Budapest – Lewis Hamilton apart, Fernando Alonso may be the man most worth watching – and listening to – in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion, who will start the race from 11th on the grid in his McLaren, will be celebrating his 37th birthday.
Given that landmark, an advanced age for a top sportsman and well-matured for a Formula One driver, the absence of any clarity over his future and his current waspish mood, both his racing and his radio messages should be entertaining.
This year’s winner with Toyota at the Le Mans 24-Hours race is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of his era – a pole-sitter at 21 and a winner at 22, in the same season, he was a record-breaker.
Yet having won 30 Grands Prix before his 30th birthday and raced for two of the greatest teams in the sport – Ferrari and McLaren – he has been winless since 2012 and without a podium finish since 2014.
The tag of “greatest of his time” may not hang heavily, but as his radio conversation revealed on Saturday he seems content to have become an entertainer, not a winner.
A frustrated, grumbling, but humorous sideshow.
During the rain-hit session at the Hungaroring, his skill in the wet was clearly undimmed by the torrential rain as he performed with elan in an uneasy car.
To those listening, it was remarkable that his car control was so near-perfect given that he could, at the same time, appear to be locked in amusing arguments about the next choice of tyres – intermediates or wets – and watching the action on giant screens around the circuit.
With only minutes remaining in Q2, it was of scant interest to Alonso even if the voice from McLaren’s pit-wall was adamant that a choice was required.
McLaren: “Fernando – do you think we should do a new set of inters or wets? New inters or wets?”
Alonso: “I think we should go to the garage and see the conditions. With the wets we can go out, but if we are 25 seconds slower then it is just running for nothing. We need to improve the P11.”
McLaren: “Ok, Fernando. If we did that, we would just have time… it would be only for one timed lap at the end. It would be one at the end.”
Alonso: “I don’t know, mate. Put whatever tyre you want! The last sector is impossible so, even if you put on a rocket-ship, we will still be 11th.”
All of which came after he had already produced another one-liner to remember when told “we’ve seen someone do a 28.7 in the final sector – so there is a possibility.”
“Yes and nine seconds lost in the second sector,” he responded. “I saw the TV as well.”
Such an exchange has become typical of his radio chats with McLaren while racing at speeds of up to and beyond 250km/h.
Indeed, Alonso’s radio channel is one of the most popular – frequently chosen to be transmitted on the international television feed – much to his clear annoyance.
“I don’t know what problem they have – to put my radio always – and I don’t know what was not normal about the conversation, when the track is getting worse,” he complained.
“You cannot improve any more the times. You chat about which tyres to put and if it’s worth doing another run or not. It’s their favourite hobby! So, good luck to them.”
As to the actual driving, he said he was happy.
“I think it was a lucky Saturday, a good qualifying, P11, close to the points, so I am happy. But we need something more on Sunday.”