LONDON, March 9 – Four champions will be on the grid for the 2010 world championship which starts on Sunday, each believing he has a chance of winning another world title:Fernando Alonso
After two years in the wilderness at Renault, the 28-year-old Spaniard will relish his move to Ferrari and a crack at his third world title in a competitive car, the Ferrari F10.
His last team move, to join Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, was a disaster, but he learned from it after returning to the French outfit.
Now matured as a man and a racer, Alonso has the know-how, talent and ambition to mould this ‘new-era’ Ferrari team around him.
He has proved he has the speed, persistence in preparation and Machiavellian streak to bully his team-mate if needed and there is no doubt about his race-craft or courage.
After three largely unsuccessful seasons of frustration, Alonso will push Ferrari to create a race-winning car that can carry him to the front of the field.
For his rivals, and even team-mate Felipe Massa, the greatest chance of unsettling him will come if he grows exasperated with a perceived lack of progress or support.
He can throw the toys out of his pram when the going gets tough, but Ferrari are more likely to be ready with an arm around his shoulder than some other teams. He will be a real title contender.
His title triumph last year proved that nice guys can win things without having to change their style.
But along the way, the 30-year-old Briton realised that lifting the silverware is no easy task and he experienced a few bruising encounters within his own then-Brawn GP outfit to confirm that nothing is as easy it seems.
Button’s image as an easy-going nice guy with a playboy image is a bit of a mirage because he is ambitious and competitive, but he does have a tendency to work best when all around him is set-up for his personal preferences.
When his car, or the conditions, do not favour his ultra-smooth style of driving, he can become downhearted too easily, but his stirring drive to title glory in Brazil at the penultimate race of last season showed he does have the guts to scrap it out.
His decision to leave Brawn for McLaren means he has lost his comfort zone and now also has to fight for respect in his own team against Lewis Hamilton who will be a much tougher team-mate than Rubens Barrichello last year. A tough year for Button lies ahead.
In three years in Formula One, Hamilton has seen and done it all. Arguably the greatest rookie of all time in 2007, he just missed out on taking the title, but rose to the challenge and claimed it as the youngest champion in 2008 before being engulfed in controversy last year as McLaren endured a torrid opening half to a roller-coaster season.
His recent split with his father-manager Anthony signalled that he is now matured and tough enough to cope without him on his shoulder – and proved that the 2010 version of Hamilton is capable of living up to his billing as one of the favourites for the title.
He knows his McLaren team inside-out and is ready to establish himself as one of the greats now and will be motivated by racing against seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.
Gifted with speed, hugely fast, courageous and prepared to race any car in almost any conditions, he has all the natural gifts and is blessed with a brilliant temperament.
His mind is now under better control, too, and he is less impulsive, but may still be hurt if rival drivers use mind games and other means to unsettle him. Not likely anymore. Champion-elect.
Much depends on whether the 41-year-old can find the old form and re-tune himself into the demands of the new era as he returns after three years out.
Seven drivers’ titles prove he has all the speed, hunger, technical and tactical prowess and sheer organisational ability to dominate his team and his sport, but nobody knows yet if his fatigue thresholds have fallen – or if he has the same knack of pushing a team, and a car, to levels thought beyond them.
His experience will be a great boost to the Mercedes team, as the great German marque enters a team under its own name for the first time in 55 years, but question marks have to be raised about his reactions under pressure until he has completed the first six races, at least.
Nobody can argue with the record books, but nobody can defeat the inevitable effects of advancing age either.
A season of ups and downs is likely as he, his team and his body are tested by the merciless march of time.
Consistency is likely to be the most elusive quality as he fights to show an eight title bid is a realistic goal.