The Curious Incident of the McLaren Driver in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso leaves hospital in Barcelona
Thumbs up but still so many questions

When the cars all line up on the grid for the first race of the season in Melbourne this coming Sunday, there will be one very notable driver missing.

Fernando Alonso has been withdrawn from the Australian Grand Prix on medical grounds following his crash on the last day of the second test in Barcelona. All those who were relishing the sight of Alonso racing again for McLaren following his much anticipated move from Ferrari will have to hang on until at least Malaysia.

Testing times for McLaren
Testing times for McLaren

A international cloak of mystery surrounds the circumstances, reasons and effects of the crash on Alonso. So amidst the lies, damned lies, statistics and other possibly made up stuff what actually do we know?

Telemetry apparently shows that Alonso was driving at a speed of 215 km/h when he lost control of his car on Turn Three and hit a wall. Vettel who was right behind Alonso at the time said “The speed was slow – Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange.”

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Eric Bouiller, McLaren’s racing director, said that Alonso had suffered concussion. Not too surprisingly given it was a big shunt. But to quell the increasingly wild speculation fuelled by Alonso’s unexpectedly prolonged stay in hospital (three nights in total), Lord Ron Vader released a few grains of information a few days later to say that there had been a “period of unconsciousness” but that tests had revealed there was no concussion as “the technical definition of concussion is that you see it in a scan”. Ron Dennis would have made a formidable QC in another life.

A happier time
A happier time

McLaren have now confirmed that Alonso did in fact suffer a normal concussion with a loss of temporary memory and have issued this further statement: “Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in him sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome.”

Confused? Well you are not alone. A lot of people, including most of the F1 paddock, are very baffled by the whole incident. One of the best drivers in F1 (and considered by many in the paddock to be the very best) has an odd and seemingly innocuous crash with no apparent injuries yet is ruled out of the season opener which is three whole weeks later. Only last Thursday Ron Dennis said he could see no reason why Alonso would not be racing in Melbourne.

The F1 rumour mill always mildly feverish at the best of time has been in proverbial overdrive. McLaren have categorically denied that Alonso suffered any electric shock. But McLaren’s denial has not entirely stopped the rumours, with Sky Italia claiming Alonso told friends he had felt “major shock in his spine” before crashing.

Ron Dennis who has been busy categorically denying everything under the sun has also categorically denied that there was any mechanical failure of any kind. The accident was apparently caused by “unpredictably gusty winds” on the that part of the circuit. Although these gusty winds didn’t seem to catch anyone out which is curious given there are a few rookies entering F1 this year. As an aside how can Jos Verstappen’s son be now racing in F1 when his dad was trundling around in a Minardi literally only yesterday. This makes me feel about 100 years old! Wikipedia tells me his last season in F1 was in fact 2003 but still. Also discovered when trawling back through Jos’s life and times in F1 that he is in fact younger than the husband. The march of time is a cruel cruel thing.

Max Verstappen. Seriously how young?! He even still has spots FFS
Max Verstappen. Seriously how young?! He even still has spots FFS

The never knowingly reticent Flavio Briatore (Alonso’s manager) has refuted claims published in Spain’s El Pais newspaper that Alonso woke up in 1995 (sometimes you really couldn’t make the world of Formula 1 up). Imagine if he really had woken up thinking it was 1995 (that movie has Ron Howard’s name written all over it), a point in time when Max Verstappen was merely a twinkle in the eye of his parents. According to the article, Alonso thought he was a 14 year old kart driver and it took the best part of a week to recover his memory in full of the last 20 years. Helpfully, Flavio went on to say that McLaren has given Alonso no information on whether there was a steering problem and communications from the team had not been brilliant. Way to defuse the situation Flav.

Flavio Briatore, a young Fernando Alonso and sacrificial lamb to the slaughter Nelson Piquet Jr.

Disharmony in the ranks already? Its not how McLaren would have hoped the season would be start for their £28 million marquee signing. Pre-season has been utterly disastrous – even poor old Jenson Button must be half wondering whether enforced retirement wasn’t slightly preferable after all. There hasn’t been a single day so far where a Mclaren didn’t break down. At the second test (before his crash), Alonso had said they would arrive in Australia wishing Australia was in June or July but (alas) it is in March. It is fair to say this season’s McLaren-Honda will not be conjuring up memories of the Senna-Prost glory years. Which is a little bit gutting. Magnussen will now be stepping into Alonso’s seat for the opening race despite hinting last weekend he wouldn’t feel ready to race in Melbourne. Whisper it quietly but are the drivers spooked by the car?

There have even been some dramatic suggestions in Sports Bild of a boycott by some of the other teams due to safety concerns surrounding the McLaren. Really? Or is that just the media spinning out a big story for as long as possible. The problem is the confusion and lack of information are helping to stoke the cauldron of conspiracy theories. And who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory? Lets face it, there have been some truly abysmal teams participating in F1 over the years (just google Andrea Moda, 1992 season – car failure after 18 yards, drivers racing without a seat etc) and as far as I recall no boycott ever got off the ground. If a car is really that terrible it won’t even be in a position to qualify for a race or will conk out after a few laps.

Andrea Moda does Monaco (badly)
Andrea Moda does Monaco (badly)

The teams have barely started unloading the cars, equipment and components which have been freighted across to the other side of the world and the first major controversy of the season is in full swing.

To be continued…



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