A hundred thousand Spanish hearts shattered to pieces on Sunday as Fernando Alonso s Renault V8 buckled and spluttered with agonising corollary. But the real damage, the lethal silent kind, came a day earlier when the double World Champion signalled to his rivals, with devastating effect: “I m backâ€.
Welcome back Fernando. We missed you. Yes, we, the Hamilton-worshipping British press, the ones who cannot put last year behind us, the ones who hang on your every word only to twist, manipulate and distort, we really did miss you.
Tenths of a second speak in Formula One and the paddock needed no accompanying prose to interpret the significance of Alonso s blistering P2-sealing 1m 21.904 lap in qualifying: Fernando was well and truly back.
If there is one thing wrong with the current qualifying format it is the way it masks, disguises and makes irrelevant come the following day displays of pure racing genius over the single lap.
Yes he was lighter, yes there was an element of show-boating involved, and yes he turned out to be slower than the Ferraris and McLarens; but what a stunning lap nonetheless. Make no mistake, in the context of the arms race that is F1 car design, no team, not even Renault, could make such a leap in performance in such a short period of time.
The Alonso factor came into its element. Renault lifted the car out of the mid-field, Alonso, the world champion that he is, did what he is paid $13m for and hustled an average car into not-so-average position. They say that your home crowd affords you half a second. One wonders if Alonso didn t find a little bit more from his 100,000 strong partisan support.
Encouragingly for Renault, Barcelona is very much the litmus test for good design. Get it right there and you re in good shape for the rest of the season.
The team will no doubt be buoyed also by the performance of Nelson Piquet who stormed into the elite top-ten for the first time this season.
In Alonso s own words: “It is unbelievable. It s difficult to describe or say anything as the team did a huge effort to improve the car. We keep doing work. We started the season with a little bit of disappointment because maybe in the winter we expected to be a bit stronger than we were in the first few races.â€
“Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to work even harder after the disappointments. The team made a step here and they have very aggressive plans to come in the coming races, so step-by-step we need to raise our level.â€
“That makes me very happy and hopeful of things for the future.â€ Us too Fernando.