Has The Alonso Curse Been Lifted?

Has The Alonso Curse Been Lifted?

In July 2017 this writer asked a simple question in the article: Is Alonso Cursed?

Recently, that article has been viewed on a regular basis, presumably as people take to search engines looking for all things Alonso following his switch to Aston Martin. Early signs (just two races and a promising pre-season) indicate the Spaniard has finally timed the transfer market correctly.

His move from Alpine had a few factors which made it a key story in F1’s transfer circus. The pre-cursor was four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel announcing his retirement from the sport. He appeared genuinely at ease with the decision. To such an extent, I doubt he looks upon this year’s AMR2023 with much envy. It wasn’t dissimilar (using that phrase with Germans could open up a Gary Lineker moment) to the way his hero Michael Schumacher stepped aside at Mercedes when they were in the hunt for Lewis Hamilton.

When the itch has been scratched, the fire inside resembles ambers, it’s time to leave the paddock behind.

This is where Alonso differs. His passion continues to bleed into every career choice. Critics will point out he’s played a large part in his own misfortune. It’s acknowledged he’s demanding. His new boss, billionaire Lawrence Stroll, has said he embraces this aspect of Alonso’s character. Drive and focus is great for an emerging team who lack championship experience. It proves problematic when Fernando’s frustrations kick-in.

Alpine may have endured all they could stomach of Alonso’s demands. They offered a one-year deal. This was like playing a game of chicken. It shows they were prepared to call his bluff, and were happy with the risk if him leaving. This was when they thought it was possible to replace him with their rookie reserve driver Oscar Piastri.

A lesson here in checking the small print and finer details of contracts: Piastri signed for McLaren, a move confirmed as legitimate by the FIA’s contract recognition board. This condemned the likeable Daniel Ricciardo to a year as Red Bull’s reserve driver.

Alonso claims the major aspect in deciding to move was the feeling of being wanted. Could this be the first time he felt personally sought after? Teams in the past have needed his raw speed and have been willing to manage his personality. At Aston Martin, Stroll sold it as a new home where his character traits were welcome.

For Alonso, who must have been confident he wasn’t moving down the pack, the longer contract and better personal connection sealed the deal. He must be aware time is now his main enemy if he’s to join the other five men who are in the history books as three-time F1 World Champions. He wasn’t getting a ride at Red Bull or Mercedes, so signing with Stroll’s affluent outfit made sense.

It was Lawrence Stroll who took the biggest gamble. Alonso arriving at a project – for all his undeniable talent – usually places a hex on that year’s car. Sure, he extracts every last millisecond from its potential, but usually they are seconds away from the podium spots in terms of performance.

And then there’s the strong personality. Much is made about how Lawrence’s son, Lance Stroll, has been gifted his drive in Formula 1. Nothing will expose any flaws in his ability like being paired with Fernando Alonso. Surely, Lawrence will have to favour Alonso’s requests over his own son’s. But iron sharpens iron, and Lance has already silenced some critics following his Bahrain effort. He drove with injured wrists, defying advice to rest and skip the race.

It’s a long season. Two races can’t provide enough information to state the Alonso Curse has been lifted. Ferrari and Mercedes will be working hard to close the gap to Red Bull, let alone Aston Martin. It does appear he’s starting a new team from a strong position for a change. As he secured his one-hundredth podium in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he’s sent a strong signal he’s finally back for one last shot.

What was notable, was how relaxed he appeared in interviews when that podium was initially rescinded. Is there going to be anything more dangerous than an in-form Alonso, in a fast car, who keeps his emotions in check and doesn’t get rattled? 


Groves vs Eubank Jr: Boxer versus Bravado

Groves vs Eubank Jr: Boxer versus Bravado

The bookies have installed Chris Eubank Jr as favourite in the semi-final of their World Boxing Super Series clash, proving hype catches the attention of casual fans. The Eubanks have made two careers out of furore. Eubank Senior was no doubt one of the best during a competitive generation. A true boxer who ran out of answers when faced with hardman Steve Collins.

The three losses that closed out his career were the exclamation point highlighting his long decline. They shouldn’t overshadow his boxing prowess. His personal, and carefully crafted, style outside the ring was a distraction that often counted against him, especially as historians focus on the performer.

So it’s with some irony that his son enters his biggest bout to date and isn’t seen as the natural boxer out of the two competitors. His best chance is to make Groves deviate from the plan to box. As we saw against Billy Joe Saunders, Eubank Jr can be put in his shell when the other guy remains disciplined.

Those bookies odds have been shaped by the Eubank Jr gimmick convincing people he’s better than the man holding two belts, as much as Groves’ historical bouts, namely the Carl Froch fights, have swayed opinion.

Cliché alert: some boxers are never the same after a big defeat. Until Groves wins the next big one, there will be a question mark over him. Has the Froch experience scarred him forever? The Eubank Jr fight is the next big one. A win here deletes the years of carrying around inner turmoil.

