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World champion to back of the grid: Why Fernando Alonso is still one of the greats

In a league of his own, Alonso is credited with being one of F1's game changers. Here, we pay tribute to the former World Champion.

Editor's Pick 14 Dec 2015, 09:40 IST
Flavio Briatore Fernand Alonso 2005 Champion
We are the Champions: 2005 WDC Fernando Alonso of Renault with team boss Flavio Briatore

The only man who can understand Fernando Alonso best is Fernando Alonso himself. Yes, fans who measure in millions will have view points as will Bernie.

Ron Dennis will surely say that in him lies the portrait of the most complete Formula One driver since Senna and Schumacher.

Flavio Briatore, the flamboyant and controversial Italian, who led the now re-invigorated Renault  – former constructors’ champions for 8 seasons can share a thing or two about Alonso’s brilliance.

And there’s no denying his class and dogged determination since in an era where aesthetics of racing were defined more by driver’s capability than the role-play of technology as evident in today’s hybrid era, it was Fernando Alonso who claimed the drivers’ title.

He did it twice – consecutively – under Renault in 2005 and 2006. He’s been around since 2001 and in what will be his 15th Formula One season in 2016, Alonso will be hoping the throttle at McLaren allows him to gas hard; for in pure unabashed driving at top form lies his enigma.

We examine the complexity of being Formula One’s one of a kind driver, who Niki Lauda, a diehard Hamilton supporter recently declared as the best from the present lot – a starry line up of talents that include Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen. 

Been there, done that, not done yet

It must be said both Lewis and Sebastian were around during the exciting period where machines were stoked by the more powerful V8’s. This didn’t just appeal to the fancy of fans but fueled the ambition of drivers of the class of Kimi, Button and Alonso himself.

While Hamilton, the three-time championship winning poster boy of today debuted at Australia in 2007, six races later that same year came a certain Sebastian Vettel, eventual four-time world champion.

But in the unpredictable world of Formula One where fortunes often crash like that wrong move at the hairpin bend and where ecstasy felt by a driver on winning an unpredictable contest defeats the despair experienced in the previous, a thing can be said for certain.

There are few drivers who leave such an indelible mark on the sport as has Fernando Alonso Diaz, the current McLaren-Honda top cat.

And yet, for a man who took to karting aged 3, having left no challenge unaccepted in a remarkable F1 stint, being looked up to at a Honda wanting to strike big next year, blooming honors such as the “Fernando Alonso Museum” established in his native Asturias hold less importance.

They may just be vain pleasantry, no matter how opulent, for a man no stranger to riches. Truth be told, no reward may ever fill the void and angst of Fernando Alonso who despite winning World Championship crowns on two separate occasions may still be lurking under the clout of having not won more driver titles, despite being nearly the most potent force in motion in Formula One; unmatched in grit and undefeated for his enthusiasm to succeed.

El Nino in Numbers

With 2 Championships, 1 more than Kimi Raikkononen (aged 36) and Jenson Button (35), he’s ahead of two powerhouses of Formula One. Driver’s with abler cars for much of their careers, such as Rosberg, aged 30, having driven the most impressive product from the Silver Arrows, given its glamorous ruling in the sport for past two seasons- are yet to register a world championship.

With 32 race wins; 12 more than Raikkonen, 10 shy of Vettel and 11 shy of Hamilton – Alonso has nearly 3 times the number of wins grabbed by Felipe Massa and close friend Mark Webber (9 apiece).

Alonso’s record is also more than double the tally of Button’s 15 race wins, which makes him the deadlier weapon at McLaren Honda provided the Japs realize that the Spaniard’s waiting to exhale again.

If you pick Alonso on fastest laps then it will make for an ensemble of cast and characters from the world of Formula One who possess the elements that make the sport what it is; a culmination of guile, daring and charisma. Raikkonen, with 42 fastest laps, easily stands on the loftier pedestal albeit being characteristically adrift of the importance of overall statistics.

If one speaks of the 21 fastest laps recorded by Alonso, then only Vettel with 25 and Hamilton with 28 stand their ground driving cars that unarguably have been both effective and merciless in their annihilation of competitors on the race track.

McLaren-Honda’s dismal season

Fernando Alonso Honda 2015
Less than stellar – 7 retirements off 17 starts is not a statistic Alonso will like

In what has yet again been a Mercedes dominated season in 2015, just a single word would suffice describing Fernando Alonso’s season: miserable.

With only 11 points in his sack and having made friends with the back-markers, unwittingly off course, there stands Fernando Alonso ranked 17th in the driver's chart at the end of 2015.

With 7 race retirements of 17 races in the recently concluded season, Alonso's performance got marred by what may well be described as a damning engine, produced by McLaren-Honda, regardless of whatever explanation that Ron Dennis can offer.

In a world where meaningless shenanigans such as Hamilton's champagne spraying acts (China, Russia) find a mention in global media as casually as some chivalrous deeds achieved on the track, as only he and the "second best" driver Rosberg can produce- the Honda-McLaren alliance was thought to have given the likes of Williams, Red Bull and possibly, even Ferrari- tough competition, thus finding enough 'hype' in motorsport media.

But, as Kimi Raikkonen had once put it, 'races and partnerships are forged on paper', the Honda powered outfit's ambitious plans backfired. Resultantly, Alonso has had to battle it out with back-markers leaving a lot to be desired from the lowest ebb of his racing career.

Let’s look into his days at the Scuderia of Dreams – Ferrari.

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