Fernando Alonso: Why he should not be written off just yet
McLaren have seen their worst ever results in over 30 years, and Alonso his worst since he joined F1. But he's still got it, and here's why.
McLaren-Honda, or McHonda as they have now been christened by fans, have been the team for everyone to lose to this season, with spectators worldwide making jokes centered on the British outfit. Things got bad enough that the drivers made fun of the team themselves, laughing off some of the worst results either driver has ever seen.
A look at their results would belie the fact that the outfit is in fact manned by two world champions with three championships between them. Marussia newbies Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi and their American driver Alexander Rossi, who started only 5 races this year and had minimal Formula One experience, were the only drivers below them in the standings apart from Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Could this really be the same Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button who stood on top of the podium repeatedly in their wonder years?
Was this really the Alonso of old, the young, fresh-faced Spaniard who set a record in his first year with Renault? Alonso is regarded by many as a game changer in the sport, and in many ways, he was. The third-youngest driver to make his Formula One debut at the time, he impressed with his speed and clean lines.
Nando, Alo, whatever you'd like to call him, was a youngster on a mission – and he declared it in style. Making his way to top team Renault in 2003 after a year testing with them, he was, in what is now a funny coincidence, put into the drivers’ seat in place of now-teammate Jenson Button.
At 22, he became the youngest ever polesitter in Formula One. He was not excessively aggressive like Schumacher or Senna, but had – and matched – their speed with a clean precision few had exhibited before him.
He kept steadily winning races, proving to spectators he could outdrive the best – Schumacher among them – and it was obvious Alonso was building up to more.
And build up he did. It takes gumption to take on a driver who is not only reigning world champion but one fresh off winning the title five times on the trot. The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix played host to what many regard as one of Alonso’s best moments in Formula One. Schumacher by then had already won his seven championships – and at the high-speed 130R, Alonso moved on the outside of the Red Baron and took one of the best overtakes of the past 10 years.
Knowing he was driving with an impaired engine at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix, Alonso was locked in an intense battle with Schumacher for the title that race – one that went on for nearly 15 laps with Alonso finishing on top – with nobody aware that the Renault engine had been on its last legs.
Rather than constant jarring speed, it was Alonso’s consistency that fans marvelled at. It was a consistency that won him two championships on the trot, a regularity that appeared to be the only thing able to put a stopper in the reign of the equally consistent, but more aggressive, Schumacher.
He drove for the entirety of the 2005 season the R25, which was not known to be the fastest car on the circuit by any means, outclassed in terms of speed by McLaren’s MP4-20 – then being driven by Kimi Raikkonen, and designed by one of the sport’s most iconic engineers – Adrian Newey, who later gained even more repute for his design of a Red Bull that dominated the sport for four years under the drivership of Sebastian Vettel.
It was Alonso’s own consistency and persistence that won him two championships in quick succession, despite Ferrari’s cars being faster and more powerful across the board.
After his short, ill-fated first stint at McLaren in 2007, albeit one where he finished half the year on the podium and third in the drivers’ standings, Alonso returned to Renault – this time, not to the results he would have either envisioned or desired.
Despite this, Alonso remained upbeat for the two years he was with the team, and to this day expresses gratitude for what they shared.
He came back with Ferrari, back close enough that he was on the verge of another championship title, which would end up falling through.
2015: Disastrous for both
Even now, saddled with a worse car than he ever had in his second stint at Renault, Alonso manages not only to remain upbeat but positive about his future at the team. Button and Alonso have both consistently made themselves the butt of the many jokes that have been cracked about them all season.
Yes, McLaren got it disastrously wrong this year in many ways, primarily in terms of reliability – in that there was none. There was consistency in the team in the 2015 season, but that consistency was unfortunately in DNFs for both Alonso and Button.
The team struggled most with power in 2015, an issue team boss Yasuhisa Arai continues to say is an issue. But it has also been revealed that it is something they are rectifying – and something they need to, considering the gap between McLaren and polesitters and consistent winners Mercedes has been a staggering 2.5sec.
The car also saw McLaren – and Alonso’s worst results in a long time – 35 years for the team, and over a decade for Alonso.
It’s also to be noted, however, that 2015 was the first year of the McLaren-Honda partnership after the Woking-based outfit parted ways with long-term partners Mercedes, and as is the case with any partnership, the two had early issues in sorting out their relationship, as it were. Teething problems are inevitable in any new relationship, and it is evident that they existed.
Alonso himself, quizzed on multiple occasions, has been upbeat about changes coming in the future. McLaren have said they are looking to make significant aerodynamic changes to their cars.
In addition, after several publicized spats with the Japanese manufacturers, it appears the pair are ironing out their issues – and now a year into their relationship, it’s likely we will see significantly better results from a team that plays host to far and away one of the most talented drivers on the grid at this point in time.
So although they’re currently at the bottom and sleeping trackside as they make light of a horrible situation, McLaren are by no means done just yet – and neither is two-time World Champion and raw racing talent Fernando Alonso.