What is Fernando Alonso's legacy in Formula 1?
Fernando Alonso, two-time world champion, 22 pole positions, and 32 wins. That is a commendable career by any standards. However, for someone of Alonso's stature, talent, determination, and once-in-a-lifetime ability to perform, these numbers almost appear to be an underachievement.
Looking back, Fernando Alonso could easily have been a 4 or 5 time world champion, but whether it was fate or his decision-making skills, he could not win the championship again, after his two consecutive title triumphs in 2005 and 2006.
Debut and instant stardom
Fernando Alonso made his debut with Minardi, a perennial backmarker in 2001. The youngster, still green and inexperienced, outperformed the car throughout the season and caught the eye of the then Benetton boss, Flavio Briatore.
Briatore hired Fernando Alonso as the third driver for the team in 2002 and eventually got promoted to a race seat in 2003 under the team's new avatar as Renault. This turned out to be his breakthrough year as he became the youngest driver to win a race in Formula One by winning the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, and Juan Pablo Montoya consistently challenged Michael Schumacher throughout the season. They were soon considered as the brightest prospects on the grid.
Alonso continued his form into 2004 and easily outperformed Trulli, his fellow Renault teammate.
Youngest World Champion
The 2005 season came bearing gifts for anyone not a part of Ferrari. For the first time since the start of the millennium, Ferrari was caught off guard with a car that was woefully off the pace. Michael Schumacher was out of contention for the championship. McLaren and Renault battled it out for the title.
Fernando Alonso led the charge early for Renault in a straight shootout against Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn struggled with reliability and multiple teething issues with the car.
Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, was consistent and kept scoring points to ultimately win the championship at the Brazilian Grand Prix. In doing so, he became the youngest Formula 1 world champion.
Renault kept their competitive edge in 2006, but this time they faced stiff competition from the resurgent Schumacher and Ferrari. Fernando Alonso's early season advantage was wiped off, as the duo competed for victories and podiums on almost every weekend.
After a season-long battle, Alonso gained the advantage after Schumacher retired his car at the Japanese Grand Prix while leading the race. Alonso sealed his second championship at the Brazilian Grand Prix yet again. At the end of the season, he took his talents to McLaren.
The Disastrous move to McLaren
In 2007, Fernando Alonso moved to McLaren, a team with an illustrious history. The move made sense on paper, as one of the best drivers on the grid moved to one of the biggest teams on the grid to add to his tally of 2 World Drivers' Championships.
The move turned out to be a disaster for Alonso. He expected to be the de facto No. 1 driver in the team. However, he faced an unexpected challenge from his rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Throughout the season, Hamilton proved himself to be more than capable of matching Alonso for pace and fighting for the title. The Spaniard, expecting the team to favor him as the lead driver, soon found himself in uncharted territory.
The sour relationship between the drivers created tension and politics within the team. This was on full display at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where Alonso held up his teammate during qualifying, which led to Hamilton not being able to complete his lap on time. With the relationship now broken, and the team struggling to maintain harmony, Alonso and Hamilton both lost the title to Kimi Raikkonen by a single point. Alonso left McLaren at the end of the season and moved back to Renault.
Alonso sleepwalked through his next two seasons at Renault. The Spaniard could not compete for the title because of an underperforming car. However, Fernando Alonso still managed to win the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 from 15th on the grid. His teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr., deliberately crashed his vehicle, which brought out the safety car.
In 2009, Nelson Piquet Jr. admitted that he was asked to crash his car by team principal, Flavio Briatore. Fernando Alonso did not face any charges, despite arguably being the mastermind of the incident.
The Failed Ferrari Partnership
At the end of the 2009 season, Fernando Alonso signed a deal to drive for Ferrari the next year. Racing for Ferrari was the Spaniard's dream, and he joined the Prancing Horse with a mission to emulate the great Michael Schumacher's career.
Alonso started his Ferrari journey with a win at Bahrain as Sebastian Vettel faced reliability issues from the lead of the race. Despite some initial hiccups, Alonso was slowly able to gain momentum, and took over the lead of the championship on the back of his consistent performances.
Throughout the season, Alonso received favorable team orders compared to his teammate Massa, who was often sacrificed for the sake of the Spaniard. Fernando Alonso led the championship as they arrived for the final race of the season. However, reliability issues coupled with his inability to make a crucial overtake on Petrov, meant that Sebastian Vettel won the championship.
It can be said that 2010 was Alonso's best chance of winning the title with Ferrari. The following years witnessed Red Bull pulling away from the rest of the field. In 2012, Alonso put together arguably one of the greatest seasons sport's history, as he fought for the championship in a car that had no right to compete at the top.
Despite his best efforts, Alonso fell short of the title as Sebastian Vettel won the championship in the title decider in Brazil. Slowly, but surely, friction developed between the team and the driver. Alonso lost confidence in the team's ability to make a car worthy of fighting for the title.
Fernando Alonso left Ferrari at the end of another disappointing season in 2014 and rejoined McLaren as the team entered a new engine partnership with Honda.
The McLaren-Honda implosion
The McLaren-Honda partnership was announced amidst a lot of fanfare and anticipation. With Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, the team had two world champions driving for them in what was arguably the best driver line-up on the grid. Honda invested a lot in their turbo-hybrid project, and the partnership was expected to produce significant results.
The outcome, however, was a monumental disaster. Honda produced sub-par engines in every season of their parternship. The team could barely finish races with the Honda engine. Both world champions struggled for multiple seasons as McLaren ran a "GP2 Engine" according to Alonso.
The disastrous McLaren-Honda partnership ended in 2017. McLaren switched to Renault as their engine supplier. The 2018 season saw some improvement at McLaren as the team was able to scrap for points semi-consistently.
Alonso - with good reason - had lost faith in the team's ability to challenge for a championship and left Formula 1 for a sabbatical at the end of the season.
What is Fernando Alonso's Legacy?
Fernando Alonso is making a return with Alpine F1 Team. His only motivation being to challenge for the top spots once again, before he retires for good. Regardless of his performance this season, it is now time to discuss Fernando Alonso's legacy until now.
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With two world championships already in his locker, it's not an unfulfilled career by any stretch of the imagination. However, when looking at the multiple times that he got close, it has to be wondered if he truly lived up to his immense potential.
He has three titles in the last race of the season and despite his age, and the two-year sabbatical he took from the sport, he still enters Alpine as the lead driver.
Whether it was luck, timing, or underperforming teams, Fernando Alonso might just be the greatest two-time world champion in the history of the sport.