There was a rumour doing the rounds this past week that Fernando Alonso was ready to part ways with McLaren at the end of the season. Despite the fact that both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have 4 World Titles (two more than Alonso), several in the F1 paddock would still consider the Spaniard as the most complete diver on the current grid. Numbers don’t always tell the whole story and in Alonso’s case, the once youngest ever double world champion in the sport must surely rank higher than the current statistics place him on the list of all-time greats in the sport.
It has now been twelve years since Fernando Alonso last won a world title. During this time he has driven for three different teams all with varying degrees of success and he has come agonizingly close to winning that elusive third world title on three separate occasions. The first of those lost opportunities came in 2007, the year you could say that began his downward spiral in the sport. Prior to 2007, Alonso was considered the sport’s golden boy, he successfully pried the driver’s championship away from Michael Schumacher in 2005 while simultaneously helping Renault take the constructors crown from Ferrari, ending 5 years of complete domination by the Schumacher/Ferrari combination. He repeated the act in 2006 proving his success in the previous season was no fluke and signalled what should have been the start of a new era in Formula 1 with Schumacher retiring at the end of 2006. During the same year he also made the astute move to sign for McLaren who going into 2007 had one of the best cars on the grid, which gave him the platform to further his growing reputation. Everything seemed in place for the man from Oviedo to make it a hat-trick of world titles in 2007 but the one problem Fernando Alonso and for that matter nobody else could foresee was the rapid rise of McLaren’s rookie driver, Lewis Hamilton.
A number of incidents between the pair culminated in the now infamous incident at the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, when Alonso deliberately waited in his pit box to ensure Hamilton would not be able to set a second lap-time during the weekend’s qualifying session which gave him pole. The result would be short lived as the stewards duly penalised him with a five place grid penalty and the relationship between Fernando Alonso and then Mclaren team principal Ron Dennis was damaged irrevocably. The fall out from the incident would eventually culminate in the “Spygate” scandal which ended with Mclaren being tossed out the constructors championship for that year and also being handed a fine of $100 million. Both Alonso and Hamilton would then go on to lose out on the world championship by 1 point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso would leave the team at the end of the year and have little option but to rejoin a struggling Renault while Hamilton and McLaren tasted success almost immediately by winning the driver’s championship in 2008. Alonso would then have to wait two whole seasons before he would challenge for the world championship again.
The 2010 season remains arguably one of the best seasons in the history of Formula One. Alonso, who at the time was finally back in competitive machinery after having secured a move to Ferrari, managed to get his season off to the best possible start by winning the season opener in Bahrain. He would follow this up with another 4 other victories over the course of the year though he would ultimately fall short of the world title by 4 points. Eventual champion, Sebastian Vettel would then go on to take Fernando Alonso’s mantle of being the sport’s youngest ever double world champion when he went on to dominate the 2011 season.
2012 would be the last time Alonso mounted a serious title challenge and despite the fact he won only 3 races to Vettel’s 5, his consistency in a season where there were 8 different winners from the first 8 races would see the Spaniard lose out on the world championship by a mere 3 points. What makes this result even harder to swallow for Alonso fans is the fact that two of his retirements came through no fault of his own when he was he was involved in two first lap incidents during the Belgian and Japanese Grand Prix respectively. In fact prior to his incident in Japan, Alonso carried a healthy twenty-nine-point lead in the standings, which was reduced to just 4 points at the conclusion of the race. Alonso would ultimately fall out with Ferrari during the 2014 season, however with seats at almost all the top teams being filled he had little option but to re-sign with McLaren, who in turn had just signed an engine partnership with Honda that would eventually culminate in one of the worst periods in history for both driver and team.
Despite the fact that a switch to Renault power has yielded a much better outcome this season, Alonso has been growing disillusioned with Formula One for a while now. Last year he skipped the Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete at the Indy 500 (where ironically his Honda power unit would let go again) this year he is set to contest the entire WEC championship with Toyota’s LMP1 outfit. Though the futures of several drivers on the F1 grid are yet to be decided, there are realistically only three teams that could afford Alonso and provide him with the competitive equipment he desires. Of those teams he has already driven for Ferrari who are unlikely to re-hire him, Red Bull have arguably the strongest lineup on the grid but might be an option if one of their current drivers were to leave. Mercedes who might part ways with the so far underwhelming Valtteri Bottas might represent the best option for Alonso. The question is would Mercedes risk upsetting current world champion Lewis Hamilton? The team was already divided during the Hamilton/Rosberg era where both drivers were involved in several on track incidents with each other and though the rivalry created several press stories, it also created a very unhealthy working condition within the team. Given Alonso and Hamilton’s prior history would pairing them be any different to what the team witnessed with Hamilton and Rosberg? Coming back to Red Bull a possible scenario could be if Daniel Riccardo were to move to Ferrari. With both Pierre Gasly and Brandon Hartley both only in their first full seasons of Formula One and Carlos Sainz Jr. looking more likely to stay with Renault, maybe signing Alonso would represent a stop-gap for Red Bull who in turn would be gaining an excellent brand ambassador and also someone who would definitely expedite the development of their car. That being said the team already passed on signing Fernando Alonso once and given that they have only “loaned out” Carlos Sainz Jr. the idea does seem a long shot.
Beyond the seats at Mercedes and Red Bull there is no real reason for Alonso to stay in the sport. He has accomplished as much as he can, more often than not in inferior machinery, and as he has already showed that he would consider success outside the world of Formula One just as significant. One thing is for sure, whatever he decides next you can rest assured that Fernando Alonso will deliver beyond the capabilities of his car.