History doesn’t tell the story of how he out-boxed Froch for two fights, or how the Nottingham fighter needed to pull out the best punch of his career to stop him. It just says he lost. Twice.

To drive home that fact, Carl Froch works tirelessly at working a reminder into every appearance he makes on Sky Sports. If you didn’t know already, Carl Froch once filled Wembley and beat George Groves.

The time to kill the bogeyman has arrived.

He’s endured the painful memory of what happens when he allows adrenaline to dictate his approach. If he remains mindful of his goal – and how to achieve – Chris Eubank Jr will be in for a long night of boxing. One where he becomes a frustrated and beaten opponent.

The fight could come alive in the second half when Eubank Jr realises the points are against him and he needs to do something to remove the judges from the equation. At that point, all eyes will be looking for the knockout win.

The wise man would still fancy Groves. If he can endure the onslaught, he can also deliver more telling power punches to a chin that has never been tested.

Groves famously once said: “Everything for a reason.” All those setbacks have been for tonight, the reason: to take back the respect he should never have lost, to make this his time. In doing so, he will expose the Eubank brand for what it really is.

The Selective Ethics of Team GB’s Fans

The Selective Ethics of Team GB’s Fans

The excitement, euphoria and sense of patriotism which had subsided following Team GB’s success in Rio, will no doubt get a shot in the arm following today’s Olympic parade in Manchester. But enough time has passed since the final medal was placed over an athlete’s head to examine the cost of finishing second in the medal table. Not just the financial implications but the moral bill supporters must front.

The largest element of hypocrisy is the amount of funding Team GB received, yet their supporters have conveniently ignored this. The same people that bemoan the amount of cash in major sports, such as football, F1 and boxing.

When teams win the Premier League (Leicester aside) the usual implication is they bought the title. The winner of the F1 drivers’ championship is labelled as only doing so because he had the fastest car, and that comes from being at one of the richest teams. Normally every sporting achievement has a negative campaign about the finances involved.

Sometimes this is healthy. It highlights inequality surrounding the distribution of wealth within certain competitions. It makes governing bodies accountable and fights the corner of the paying public. Those at grass roots or lower tiers of sports are given a voice, helping raise cash for their survival.

But little has been made of Team Gb’s £275m funding.

Obviously it is important to invest in the future of sport, and the fruits of the cash injection have been clear for all to see during the last two Olympic games. But there is a forced ignorance taking place which means no one is questioning the level of spending or the moral implications.

The Olympics has moved away from the wholesome meet that sees raw athleticism take precedent over large commercial sport. The IOC can be thanked for this. They are the Olympics version of FIFA. Just another “non-profit” organisation that saw the marketing revenue for Rio exceed $9 billion. Television alone accounted for $4.1 billion of the IOC’s revenue.

Money is inextricably linked to top level sport. It is inescapable that if there’s a public interest, large companies will exploit the revenue potential. It would be foolish to believe the Olympics is any different than the NBA, NFL or the Premier League.

Like those global juggernauts, if you want to be successful, you need to spend big. And Team GB was bankrolled as if owned by oil made billionaires. Except the funding came from the tax payer and Lottery money. Most won’t complain about cash being siphoned away for sport but most won’t have examined where it’s gone.

£5.7m for a badminton bronze sounds excessive. If that doesn’t bother you, perhaps £6.9m for the modern pentathlon and its zero medal haul will have you pondering the cost of blind investment. Rowing did bring three gold medals but at a cost of £32m.

Of course, investment always enables better infrastructure but the sense Team GB bought their second place on the medal table permeates the mood when talking to rival nations. That could be sour grapes, but only the sort of comment people here make when discussing other sports. Sports that are self-sustaining and viewed consistently by millions. Despite the £14m investment, how many people will actually watch a gymnastics meet before the next Olympics?

This isn’t sporting legacy, it’s a fleeting fascination that comes around every four years. It was an expensive hit for a short high.

The moral high ground has many spots. As well as bemoaning the money in other sports, people are also quick to pass judgement on other nations when there’s a suspicion of wrong doing. The world revelled and condemned all Russian athletes when evidence of state-sponsored doping came to light.

Without a thorough investigation it was deemed appropriate to label all their athletes guilty until proven innocent. The calls for transparency were loud and clear.

Those calls have become barely audible whispers since Sir Bradley Wiggins’s use of TUEs has been leaked by Russian based hackers. There’s no suggestion he has done anything illegal, but how many people are genuinely comfortable with the notion the rules can be – and have been – bent to enhance the chances of success?

Those involved in the Russian witch-hunt should now be working tirelessly to clear the murky waters surrounding TUEs.

But the games come around every four years and as long as Team GB is successful the hunger to question the processes in place, whether it be funding or medical exemptions, will be virtually non-existent.