As the Spaniard returns to top form going into F1’s summer break, it seems a good opportunity to assess his storied career, particularly the ongoing season, and what more the extraordinary driver can offer.
With 32 wins and almost a century of podiums since his Minardi debut two decades ago, Fernando Alonso has firmly cemented himself as a great in the sport. A breakout 2003 season is where the success story began. A masterful win at the Hungaroring saw him lap icon Michael Schumacher, who was on his way to his sixth world title. This season saw Alonso become – at the time – the youngest polesitter and winner ever. The Spaniard spring-boarded from this early success to become the then youngest ever World Champion two years later, as he ended Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominant streak.
Alonso repeated the feat the next year, but despite two spells at McLaren and five seasons at Ferrari – F1’s most storied teams – a Senna-equalling third title eluded him.
In 2007, 2010, and 2012, Alonso came desperately close, agonisingly falling one, four and three points short, respectively, of that allusive third championship
Despite the barren spell in terms of titles, Alonso’s driving level has rarely dipped: always tenacious and always competitive, whether fighting for the top step of the podium or the tail end of the points. In 2007, 2010, and 2012, Alonso came desperately close, agonisingly falling one, four and three points short, respectively, of that allusive third championship. Alonso himself judges his best season to be 2012, as he battled into contention in a Ferrari that was at times only the fourth-best car on the grid. That year, he outscored teammate Felipe Massa by 278 points to 122, driving the car to its absolute maximum.
Since then, the driver’s less amicable side became apparent as he grew frustrated driving poor machinery that prevented him from fighting for podiums. In 2018, Alonso admitted it was “time to make change and move on”, having already found success in other forms of motorsport. He turned his attention to an effort at completing the ‘Triple Crown’. But moving on can be difficult, and Alonso announced he would return to F1 in 2021 with Alpine (rebranded from Renault), entering a third stint with the Enstone outfit.
The Spaniard’s return at the age of 39 sparked debate amongst fans. Whilst many were glad to see a legend return, many accused Alonso of stunting the development of Renault academy drivers. Regardless, Alonso was the first choice: could he take his chance?
Alpine’s ‘rookie’, as he was jokingly termed across social media, got off to a strong start in the opening race in Bahrain, reaching Q3 whilst promising teammate Ocon failed to escape the clutches of Q1. An extremely unfortunate retirement curtailed his weekend when a sandwich bag got caught in a rear brake duct.
This seamless return followed a tumultuous pre-season, where Alonso was involved in a road accident whilst cycling in Switzerland. Luckily, he recovered in time for F1 testing, where he expressed his frustration at being limited to a day and a half of testing, telling Spanish paper AS that “F1 is a contradiction”.
His season ignited in Azerbaijan, as he made up four places in the final three laps following a restart after Max Verstappen’s tyre failure. Top ten finishes continued at each of the next five races; “happy days, happy weekends”, he told Sky Sports F1.
It is surely unlikely a rookie teammate would have been able to hold off a seven-time world champion as the veteran did
Confirmation that Alonso could still deliver came in Hungary. The Spaniard – now in his 40s – emerged from the lap one carnage in P7. Strong race pace elevated him to P4, from which fought epically against fast-charging Lewis Hamilton. It was one of the classic battles between two of the greatest drivers to grace the sport, and the defence was critical in helping teammate Ocon to take his debut win. It is surely unlikely a rookie teammate would have been able to hold off a seven-time world champion as the veteran did.
That P4 finish was his best since Singapore in 2014 with Ferrari. But to any racing driver, anything but winning is not enough. Alonso is already close to his best, so what does his future in F1 hold?
The impending 2022 regulation shakeup will see Alonso dreaming of reliving his glory days. Despite his age and mystery around car performance from 2022, Alonso considers it a possibility he will still be on the grid in 2024; time is not completely against him. His performance since his return has shown he still has the speed, and with further acclimatisation, he is likely to strengthen his hand ahead of next year’s shakeup.
As for the rest of the 2021 season, Alonso and Alpine will look to build on their excellent weekend in Hungary. They sit fifth in the constructor’s championship during the summer shutdown, ahead of main rivals Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri. The most important action, perhaps, will be back at the factory as work continues to develop the 2022 challenger that Alpine hope will be able to score podiums consistently. If the French team master the regulations, we are in for a treat watching a rejuvenated Fernando Alonso battling where he belongs: at the front.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.