The Inside Line #86: Welcome back

TILI Logo PrintThings I expected to happen before Fernando Alonso and McLaren ever got back together: (a) Mark Webber’s autobiography would be released [1], (b) the British press would finally work out how to pronounce ‘Ricciardo’ properly, and (c) graphic artists would lose their jobs for producing caricatures of F1 drivers that look as laughably bad as this [2]. But here we are in February, six or so weeks after the awkward-looking man-hug by Ron Dennis that welcomed Alonso back to the McLaren fold eight years after their acrimonious parting [3]. Desperate times call for desperate measures after all, and times at McLaren are certainly that.

For whatever reason, I’ve always felt the majority of the reputable F1 press we read in Australia, which comes from the UK, gives McLaren an easy ride. Remember, this is one of the most well-resourced teams in the sport with serious pedigree, yet they’ve had one podium on merit in two years, and have won a single drivers’ title since 1999. For their budgets and the talent at their disposal, it really isn’t good enough. And to that end, Alonso is back at an address that few thought possible.

It’s the ultimate marriage of convenience – Alonso is desperate to find a car that he can take to the third world title that his talent surely merits, while McLaren, after years of so-so drivers like Heikki Kovalainen, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen, needed to do something to shake things up. Much as Magnussen was stiff to lose his gig for this season after a perfectly reasonable rookie campaign [4], Alonso, Jenson Button and the return of Honda mean that, after a couple of years of being relatively anonymous, McLaren will be in the spotlight again. Whether that’s for winning or something else remains to be seen, but at least it’s a conversation F1 fans are having.

Alonso’s return to Woking is the main focus of the first episode for 2015 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we look at the rise of another Spaniard following in Alonso’s footsteps, Carlos Sainz Jr. He’s clearly the lower-profile of Toro Rosso’s neophytes this season, but Sainz has his own motorsport pedigree and a level head, and isn’t one to make big claims on what he can do right away in F1 [5]. My gut feeling is that he’ll get less than half the press of Max Verstappen this season but be ahead of him in the standings by the time it’s over. We’ll see if I’m right.

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 (9.30pm AEST Wednesday) and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

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[1] What, there’s still juice to be squeezed out of that lemon?

[2] Wow. Just wow.

[3] Knowing how much McLaren hates drivers with unruly facial hair, Alonso’s cartoon beard in those ‘welcome back’ shots ranks highly on the unintentional comedy scale.

[4] In case you were wondering, Jenson Button is British. I hope some of aforementioned reputable British F1 media outlets look back at their cheerleading for Button towards the end of last year with some regret when the dust settles. It was over the top and a touch embarrassing.

[5] Remember Jean-Eric Vergne saying he could have done better than Mark Webber before Vergne was even in F1? That worked out well for him, didn’t it?

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