My memories of Fernando Alonso are still being written, as his career is not yet finished. Alonso marks the first current driver I am profiling, and thus, this page has the potential to change.
I do not particularly recall Alonso’s debut – it came during Schumacher’s era of domination and during this time Formula 1 became somewhat boring. Alonso quietly earned his stripes at slower teams before ending up at Renault, where he would win the 2005 and 2006 world championships, proving his stuff (and for a time, he was the youngest world champion and youngest double world champion).
He started to come into sharper focus for me during 2007, when he partnered then-newcomer Lewis Hamilton at McLaren.
As the reigning world champion, Alonso was hot property and McLaren, who had gone without a win in 2006, had promised him a car that would be competitive. The car was most certainly quick, and Alonso won his second race with the team, and would go on to have a season-long fight for the title with Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkonen and his own teammate, Hamilton.
As the season progressed, Alonso’s relationship with both McLaren and Hamilton deteriorated. It’s often been speculated that this is because Alonso wanted number one driver status, and McLaren (who rarely impose team orders) wouldn’t grant it. They allowed Hamilton to race Alonso and it soon became clear that the rookie was matching his established teammate. It’s my personal view that Alonso didn’t find having a competitive teammate to be an especially agreeable circumstances and he wasn’t – at the time – equipped to cope with that.
As a result of having a teammate who could match him and combined with one or two unpleasant incidents (look up Spygate and also the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix) Alonso and McLaren agreed to part ways at the end of 2007, but Alonso remained in contention to win the title at the final round – he needed a good result, but third place was not enough to win the title, that Räikkonen snatched from both McLaren drivers by winning the finale.
For 2008 and 2009, Alonso returned to Renault, but the car was not as quick as it had been in 2006 and Alonso couldn’t force the car to the top, but he did win the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix (albeit in controversial circumstances) and quickly followed it by winning he Japanese Grand Prix.
2009 wasn’t a good year for Alonso, as the Renault struggled with revelations that they had ordered Nelson Piquet Jr to crash to help Alonso win the 2008 Singapore GP, and the car was poor.
For 2010, he would join arguably Formula 1’s most famous team – Ferrari.
Victory in his first race for Ferrari meant Alonso had joined a select group of drivers to do so, and throughout the year he was fiercely competitive with the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber, and the McLarens of Hamilton and Button. The pendulum would swing throughout the year, but going into the final race at Abu Dhabi, Alonso was eight points clear of Webber and a further seven points ahead of Vettel, and was in pole position for the title.
The race itself went away from Alonso – he ended up stuck behind the Renault of Petrov, down in seventh place, and just could not find a way past. Webber was stuck behind Alonso, and with Vettel winning, it meant the young German took the title and Alonso was runner-up once again.
2011 was a forgettable year for Formula 1 and Alonso. It was (from this fan’s perspective) a dull season, dominated by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, and Alonso would manage just one win, at Silverstone.
The 2012 Challenge
Going into 2012, Ferrari weren’t looking in great shape. In testing it was apparent the car was not the quickest and few people, if anyone, believed a title challenge was likely.
(Despite a troubled car, Alonso would push until the end of 2012)
Alonso would drive that car like a man possessed, taking victory at the 2nd race in Malaysia and second place in Spain, following this with a solid third place at Monaco and a second win at the European Grand Prix in Valencia.
Second place followed in Britain and a third win in Germany saw Alonso sitting 34 points ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and 44 points clear of Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel. Alonso would extend his lead over Webber to 40 points after the Hungarian Grand Prix, but Germany was his last win of the year, and after Hungary, the season began to go away from him.
A first-lap collision involving Alonso, Romain Grosjean, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Pérez (caused by Grosjean) wiped out all four cars and Vettel’s second place in the race cut Alonso’s advantage to 24 points. Technical trouble in Italy meant Alonso could only qualify in tenth, however he recovered to finish third and also benefited from a mechanical issue for Vettel, extending his championship lead.
Vettel took victory in Singapore after a retirement for Hamilton and Alonso got third, just keeping the damage to his lead to a minimum, but another first-lap collision in Japan saw him crash out and a third win of the year for Vettel saw Alonso’s lead shrink even further. Vettel would win again in Korea and open a six-point advantage in the title race.
Another win for Vettel in India saw him open up a gap on Alonso, though the Ferrari man got second to keep the damage down, and in Abu Dhabi Alonso took second again, this time with Vettel in third, to bring the gap back down again.
At the penultimate round in the USA, Vettel took second place to Alonso’s third, meaning the German had a 13-point lead as the season reached it’s climax in Brazil.
A chaotic and rain-soaked race saw Vettel end up at the back of the pack after an early accident and he fought his way through the field, nursing a damaged car, as Alonso tried to hold on to a position high enough to earn the points he needed to be crowned champion. Alonso finished second, but with Vettel sixth, it was Vettel that took the title, Alonso just three points behind.
It was though, a season-long display of wrestling the very best out of an average car, and Alonso rightly received a lot of plaudits. I enjoyed the 2012 season and, despite not being overly fond of Ferrari, I wanted Alonso to beat Vettel to the title. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
2013 & 2014 – Mediocrity
The past two years have not been great for Alonso, though through no fault of his own. 2013 started brightly, with two wins in the first four races, but Ferrari went backward and Alonso’s relationship with the team began to sour, as he grew frustrated with the car. He watched as Vettel took a fourth consecutive championship at a canter, whilst he himself was powerless to stop the rot.
Alonso’s relationship with Ferrari deterioated further in 2014, and both driver and team have announced he is leaving at the end of the season. 2014 has seen Ferrari pick up no wins at all, but Alonso has comfortably outperformed his teammate (as he has done in each and every year at Ferrari).
At the time of writing this (24th November 2014) Alonso has not yet announced his next move. He is widely expected to join McLaren for the 2015 season, but until pen is put to paper, this remains unconfirmed. I hope that he stays in F1 a little longer, as he has proven himself to be a consistent performer who can drag average cars up the field through sheer force of will and pure talent, and F1 needs drivers like him.