Alonso over-reaching in fight with Red Bull
Mark Webber drove superbly to take a dominant victory in the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday but it is hard to escape the feeling that the only man who might have beaten him crossed the finish line seventh.
After a typically combative drive, and with help from the safety car and excellent strategy by Ferrari, Fernando Alonso salvaged more than he might have expected after starting from the back of the grid following his heavy crash in Saturday practice.
But Alonso will be leaving Monaco with more regrets than satisfaction - and they will have nothing to do with the way Mercedes's Michael Schumacher snatched sixth place from under his nose as the safety car pulled off with just one corner to go, a move that was later ruled illegal by the stewards.
Before Alonso's practice crash, the Ferrari had looked especially fast in Monaco and I understand he was very confident of taking pole position had he not had his mishap. From there, the race would have been his to lose.
Webber would have something to say about that, of course - he and his Red Bull looked in a league of their own on Saturday and Sunday. But even if Alonso had only managed the front row, the Australian would certainly have expected some stiff opposition from his friend.
Instead, Alonso provided an example of exactly how Monaco can bite even the very best drivers.
He was just a few centimetres off line and going slightly too fast as he turned in to the demanding 100mph Massenet corner at the top of the hill on Saturday morning, but that was enough to throw him into the unyielding barriers.
The impact broke his car's monocoque, forcing him to sit out qualifying. And the mix of frustration, anger and resignation in his eyes as he watched proceedings on Saturday betrayed his feelings about just how big a missed opportunity this was.
Alonso got a bit defensive later that afternoon when he was questioned about the number of mistakes he was making this season, denying he was feeling the pressure of an already intense title battle.
He pointed out that at his home race in Spain last weekend, when he should have been feeling the most pressure, he was flawless, which is true enough.
The fact is, though, that for someone renowned for his matchless consistency, Alonso has made an unusual number of errors in 2010.
Even in Bahrain, which he went on to win, he qualified only third, behind team-mate Felipe Massa, after a mistake on his best lap.
In Australia, he collided with Jenson Button at the first corner and spun. He recovered brilliantly to fourth place but it was a race he could - and perhaps should - have won.
In Malaysia, he was central to Ferrari's decision not to go out early in the wet first qualifying session - a call that backfired terribly when conditions worsened and he and Massa qualified 19th and 21st.
And in China, he jumped the start, forcing him into yet another superb fightback to another fourth place.
It is clear what is going on here. Alonso wants nothing more than to win the championship in his debut season at Ferrari, but he has found himself fighting a much faster car in the Red Bull.
In trying to beat them, and keep himself in the championship picture, he is taking more risks than he would otherwise do.
Until Monaco, he had just about got away with it. But this weekend the gamble failed, against a barrier right outside the Casino.
Alonso's crash could cost him dear later in the season. Photo: AP
Alonso scored only a handful of points when a potential 25 were on offer, which has put a big dent in his title hopes.
Had he finished in the top three, he would have left Monaco with a substantial championship lead.
As it is, following Webber's dominant victory and his team-mate Sebastian Vettel's second place ahead of an inspired Robert Kubica's Renault, Alonso is third, three points behind the Red Bull drivers - with Webber and Vettel tied on points, but the Monaco winner in the lead by virtue of his two wins to Vettel's one.
Now the Red Bull drivers are in front, finally coming good after a stuttering start to the season, the two drivers in F1's fastest car will be very hard to beat - as Alonso knows only too well.
Alonso's last victory in Monaco was in 2007, and it was the event that marked the beginning of the end of his relationship with McLaren and their former team principal Ron Dennis.
That race is remembered as one that Alonso won thanks to team orders, after McLaren told team-mate Lewis Hamilton to slow down and not challenge Alonso for the victory.
But that reading is wrong.
This has never come out before, but it was Dennis's actions after that race that so angered Alonso, and which convinced him the team would always be behind Hamilton and not him. That was the backdrop to the tumultuous fall-out that enveloped McLaren and Alonso as that famous 'spy-gate' summer unfolded.
As a McLaren insider revealed to me: "Fernando won in Monaco fair and square in 2007.
"Lewis was generally quicker through the weekend, but in qualifying Fernando did it and Lewis didn't. Lewis was quicker in the first run but then he made mistakes and Fernando got pole.
"Fernando won the race because he pulled an 11-second gap in the first stint when Lewis had (tyre) graining and after that Fernando was just cruising because we had rear brake issues.
"But after the race, Ron said to Fernando: 'Be nice to Lewis because we had to (pit) stop him early.' And Fernando said: 'What do you mean? I was just cruising.'
"He got very annoyed about that because it was like Ron saying we handed you the victory. Even after that, the relationship was unrecoverable."
Alonso might be over-reaching in his attempts to take the Ferrari to places where it should not be, but there seems no chance of his relationship with his new team deteriorating in the same way.
For one thing, team principal Stefano Domenicali appears to have a deft hand when it comes to handling human relationships. For another, Massa, unlike Hamilton, clearly does not have the all-round ability to threaten Alonso on a regular basis.
But largely it is because Ferrari could not be more impressed with their new driver.
I understand that, even after just six races, they already feel that as a whole package - being a team player, technical feedback, his ability to read a race weekend and speed - Alonso is even better than Schumacher, the man who won five championships and 72 grands prix for the legendary Italian team.
Yes, you read that right. Ferrari have the feeling that Alonso is faster than Schumacher was at his best. (And yes, I know, the concept of him being a team player will raise smiles down at McLaren, after what happened there in 2007.)
Be that as it may, if the Ferrari fails to improve relative to its rivals, and Alonso continues to try too hard, then it will be hard to win the title in the face of the Red Bull's stunning speed.
But Ferrari are known to have a major aerodynamic upgrade due at some point in the next few races, about which they are very confident.
If that proves as good as they hope, allowing Alonso to take fewer risks and cut out the mistakes, then the Red Bull drivers may yet be beatable.