Just days before his fatal crash at Daytona in February 2001, Dale Earnhardt, one of NASCARs greatest ever drivers, said something that he would be remembered for as much as his achievements (seven Wiston Cu Championships, no less) behind the stock car wheel. When asked what it felt like to finish a race second, Earnhardt, 50, shrugged and said: “Second place is just a spot for the first loser.”
Less than a fortnight after Earnhardt’s death, Fernando Alonso made his debut in a more global form of motor-racing, Formula 1. At the Australian Grand Prix, rookie Alonso, all of 19 at that time, drove the wheels off his car to finish second-to-last at Melbourne’s Albert Park. He was a happy man, for just finishing the race was an incredible feat in a Minardi (easily the least successful team of that era), let alone crossing the chequered flag with one other car (Giancarlo Fisichella’s Benetton) in his mirrors.
Little would Alonso have known that day that finishing just behind first place would be far less fun than finishing just ahead of last. In fact, having finished the last two seasons in second place behind the same man, Sebastian Vettel, in the drivers’ championship, Alonso, now 32, is rather sick of it. Sick enough to feel each of Earnhardt’s famous words weighing down upon his career, fearing for his legacy.
“Even when I race in go-karting in the weekends with my friends, 100 per cent I want to win. If I come second, I don’t like. So imagine how I feel to come second in a Formula 1 Grand Prix,” the Ferrari driver said on Thursday, three days before his great rival Vettel is expected the seal his fourth straight World Championship title with Red Bull, this time in India. “Three times I have come second overall, which is sad in a way.”
Sad, then, is only about to get sadder.
If Alonso, with 207 points this season, 90 behind the leader, ends the year on the same position he currently finds himself in on the championship table, then he will have the dubious distinction of becoming