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The art of deciphering Alonsospeak

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Departure Lounge: French Grand Prix 2018 (1:30)

ESPN's Jennie Gow discusses three things we have learnt from the 2018 French Grand Prix straight from the airport tarmac. (1:30)

LE CASTELLET, France -- McLaren used to be the home of Ron Dennis' legendary Ronspeak -- "We will develop science to take away uncertainty to make winning a certainty" -- but in recent years that has given way to a new phenomenon courtesy of its lead driver.

Fernando Alonso is one of the most eloquent speakers in Formula One and one of the best at interacting with the media. But he can also use these opportunities to cultivate certain narratives. Four of his statements during the French Grand Prix weekend -- one of the most miserable weekends McLaren has endured in recent years -- were perfect examples.

These examples can be split into four categories, each of which is outlined below.

A living legend

"I put this victory in a higher level than any other victory in Le Mans."

This quote, given ahead of the weekend during Thursday's media day, caused a ripple of laughter in the Paul Ricard media centre.

First of all, let's get one thing clear here: Alonso was hugely impressive at Le Mans... Toyota left convinced his now-famous overnight stint had been key in winning the race for the No.8 car. There's no doubting it was a special performance. Personally, I would class Alonso as the most talented racing driver in the world.

But Thursday's quote added to a long list of ridiculously over-the-top proclamations of Alonso's greatness by Alonso himself, as if the two-time world champion is constantly at pains to remind people of the talent being wasted by the dismal situation he finds himself at McLaren.

A great example came earlier this year, when he rated his performance at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as one for the ages, having three-wheeled his damaged McLaren back to the pits.

"Another seventh place but I think it was the result of persistence and pride, because I think no one [else] would have reached the pitlane, first of all," he said after the race. "They would have parked the car and if they could reach the pitlane they would have retired the car.

"But we didn't park or retire the car and fought for every tenth, every lap, close to the walls all race long and, I think it was the best race of my life."

The following week, he repeated the suggestion he had been the only man capable of finishing in that car, posting to social media: "I've seen the photos of the car damage yesterday. Now I have no doubt, it was an unrepeatable race."

There was once a time Alonso calling a race to 15th the best of his life was headline news -- a sad reminder of a great talent being wasted at McLaren. But now they are so common they are met with a sigh or with derision.

It isn't just this year he has done this: see three of his most memorable quotes from the 2017 season.

In Australia, he said the race was "probably the best race of my life until that moment" (keep an eye out for more of these once-in-a-lifetime/twice-in-a-weekend statements in 2018).

He went on to add: "[There are] few times I've had such an uncompetitive car, without any winter preparation, having to save fuel in a brutal way -- I think we had to lift [off the throttle] about a second per lap -- and even so we were in the points. It was a pretty big surprise what we were doing, but in the end we couldn't complete it. But it was probably one of the best races I've had."

At the Chinese Grand Prix he said he had driven like "all the animals" on earth to drag his car into Q2 and qualify 13th. By the time the U.S. Grand Prix later in the year, he was still finding himself new levels of performance and adjectives to describe them with.

"I'm very happy with how the weekend went on a personal level -- I think the level this weekend was sublime, both in qualifying and in the race," he said, having qualified ninth and then retired from the race after a Honda engine failure. "The championship standings don't reflect that."

Distracting from a problem

"Nothing went wrong. The performance is what it is and we are two-tenths ahead of the most talented young driver for the past couple of years, Stoffel, so this is the pace that we are... I believe I'm the only one right now who is 8-0 against the champion in GP2 and all the categories he raced in."

The above quote was given after McLaren's embarrassing double elimination from Q1 in France, and is another one straight out of the Alonso textbook. The real story was that McLaren had failed to progress from the opening qualifying session but in the TV scrum which followed Alonso seemed more interested to talk up his own record against Vandoorne.

The double-whammy of reminding the watching world of his talent while also knocking the current form of his teammate is a way of putting a good spin -- a good spin, that is, for Fernando Alonso -- on one of McLaren's worst performances of the season. It's an evolution of the tactic outlined above and a way of reminding the watching audience Alonso's skill is the story, rather than McLaren's continued problems or the fact he's failed to turn his talent into a bounty of F1 wins, championships and records.

Another example came ahead of his Le Mans debut, when asked how he felt having less F1 wins and titles than some of his rivals, to which he replied: "In a way it's better this way.

