What a race that was then! From crying Ferrari fans, to wheel to wheel contact, to a terrific scrap for the lead and ultimately a driver at the top of his game, expertly backed up by his team, taking a hard fought victory. The 2017 Spanish Grand Prix had a little bit of everything and what a joy it was to be a part of.
It was a weekend of surprises, such a contrast to the Spanish Grands Prix once upon a time where the order the cars crossed the line at the end of the first lap invariably didn’t change up to the Chequered Flag. I’ve talked over some dull races at this track let me tell you.
But from the outset this felt like a different weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya. The wind of change in the sport at the moment, felt like it had blown through and was starting to make a difference. Yes, we had the cold wind and heavy rain on Thursday, not the best surprise, and certainly not what I wanted as I’d left my coat back in the UK. It never rains in Spain – unless you’re standing on some plain somewhere – does it?
Well, it did, I got soaked and I’ve had a cold ever since. Apologies for the croaky voice on Sunday afternoon but, to be fair, I’d had plenty to get excited about by the time Lewis Hamilton crossed the line.
When the fans arrived on Friday they found a whole new Fanzone to entertain. Zip lines, giant transformers, an alternative podium that you could stand on and have your picture taken, just a few of the new initiatives for the paying public. At Silverstone, you guys are well catered for. The circuit does whatever it can to provide a festival atmosphere that you can all enjoy, and it was timely that a few of the Silverstone team were in Barcelona to check out what was on offer and see if they can have it in place for the British Grand Prix in July.
On Saturday we had the top three drivers in qualifying interviewed on the grid as soon as they stepped out of their cars. A late addition to the running order but I’d like to see it happen again, much better than the soulless room that’s normally used.
And on Sunday, fans on the grid after the race, loud music heightening the atmosphere, the little boy in floods of tears after Kimi crashed out, taken into the Paddock and introduced to his hero. What a magnificent gesture it was and such a simple one too. From the worst day of his life to the best, in an instant, and also a reminder as to just how this sport, any sport, can make real life seem so irrelevant sometimes.
One thing that didn’t change though, was just how massive a hero Fernando Alonso is. Not just to the Spanish fans, but to fans of the sport worldwide.
Let’s face it, watching him this season has left us feeling like that little lad at times, and if not in tears, pretty close to it. Friday morning’s practice session just about summed it all up. He came out of the garage, got to Turn 2 and parked up by the side of the track. An oil leak was one of the official explanations, which technically is wrong, it’s just the oil was leaking out of a rather large hole in the engine where the transmission has thumped through the casing after the thing cracked in half. It was a big failure, the latest in a long line of engine related troubles and pretty unacceptable for McLaren, their star driver and 100% of the team’s fans too.
Fernando took himself off to play tennis, or Padel to be precise, the perfect way to defuse what would have been a tense situation at the track, returned and got on with his job as best he could. And on Saturday afternoon not only did he do the best he could, but probably better than anybody else on the grid could have managed too. He got that car to 7th on the grid. 7th, that’s nice bleed territory quite frankly and if you haven’t watched the lap back yet, then please do, and please tell me where there was room for any improvement?
I was focusing on the battle for pole, as at that stage of Q3 it’s the big story and that’s what the pictures are showing. I hadn’t seen the timing screen when Martin Brundle exclaimed that Fernando had qualified in P7! I thought he’d misread it at first, but the thing with Fernando is that you should never be surprised.
For all his bad decisions, and in an interview with Damon Hill on Sunday he did admit that he hadn’t always made the best career choices, for all his bad decisions, he’s still an outstanding driver and it’s a crying shame to see his talent wasting away at the wrong end of the grid.
But for all his struggles with an inferior engine this season, Fernando is doing a brilliant job of putting Fernando in the shop window. Showing the world that he’s still got more than what it takes and if you’re prepared to pay him the big bucks then you get one almighty bang for it! He’s said he’s happy to stay with McLaren but only if they are in a position to win races, as he still believes he can win Championships. He’s not wrong, in the right car of course he can. But if he stays with McLaren, chances are he could be in the wrong car, again.
But where could he go? Not to Ferrari, or Mercedes, who have turned him down twice since he decided to leave Ferrari. Not to Red Bull either, they haven’t got the vacancies. Which leaves teams that, with all due respect, won’t be winning races on a regular basis to make a move attractive to him.
Staying with McLaren and hoping Honda find the fix might be his best option. And if the team allow him to race at Le Mans if he can get a drive there next year, and head back to Indy once again, then he’s getting that chance to have a tilt at the Triple Crown he so wants to win, which would keep his motivation up if nothing else.
And on the subject of the Indy 500, good luck Fernando. I hope he does brilliantly, I’d love to see him win it, I really would. For his own good, for McLaren who could do with a good news story at the moment. For Honda as well. And for Formula 1, whose new commercial owners have said they want to “break the US market”. Well, what better way to start to do that than by one of F1’s finest showing his skills in their own back (Brick)yard?
From salvaging his own season to enhancing his own and F1’s reputation, let’s all wish Fernando good luck for a week on Sunday. It’s a tough ask to go there and win, but he wouldn’t be the first and, if anyone from the current crop of Formula One drivers can do it, he certainly can.