Fernando Alonso is a driver with a stellar reputation. More than a decade on from his two World Championship wins, success continues to avoid him. Some would say karma, some would say misfortune. Our panel talks about the former Champion after he announced his departure from F1.
There are few drivers who epitomise ‘What could have been?’ better than Fernando Alonso. The wunderkind of the early 00s, the man to initially come out on top of the Alonso/Raikkonen/Montoya rookie pool, and the slayer of the dragon that was Michael Schumacher & Ferrari – Alonso had everything by the end of 2006. Two World Championships, momentum, and a contract to lead McLaren-Mercedes for 2007 alongside some pushover rookie called Lewis Hamilton. With Schumacher retiring, the scene was set for at least a few more years of Alonsomania.
Of course, we all know how it played out from there. 12 years on, Alonso has had a couple of championship challenges with Ferrari but, overall, has not realised the potential that had been there. Rather than being a dominant force in F1, he slinks away with no more titles, and over five years without a win. Tellingly, each of the top teams in Red Bull, Ferrari & Mercedes, have each had a seat open at some point in the last 12 months. And yet none of them seem to have considered Fernando Alonso as a fully suitable replacement. Just last week, Christian Horner ruled out Alonso for his vacant Red Bull seat, citing his ability to ’cause a bit of chaos wherever he’s gone. I’m not sure it would be the healthiest thing for the team for Fernando to join the team.’
That is the fundamental issue with Alonso that prevented him from ever reaching the heights his talents allowed. He couldn’t handle being matched by Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, and proved a willingness to engage in slimy tactics with Ron Dennis in order to gain the upper hand. Dennis was so incensed by Alonso at the time, he engaged the FIA to investigate his own team and ended up costing his organisation the titles and 100 million US dollars. Retreating back to Renault, Alonso, unwittingly or otherwise, was the sole beneficiary of the staged crash of Nelson Piquet Junior at Singapore 2008 – the only driver of the last 20 years to win a race that’s been proven to have had its result artificially manipulated.
Alonso’s subsequent run at Ferrari from 2010 onwards proved more competitive but still fell short, due to the juggernaut that was Sebastian Vettel. Alonso proceeded to overestimate his own worth in 2014 and got played badly by then team boss Marco Mattiaci; the interim Prinicipal safe in the knowledge he had Vettel all ready to kit out in red.
Astonishingly, Alonso was able to retreat back to McLaren and lead the works effort with Honda. Could the ghost of a decade of poor timing finally be defeated? The answer, emphatically, was no. Whether it be through incompetence, incompatibility, or just a plain inability to figure out how to make a car go faster, Alonso’s considerable talents were squandered. So much so, he’s called enough and scarpered after four years.
Alonso, on the face of it, has been the king of bad team moves for 12 years. He always seems to have been able to move to them while a team is in a building, or reducing, level of competitiveness; never while they were at their peak. By comparison, rivals Sebastian Vettel & Lewis Hamilton have been able to bring different teams to the very front and are now the dominant forces in the sport. Regardless of the existence of the currently weakened Red Bull driver program, Alonso should have been top of the shopping list for RBR. Instead, his best option was another year leading the slowest Renault-powered team. A team that dropped their works relationship with Honda in an effort to keep Fernando happy. With Toro Rosso & Red Bull now jumping at the chance to swap to Honda power, Alonso isn’t of any interest to Honda after spending three years publicly berating them. And that is the common theme across Alonso’s long career – bridges inevitably went on fire behind him.
Formula One is littered with decisions that can either be successful or career-ending, and unfortunately Alonso’s decision to join McLaren for 2015 means that he has been without a podium since the 2014 season.
However, the two-time champion would have still endured a difficult time at Ferrari, should he have stayed there. Since the turbo-hybrid era began, Mercedes were the unquestioned dominant force from 2014-2016, and Ferrari have only really provided a meaningful response from 2017 onwards. Would Alonso have been that patient to wait until his eighth season for Ferrari to consistently provide a car that could win a race on outright pace?
Alonso’s premature exit from Formula One feels like there should be some blame attached to it. Is this down to Formula One for providing a less-competitive product? Or is it down to McLaren, who – regardless of which power unit has been bolted into the back – have been under-performing and appear to have mis-sold themselves to Alonso?
Ultimately, this must be one of the triggers for a review into the sport. There’s a chasm in performance between the top three teams and the rest of the field which means that we’re having less opportunities for teams to compete for freak results. Yes we’ve always had teams which rise above the rest, but if any of the top teams have to start from the back of the grid, the challenge to fight through the field shouldn’t be complete within 15-20 laps of a race.
The competitiveness of the IndyCar scene is what’s likely to tempt Alonso into doing a full season over there – and the opportunity to compete in the Indy 500, of course – and losing him to the States would be a coup for the IndyCar Series, and a huge blow to Formula One and Liberty Media.
There is no doubt in my mind that Fernando Alonso is one of the greatest drivers to ever sit in an F1 car.
The first memory I thought of when the announcement was made was his incredible victory in wet-dry Malaysia in 2012 in a massively underperforming Ferrari. He’s been widening eyes like he did to me that day ever since he was some kid riding his Minardi into town. There are several statistics that stand out in Alonso’s career, but the top one is being 11 points away from being a five time world champion, and there is little to argue: he should have won more titles.
He threw away hope of a 2007 title after McLaren brought in Lewis Hamilton and handled the rivalry appallingly. Ferrari cost him two titles in 2010 and 2012, but he decided to pull the plug on his career with them just as they became race winners again. He could be a difficult man at times, especially when things weren’t going right, but when it did he is the best man to have in your corner.