Fer­nando Alonso

He came, he saw, he con­quered, he ruf­fled feathers, he left

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Tom Clark­son

Will F1 re­main the same af­ter the dou­ble world cham­pion moves on?

T wo world cham­pi­onships and 32 wins. It was a good knock, but there’s no doubt that Fer­nando Alonso un­der­achieved in For­mula 1. His tal­ent de­served more and he could have won more had he played a bet­ter hand out of the car.

Make no bones about it: Alonso was one of the best driv­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. But his off-track out­bursts and pol­i­tick­ing alien­ated him from the top teams, to the ex­tent that they no longer wanted to em­ploy him. Where did it all go wrong? Alonso had a me­te­oric rise through Mi­nardi and Re­nault, cul­mi­nat­ing in world ti­tles in 2005 and ’06 when he beat Kimi Räikkö­nen and Michael Schu­macher re­spec­tively. He also be­came the dar­ling of Spain, where in­ter­est in F1 ex­ploded. More than 10 mil­lion peo­ple watched ev­ery race and Alonso be­came an A-list celebrity, even mar­ry­ing a pop star.

How­ever, then his ob­ses­sion with win­ning be­came un­healthy and be­gan to im­pair his judge­ment. What hap­pened post-2006 makes for dif­fi­cult read­ing. The first bad call came in 2007, af­ter he’d switched to McLaren. He be­came em­broiled in the Spy­gate scan­dal that cost the team $100 mil­lion (Rs 600 crore ap­prox, then), 40 per cent of which was paid by en­gine sup­plier Mer­cedes-Benz (a share­holder in McLaren at the time). Not only was he ousted from the team, he would never race for Mer­cedes-Benz again.

Alonso also turned down a con­tract of­fer from Red Bull just as the team was be­com­ing com­pet­i­tive and com­mit­ted long-term to Fer­rari, who were in a post-Schu­macher slump. He quit the Scud­e­ria af­ter five frus­trat­ing years in which he fin­ished run­ner-up in the world cham­pi­onship three times. Then came a sec­ond stint at un­com­pet­i­tive McLaren, the only team ca­pa­ble of pay­ing the salary de­manded by him.

His has been a ca­reer of two halves, largely of his own mak­ing, and his re­cent strug­gles shouldn’t take any­thing away from his stel­lar mo­ments early on. Think Imola ’05, when he kept Michael Schu­macher’s faster Fer­rari at bay for 12 laps to take the win by 0.2 of a sec­ond; think Suzuka ’05, when he over­took Schu­macher around the out­side of the fear­some 130R in a drive that saw him leapfrog from 16th on the grid to third.

‘He’s ca­pa­ble of bang­ing in qual­i­fy­ing laps all day long,’ says re­tired ri­val Mark Web­ber. ‘When he had the car un­der­neath

Would he trade the Triple Crown for a cou­ple more ti­tles? Yes

him, he was im­mense. A huge tal­ent, who dished out a lot of medicine on Sun­day af­ter­noons.’

A sec­ond at­tempt at the Indy 500 beck­ons as Alonso strives to com­plete mo­tor­sport’s triple crown, fol­low­ing his vic­to­ries at Monaco in 2007 and Le Mans in 2018. There’s talk of him tak­ing an am­bas­sado­rial role in F1, but that misses the point — it’s his charisma and pas­sion be­hind the wheel that fans will miss.

And watch out for a resur­gent McLaren. Such has been Alonso’s knack of be­ing in the right place at the wrong time that the team will most likely be com­pet­i­tive come 2019…

( Left) Imola 2005; Alonso shrugs o a big slug of Schu­macher pres­sure to take the win

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