapted style accordingly. Paradoxically, it was his years of methodical experience that went against him on Saturday.

After he put Joshua down, the younger man looked spent. He was there for the taking. Even as AJ launched the final, deadly attack, it was from rocky ground.

But Klitschko was too use to seeing fights out, meticulously choosing punches at the optimum time. Had he ignored this well-tread instinct, the British Gold Medallist would have been surrendering to his Ukrainian counterpart.

Instead it was down to the man without any experience at world level to change the course of the fight: The course of heavyweight history.

Both men left everything in the ring. In defeat, Wladimir Klitschko is humanised. The mechanical, robotic sounding, professor of the punch became a dynamic warrior, ready to go out on his shield with his sword still swinging.

AJ will continue to improve, this was invaluable experience. It means should Klitschko face him again, he’ll have to raise his game even further. At forty-one, that may be too much of an ask. But at least we now know there was something left in the tank. More than a little, as it happens.

Anthony Joshua took a large step to fulfilling the prophecy that he can become one of the all-time greats, should he maximise his potential. The chinks in his armour – ones that had been hinted at – were fully exposed. But he stood tall and kept his relentless hunter mode active.

It may have been Joshua’s first proper fight at world level but he proved he belonged there. For all the hype surrounding him, real calibre shone through when it mattered most. He may still be “vulnerable” in the way Klitschko said, and demonstrated, but the balance of talent versus deficiencies sways in his favour.

Joshua getting better with time must strike fear into every future opponent. The best heavyweight boxer of the last decade, in the finest shape of his life, couldn’t halt his ascension. The legitimacy of Anthony Joshua can no longer be questioned.

Neither can the legacy that Wladimir Klitschko leaves behind. Often overlooked because of the entertainment factor, people miss the point: he made boxers look ordinary and always got the job done.

The Fury defeat can now be placed into context. There was a question as to why Klitschko tried to add extra padding to the canvas. It was a move that a man recovering from injury would take. He didn’t look 100% that night but took the fight anyway.

This isn’t to diminish the Fury achievement, he went with a game plan and executed it perfectly. It was the thing needed to light the fire in Wlad’s belly.

Once burning again, we saw a glimpse of the great man that’s always been there.

His boxing record already ensures Wladimir Klitschko is a Hall of Fame addition. The character and professionalism he’s displayed in every situation signifies what being a champion is all about.

He hands over his crown to Joshua in a fitting coronation. The British boxer has displayed he also has a positive demeanour. In the coming years, it will be tested as fighters try to drag him to the dark side of the sport.

In those moments, he’d be well advised to take a pause and wonder what Wladimir would do.

Bellew was Haye’s Achilles’ Heel

Bellew was Haye’s Achilles’ Heel

On Saturday night, Tony Bellew shocked the boxing world. If he’s honest, he shocked himself. David Haye’s recovery was an unknown quantity since returning from injury. Two “fights” against men not fit for sparring told us very little. And the fitness question mark will always hang over Haye’s head. That being said, his explosive punching power was never in doubt. What transpired was something straight from fiction but Haye didn’t lose to Bellew in the eleventh round – that had happened months before and was confirmed in the build-up.

Imagine the scenario: a cruiserweight hounds and pesterers the perceived best heavyweight on the planet. The attacks are verbal and public. The heavyweight struggles to go about his daily business because the yapping cruiserweight will not go away.

So the man in the weight division above finally gives in and agrees to a bout he’s sees as nothing more than an inconvenience – a money spinner, maybe – but still a major unnecessary distraction.

The fight goes ahead and the outcome is what the heavyweight expected: he wins.

That heavyweight was Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye was the annoying cruiserweight. It’s why he hated Bellew so much in the build-up to their fight. The Liverpudlian had out-Hayed Haye. He’d been backed into a corner through persistence, his planned plot back to the top delayed.

Now the question becomes: was that outpouring of anger something deeper rooted than a mere dislike for changing his plan? Was he worried Bellew – a fighter looking like he’s still on the way to finding his prime – could expose his newfound flaws? There was a reason Haye hadn’t taken a proper bout since his shoulder injury.

This doesn’t mean anything should be taken away from either fighter. Both Haye and Bellew gave good accounts of themselves on Saturday. After the first round, Haye took control. It was when he decided to trade blows in the centre of the ring in the middle of the fight that his night unravelled. It looked like something from a Rocky movie at the time and was described that way by Haye afterwards.

Then the extent of the injury to Haye became obvious. He dragged his foot around the ring like he was auditioning for a role in The Walking Dead. But he was a zombie that hung on and kept coming back for more.

The damaged heel isn’t an excuse for his loss, but a reason to consider retiring. He can’t keep going to the well when it’s nearly running dry.

Naturally there will be calls for Haye’s corner to be examined. The criticism being they should have thrown in the towel earlier. The Reflective takes the opposing view. He wasn’t taking dangerous head shots and they can’t pull a proud man early when he still wants to go toe-to-toe.

Haye played the role of bad guy beforehand but he showed heart and spirit when many others would have taken the easy way out.

Eventually that pride had to give way to the inevitable fall. It was a physical descent and a metaphorical one from grace. Not that he’d ever shown much of that, but his royal standing was removed, humility served. A career that remains in intensive care.

About the distasteful side of Haye in the promotion of the bout: he needs to be cut some slack. He remembers when the benchmark for heavyweight trash talking was set by Tyson, saying he’d eat Lewis’s children. It’s panto. Brutal panto, but panto all the same.

The PC brigade have no place in softening boxing’s bravado. And before they jump on that one line: I’m not saying comments that marginalise or discriminate race, colour or sexual preference are acceptable. But nasty words between two men absorbed in their roles is okay. It’s expected. They do have tickets to sell.

And it’s now Bellew that holds a wad of offers, all resulting in more life-changing paydays. Make no mistake, this was always about winning the payday lottery for the Scouser. It follows a trend of boxers seeking bouts beyond their ability, in weight divisions above, for one highly publicised contest.

Except the result was within Bellew’s grasp and he snatched it.

Eddie Hearn won’t want a rematch – that alone could retire Haye if he’s unable to avenge the defeat – he’ll be eyeing the suspect pair that have box office seats, Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker.

Whatever Tony Bellew decides his legacy is already secure. As he continued to point out: he’s a current world champion. He’s also a legitimate heavyweight that deserves to, finally, be taken seriously.