Fernando Alonso:
a man on a mission to win

Fernando Alonso: a man on a mission to win 01

Cesare Fiorio, in charge of Minardi at the time, likes to tell the story of Fernando Alonso’s first taste of a Formula 1 car, when the young Spaniard was told to go quickly but not take any risks. Alonso, who was about 19 at the time, was having the time of his life but found himself called back into the pits unexpectedly. The test took place on a track that was more than just a little damp, and Fernando was one of three or four young drivers taking part in the Minardi test. Fiorio knew plenty about young drivers and how they worked, having managed several of the most prominent race and rally teams for more than 30 years and so nearly taking Ferrari to the F1 title in 1990. “I thought I told you not to push!” barked Fiorio at Alonso, now back in the pitlane. “But I wasn’t?” replied the bemused young Spaniard.

That little episode tells you more or less everything you need to know about the capabilities of a driver who claimed two titles in 2005 and 2006 at Renault: the team he will return to next year. But with just a bit more luck it could have been double that number of championships, with two more at Ferrari. That would have placed Alonso truly in the company of the greats.

Fernando Alonso Diaz was born in the Asturias region of Northern Spain. It’s a barren land with solid people and strong emotions. Alonso’s racing CV followed a tried and trusted route: karting, then the junior formulae, then a test driver role. All the time he showed the potential that would come to be underlined when he finally got into a Formula 1 car full-time. The Spaniard had an innate ability to be fast straight away, without needing to get up to speed first, and showing no weak points: either technically or in his mindset. In short, he was a predestined winning machine.

Fernando Alonso: a man on a mission to win 02

He added something else of his own into the mix: his constant belief that he was going to win. Whether that was at the wheel of a Formula 1 car or any other type of racing car, as he would show later in his career. That character trait is even evident when he plays cards: something that he enjoys a lot and also ropes other drivers and friends into playing of an evening. If he loses, Alonso is the type to throw his cards into the air. It’s an aspect of his character that many people – from Giancarlo Minardi to his long-term mentor Flavio Briatore (another inveterate player) have done everything they can to try and mollify over the years. With varying degrees of success.

In any case, Alonso’s Formula 1 career is like something out of a film. He made his debut with European Minardi in 2001. Briatore then bought the team, which became Renault’s factory outfit in 2003. Briatore certainly knows how to win and bring on young drivers: the work he carried out with Benetton and Michael Schumacher in the mid 1990s is enduring proof of that. With Alonso and Renault, he did it all over again; managing to grow a team and driver until they were in a position to win two titles: a carbon copy of what he had achieved with Schumacher 10 years earlier. And  while all that happened, some important records were written along the way. Alonso’s first win was in Hungary in 2003, when he was only 22. His first title in 2005 came when he was only 24. These were absolute benchmarks at the time. We had to wait until Sebastian Vettel came along to set a new record, and then Max Verstappen many years later (who won in Spain in 2016, having only just passed his driving test).

Things always went quickly in the world of Alonso. In 2007, he made his debut with McLaren. What he didn’t know was that his new young team mate Lewis Hamilton represented the future of the team. It didn’t take long for friction to emerge. And things then went from bad to worse: while the drivers were at war, the team found itself embroiled in a spying scandal together with Ferrari. McLaren was judged to be guilty, and Alonso’s McLaren dream finished in the most bitter way, despite the four victories that they took together. The Spaniard then returned to Renault for another two years. There were a couple of wins, including one at Singapore that was tainted by scandal as the team had engineered an accident for Alonso’s team mate Nelson Piquet Junior to bring out the safety car – and so help Alonso win. Alonso himself was recognised as having had nothing to do with the dastardly plan.

Fernando Alonso: a man on a mission to win 03

That was all consigned to history when Alonso received the call from Ferrari in 2010. It was a logical partnership: the team had lost the drivers’ title with Felipe Massa on the final lap of the final race in 2008, so a champion like Fernando would put things right. But then bad luck got in the way. At the last race of 2010 in Abu Dhabi, Alonso had the title in his sights but a botched strategy from Ferrari brought him into the pits and paved the way for Sebastian Vettel to win the race and the title. In 2011, there was nothing doing: nobody could compete with Red Bull. In 2012, there was definitely another chance though. But the title went to Vettel again by a scant three points, after Alonso was taken out by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, and then clashed with the other Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen in Japan. His final two years at Maranello brought even more disappointing results, so Alonso cut his losses and went to McLaren. In four years there, he didn’t even get onto the podium once and averaged just 33 miserable points during each of those miserable seasons.

But Alonso doesn’t believe in a life without challenges. At the end of 2018, he left Formula 1 with the objective of winning the Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours, which together with the F1 title comprises the ‘triple crown’ of motorsport. He achieved his objective instantly at Le Mans with Toyota. At Indy, he came very close in 2017, leading for a large part of the race before retiring with technical problems from seventh place. He’ll be trying again next time, with no expense spared from McLaren. Alonso also tried his hand at the Dakar this year: the most challenging rally in the world, again with Toyota. And now he’s back in F1. The announcement of Alonso’s return to Renault next year was almost timed to celebrate his 39th birthday.

Racing, winning, and new beginnings. That’s what it’s always been about for Fernando.

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