Fernando Alonso – No 2019 F1


By Jinos K. August 16 2018
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Not even the best scriptwriter in the world could have made the last few weeks of the current F1 season any more dramatic, and the irony of it all is that the F1 cars haven’t even raced during this period. The latest bombshell was dropped by Fernando Alonso when he announced that the 2018 season would be his last. Being one of the older drivers on the grid, F1 fans suspected this was coming, but that didn’t make it any less shocking. He could have easily been the best F1 driver of all time had a few career choices gone his way. Nevertheless, he is one of the most admired and celebrated drivers of all time. Given his status, its only fair to explore what informed his decision.

Why?

To say that Alonso has been a deeply frustrated person for nearly four years now would be a major understatement. His last win came all the way back in 2013 at his home grand prix. When you are considered as one of the best drivers of all time, such a long winless streak is a difficult pill to follow. His two championships came in 2005 and 2006 which means that he has been on a quest for that elusive third championship for almost 11 years now. On paper, it may seem like his driving capabilities have deteriorated over the years but the painful truth is that he has only gotten better with time. His bad selection of teams to drive for over the years is the single thing that has undermined his career.

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A string of bad decisions

After his second championship with Renault, he joined McLaren for the 2007 season where he was partnered with then F1 rookie Lewis Hamilton. Being two of the best drivers of this generation, it’s no surprise that they didn’t get along. Consequently, he abandoned ship after just one season and move back to Renault. That was the beginning of his saga of leaving a team just before its strongest years. The next year, Hamilton won a world title with McLaren while Alonso finished in 5th place. 2009 was even worse as he finished in 9th place.

For the 2010 season, he made the switch to Ferrari to replace Kimi Raikkonen, but it was the dawn of the utter domination of Red Bull which meant that for the next four years, he found himself in what was the second best car on the grid. That didn’t stop him from giving his best effort, and he finished 2nd place for three of those four years while coming tantalizingly close to winning the championship in 2012 only to lose it at the final race by 3 points to Sebastian Vettel. 2014 didn’t bring any respite as it was Mercedes’ turn to dominate the field and Ferrari didn’t come close to challenging them.

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This state of affairs prompted him to leave Ferrari for a second stint with McLaren which had just partnered with Honda for their engines. His reasoning was straightforward. Ferrari was always going to be on the back foot in the hybrid era, and he was tired of coming in second all the time. Unfortunately, the move to McLaren led to the most horrendous three years of his career where he finished 17th, 10th and 15th respectively. For most races, Alonso wasn’t even in contention for points let alone a podium position. A switch to Renault engines hasn’t improved matters much as he is currently 9th in the championship contest. However, what would sting most is that his former team; Ferrari has been in the championship fight for two years now and is currently fielding the best car on the grid.

In hindsight, most of Alonso’s decisions can be seen as highly flawed. If he had stuck with McLaren during his first stint with them or made career moves similar to Hamilton or Vettel, he would arguably have more championships to his name. All of this must have bothered him a lot. Not seeing any opportunity at either Ferrari or Mercedes for the next couple of years, Alonso probably did not want any more mediocrity, and that must have motivated him to call it a day. Then there is the matter of the Triple Crown. He has already gotten what he needs from the F1 world – a victory at Monaco. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, so the only race he needs to win to gain the Triple Crown is the Indy 500. Alonso likely wants to concentrate on that effort to help cement his legacy as one of the true greats of all time. A lot of speculation of the ‘what if?’ persuasion can be made of his career but at the end of the day, he deserves a lot more than what the world of F1 is currently offering him. The decision to walk away might be the best career move he has made in a while provided McLaren doesn’t magically become the best team next year. Its worth noting that Alonso hasn’t ruled out a return. Perhaps, there’s still more to be added to his narrative.

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What does it mean for the driver market?

There has been a lot of talk recently that McLaren was looking to drop Stoffel Vandoorne for the next season in favor of Carlos Sainz. With Alonso leaving, McLaren would probably hold on to Vandoorne. Sainz is the prime candidate to replace Alonso, but it depends on whether Red Bull is willing to let go of Sainz after losing Daniel Ricciardo for the 2019 season. Strangely enough, Sainz appears to have a good poker hand after losing his 2019 seat to Ricciardo. He may have the privilege of choosing between a Honda-powered Red Bull where he would probably play second fiddle to Verstappen again or opt for a Renault powered McLaren which will only get better with time.

While Alonso couldn’t give fans any scintillating racing towards the front of the field in recent times, he still contributed to the entertainment. We will always have the three comic years where the horrendous reliability of the Honda engine led to some of the most memorable radio messages ever. He may not have realized his true potential, but no one can accuse him of not putting in enough effort. The F1 community will always be grateful to Fernando Alonso.


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