McLaren's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (R) kisses his teammate, Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne, as the latter takes a selfie in the pits before the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Formula 1 2018 season is all set and ready to go next weekend at the Australian GP in Melbourne (March 23-25 2018). Fans after the long off-season have had their appetites whetted by the two pre-season tests at Barcelona, Spain. McLaren is a marquee team which has been on a downward slide from the 2013 season. With new engine partner Renault, the Formula 1 world hopes the team will atleast recover some of its past glory in 2018. If the Woking-based team has a decent car, the battle between the consummate veteran Fernando Alonso and the relative newcomer Stoffel Vandoorne could be gripping.

Preview of the Fernando Alonso vs Stoffel Vandoorne Battle in 2018

Fernando Alonso has a stellar record against his teammates in his 16-year career in F1 (2001, 2003-2017). The Spaniard started his career with Minardi in 2001. The backmarker team did not score a point all season. Alonso impressed the bigger teams with his qualifying performances and tenacity during the races.

In 2003, Alonso returned as a full-time F1 driver for Renault, after one season as their test driver. This launched the real start of an illustrious career that has seen the Spaniard win two world drivers’ championships (WDC) in 2005 and 2006. The first title made him the youngest F1 world champion at that time. Alonso dethroned the seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. This brought to a halt Schumacher’s record-breaking spree of five titles in a row for Ferrari (2000-2004).

Alonso has come close to winning the WDC three more times in his career. Narrow misses by one point (2007), four points (2010) and three points (2012) has seen Fernando compile an outstanding career, but a career that has just fallen short of the all-time greats. But through it all, he has enhanced his reputation as a fighter with great race craft, one of the great drivers of his generation and above all a winner in intra-team battles.

Fernando Alonso Wins Intra-Team Battles

From 2003, in the teammate battles, Alonso has finished behind Lewis Hamilton in 2007 (tied on points) and beaten by Jenson Button in 2015 (16 pts to 11 pts). In that tumultuous debut year of the rookie Hamilton, the then two-time reigning world champion Alonso was caught off-guard. An acrimonious relationship with team boss Ron Dennis added more fuel to the fire. This was the first time Alonso did not finish ahead of his teammate over a season.

In 2015, Alonso missed the first race in Australia and the unreliable McLaren car saw him DNF a further eight times. In a car running the new Honda engines, plagued by reliability and lack of performance, both McLaren drivers finished at the rear of the field. But Button did edge Alonso in points.

Alonso has convincingly beaten a host of teammates over his long career. It all started with Alonso getting the better of Jarno Trulli at Renault (2003) and continued with Jacques Villeneuve, Giancarlo Fisichella, Nelson Piquet Jr, Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button (2016) and Stoffel Vandoorne (2017).

In compiling this outstanding record against his teammates, the Spaniard has scored 97 podiums, 32 wins (1849 points) and 22 pole positions. Alonso is fighting hard for one more drivers’ championship before he walks away into the sunset.

Stoffel Vandoorne In His Brief Career

Vandoorne started his single-seater career with the title in the F4 Eurocup 1.6 series. The Belgian further enhanced his reputation by winning the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2012. In 2015, Vandoorne was crowned GP2 champion and also doubled up as a McLaren test driver. In 2016, Vandoorne spent a year in the Super Formula series in Japan, even as he waited for an opening at McLaren.

That opening came unexpectedly that season, as he was asked to replace the injured Alonso at the Bahrain GP. Vandoorne outqualified and finished ahead of the seasoned Jenson Button at that race. The first Formula 1 point was clinched with a 10th place finish.

In 2017, Vandoorne had his first full F1 season, as he replaced the now retired Jenson Button. The Belgian was outclassed by Alonso in the initial races, but found his feet as the season went on.

Alonso vs Vandoorne in 2017

Alonso has not been the best qualifier in recent years. But he convincingly beat Vandoorne 13-5 in the battles on Saturday. In race trim, Alonso had the misfortune of suffering eleven DNFs compared to six DNFs for Vandoorne. In the races that they finished, Alonso finished behind Vandoorne in only one race. Even though Vandoorne finished 13 races, he scored only 13 points compared to Alonso’s 15 points.

For the former world champion this was an intra-team battle that he won by the narrowest of margins. But in a season where finishing a race was a struggle, Alonso finished far fewer races. Alonso still edged Vandoorne in the points tally.

Alonso vs Vandoorne in 2018

The Spaniard is a formidable competitor and will give no quarter in his battle with Vandoorne. Alonso is also a consummate purveyor of mind games. So Vandoorne will be against a formidable opponent in terms of experience, mental strength and race craft. A very potent combination indeed!!

The 2018 MCL33 powered by Renault was plagued by a fair share of reliability issues in pre-season testing. The car was also not the fastest as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are definitely ahead in the pecking order.

The McLaren team will atleast start the season hoping to be in the thick of battle with the midfield teams like Force India, Renault and Haas F1. If reliability does not plague the two drivers and they have a level playing field, we could see a veteran driver battling with a very promising young driver.

The only hope for Vandoorne is to qualify ahead of Alonso consistently. Even then, finishing ahead of the veteran driver on Sunday could be a tall order. Alonso is known as a formidable starter making up places in the first lap. Gritty performances with great race craft and overtaking skills are Alonso’s forte.

Alonso will also be driving for Toyota in the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship ‘super season’, including the next two editions of the Le Mans 24 Hours. The Spaniard aims to win the Triple Crown of motor racing – Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans. He has won the Monaco GP twice and is bidding to win the other two races to join Graham Hill as the only triple crown winners.  This heavy load of racing in different series with the seasons overlapping could be energy sapping. This is very unusual in the modern era. This could help give an edge to Vandoorne in his battle with Alonso.

Stoffel Vandoorne has his work cut out for him. Looking at career statistics, it appears to be a David vs Goliath battle. But if Vandoorne can beat Alonso over the 2018 season, it would be a huge feather in his cap. It would be an incredible feat that launches a long career. But the Spaniard hunting for a third world title will make sure he does not yield an inch to his young teammate. So we have a recipe for a gripping battle, if both drivers deliver. McLaren will hope this will help them climb up the ladder in 2018.

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