Finnish Formula One (F1) driver Kimi Räikkönen won his solitary world championship in 2007 racing for Ferrari. That year Spaniard Fernando Alonso, driving for McLaren, burnt bridges with team principal Ron Dennis and parted ways after spending just one year with the Woking (UK) based team.

Given F1’s crazy driver roulette, Räikkönen was then ousted through Ferrari’s politically driven manoeuvring in 2010, despite one year pending on his contract. And in came Alonso, with then president Luca di Montezemolo confident that this new partnership would take the Scuderia team back to the heady times shown by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

Through extraordinary turn of events, the Ferrari-Alonso partnership has failed to deliver on its promise, and Räikkönen remains the last drivers’ champion for the Italian team.

On the outset it seems a baffling premise. Alonso is the best, nay, the most complete driver on the F1 grid today. Ferrari exist in this sport only for winning—such has been the team’s culture since it first competed in F1 in 1950. They have arguably the best resources to deploy in their quest for victory. Why then could this driver-team pairing not win a single title in five years?

The problem is two-fold: Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel. Alonso’s time spent with Ferrari coincided with the Adrian Newey-led aerodynamic phenomenon that was the Red Bull chassis and driven to near-perfection by Vettel who won four consecutive world championships. From 2010-13, when Vettel garnered accolades, Alonso managed to finish second in the Drivers’ Championship on three occasions (2010, 2012 and 2013). Coincidentally, Ferrari finished as the second best team behind Red Bull only once during this period (2012), outlining the fact that Alonso had been overdriving a below-par car all this while. Even in this season, when the new F1 rules have came into place, Ferrari have produced a car that stands fourth best in the championship. The Scuderia believe they need at least two years to rectify their car, which has perhaps strained the relationship between Alonso and the team.

“For a driver of his ability, Alonso should have won more than two world championships," says noted F1 commentator James Allen. “You cannot blame him for being angry because Ferrari haven’t given him a good car. However, there is another aspect to a racing driver, that is relationships. Alonso’s relationships with people have been a problem. That ability to get yourself in the right position and when you do that, the ability to work with the people you are with, helps you as an F1 driver."

This has been the big chink in Alonso’s otherwise near-perfect armour. He has had a turbulent relationship with nearly every team he has driven for. After winning titles for Renault in 2005 and 2006, he left the team acrimoniously for McLaren in 2007. That one-year relationship ended in perhaps the worst possible way for any driver-team combination. He clashed with teammate Lewis Hamilton on and off the track, tried to influence McLaren into favouring him over the debutant (Hamilton) in the 2007 title fight, even threatening to report them to the motorsport’s governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) over the Spygate scandal, where Ferrari’s confidential technical information was leaked to McLaren. As a result, when McLaren lost the drivers’ title to Räikkönen by one point, Dennis allegedly tore up Alonso’s contract at the end of that season.

He then went back to Renault for 2008 and 2009 but again left in a huff, unhappy that he couldn’t win any titles. With Ferrari, it seemed the two-time champion had found the perfect environment to further his legacy, until a consistently underperforming car saw him covet a seat with other teams—Red Bull at first, and Mercedes later on.

Alonso tried his utmost to get the second seat at Red Bull last season when Mark Webber announced his retirement. In return, he got that infamous “ear tweak" from Montezemolo for looking at alternate options. But Alonso didn’t stop. Ever since it became clear this season that the balance had tipped in favour of engines and power units, Alonso’s single-most endeavour has been to find himself a race car with an unbeatable Mercedes engine. This behaviour on Alonso’s part did not go down well with Ferrari and was perhaps the point where cracks first began to appear in their relationship.

Ferrari take pride in their F1 association and want their drivers to feel so too. Obviously, winning championships plays a huge role, and without a title for so long, the Scuderia have undergone some heavy restructuring in the last two seasons to rectify the situation. They have got a new technical panel working behind the scenes at Maranello, Italy, and then went as far as making changes to the team structure. Team principal Stefano Domenicali was fired earlier in the season and Marco Mattiacci was installed in his place. Then the big upheaval came about, when Montezemolo quit as Ferrari chairman in September, after 23 years at the helm.

With this new energy induced into the team, Ferrari needs a driver who is committed to them and aligned with the long-term goal of dominating F1 again. Demanding title-winning assurances, this is where Alonso doesn’t fit in anymore. At 33, he has only a few years left in the sport and time is running out for him to secure another world championship. And this is precisely where Vettel steps in. At 27, with four titles already in the bag, he is the perfect fit for Scuderia’s vision of getting back to the top of the F1 grid.

It is no secret that Ferrari have coveted Vettel for long. His announcement at the Japanese Grand Prix, which ended on 5 October, of leaving Red Bull at the end of the 2014 season caught everyone by surprise. Has Vettel pre-empted the move from Alonso to McLaren and pushed his fiercest rival into a corner all over again, with Mercedes too closing the doors on the Spaniard?

“At the end of the day, motorsport is about what you make of it for yourself and you have to make things happen. Michael Schumacher made things happen. Ayrton Senna made things happen. Alonso has done that on the racetrack but the way he positions himself within teams, he has failed to do so," says Allen.

“He was in a good place with McLaren in 2007. If they had been able to manage that situation with Lewis Hamilton and Ron Dennis better, he should have won that year and then perhaps again in 2008 because McLaren had a good car back then. I am not sure going back there is such a good idea because Honda (which will be providing engines to McLaren next season), with a new engine in 2015 in comparison to existing ones might not be very strong next season. But if he leaves Ferrari, doesn’t go to Mercedes and doesn’t end up with McLaren, Alonso has nowhere else to go and is fast running out of options as well as time to secure another drivers’ title," he adds.

Chetan Narula is the author ofHistory Of Formula One: The Circus Comes To India.

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