"I will not be happy if I have many trophies at home and people think that I don't deserve them. That would be even harder."

Changing the narrative

"What I know is that the Renault engine we have in our car is quite good. Last year by this point we were with zero points, and this year we are seventh in the drivers' championship and fifth in the constructors' championship, and the relationship is better and healthier than ever."

Talking about his championship position is a frequently-used tactic by Alonso to try and change the narrative around McLaren's current season. At the start of the year, having removed the shackles of its Honda power unit, McLaren talked a big game -- cutting the gap to the top three and challenging for podiums by the end of the year was promised.

Instead, despite some stellar Alonso performances early in the season, McLaren's points tally looks unlikely to improve in coming races, as its performance appears to have stagnated. Despite years of claiming its underpowered and unreliable Honda power units were masking the fact it had the best car on the grid, McLaren has delivered an aerodynamically inefficient package in 2018 which is still unable to regularly compete alongside Renault's factory team.

Alonso did this during winter testing, when all eyes were on how McLaren fared in pre-season, only to spend most of the first morning in the garage after a wheel came off his car in the first hour.

Speaking about the repeated questions about the issue, he replied: "This is a very, very small problem but very graphic, very obvious," he said. "A car in the gravel makes a big thing. There are six teams in the garage with the door closed and the car in pieces, but no one sees it, there's no picture of that. There are a lot of teams with trouble, big trouble, and for us with a wheelnut it will make the thing of the day."

Other teams being in "big trouble" was picked up by the media, but in truth Alonso would have had no more idea what was going on behind the closed doors than others.

The smartest guy in the room

"I think one thing that we need to wait and see a couple of months now is really the commitment of all the parties into F1 projects and to the future, what will be the seats that next year they move on and which will be the driver line-ups in some of the top teams as well."

Alonso has a habit of conveying himself as the puppetmaster of the F1 driver market, the man controlling the strings and shaping the future of the championship to his desire. This quote, responding to a question about his future beyond 2018, is a good example; we will see more of it in the coming months as speculation about Alonso's future intensifies.

Alonso often uses the media to elevate himself above a situation and seem like the only man who knows the real story of what's going on. In 2014, following Red Bull's confirmation Sebastian Vettel was leaving and the badly kept secret he would be moving to Ferrari, it was clear Alonso would not be at Maranello the following season. McLaren was his only option, but he spent many months acting as though the F1 paddock was waiting with baited breath for his decision.

"I still have not decided completely. I have a plan in my head, I have had my mind set for the last two or three months," he told Sky Sports in October of that year. "I have the privileged position because more or less I can choose wherever I want to go in the moment that I want to go.

"I gain that respect in so many years, especially the last five at Ferrari, so being the decision maker probably some of the movements that we are seeing now is an implication of what I'm deciding. So let's wait a little bit and when I clear completely my last doubts, I will tell you where I go."

In truth, Alonso's pokerface had been exposed in the weeks before Vettel's announcement in Japan. While Alonso stalled on a new deal, courting McLaren, Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci had swooped in to sign Vettel.

Everyone knew Alonso was going to McLaren -- it was the only viable option left on the table. Alonso's proclamation that he was the "decision maker", or the key cog in that year's driver market, was wide of the mark.

Last year, as he stalled on signing a new contract, he once again suggested the F1 driver market was hinging on his every word. We now know he was giving serious thoughts to quitting F1, having dipped his toes into unfamiliar waters at the Indy 500 and enjoyed it, but ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix Alonso was painting himself as the man F1 teams were falling over themselves to try and sign him.

"I will have a think and take decisions in the next month," he said. "Definitely I have some offers and I did have offers in June, in July, in August -- 60 per cent of them I said no already and the other 40 per cent are still on the table."

If you do the maths there, the suggestion there is that at least five teams wanted him last year. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has passed up multiple opportunities to sign Alonso, while Red Bull and Ferrari also want nothing to do with him. As it was last year, his only legitimate option for F1 beyond 2018 appears to be to stick it out with McLaren in the hope that it eventually changes its current trajectory.

It's sad that such a talented driver has spent so many years creating headlines for the things he has said instead of the things he has done on a race track. The two biggest stories related to his driving have come away from Formula One, last year's unsuccessful Indy 500 attempt and this year's successful Le Mans 24 Hours debut. Alonso doesn't do himself any favours in his pursuit of returning to relevance on the Formula One grid and instead spends most of his time as if he is talking about the career he should have had rather than that he has to this point.