When Mclaren announced that they were reforming their partnership with Honda, it’s safe to say that the paddock was awash with buzz. This was the partnership that was almost impossible to beat between 1988 and 1992. In that time, Mclaren won 4 constructors championships, and 4 drivers championships split between legends, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. There was no reason to believe that a renewal of this great partnership would lead to nothing but success. With the F1 world both excited and interested In the partnership, Mclaren also got hold of, arguably, the best pound-for-pound driver on the grid to drive them to what they assumed would be podiums, wins, and then championships. Sadly, that has not been the case so far. In fact, many observers around the paddock have decided that the Mclaren-Honda partnership has been nothing but a disaster. This is a huge shame, not only for the team and the spectators but also Fernando Alonso.
Fernando Alonso is a double world champion. He has raced for almost every iconic team on the grid, including Renault and Ferrari, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, but two world championships and no realistic hope of getting another one is a paltry return for one of the all-time greats. Alonso’s career could easily be broken down into four stages: incredible early success; naive, petty foolishness; amazing bad luck; and final stage stagnation. Each stage saw the best and worst of him, culminating in championships and tantrums.
Alonso’s early career revolved around Renault. By 2003, at the age of 22, he had already won his first race, beating Bruce Mclaren’s record for the youngest Grand Prix winner. He was on the road to stardom. It was In 2005 and 2006, though, where he truly came of age, winning the F1 world championship back-to-back beating Kimi Raikkonen and 7-times world champion, Michael Schumacher respectively. Alonso was clearly the greatest driver In the world and, with Schumacher retiring, it looked as if he would be uncontested at the top. That was when he transitioned into the second phase of his career.
Deciding to leave Renault for Mclaren, Alonso was teamed with young upstart Lewis Hamilton and over the course of the season, he blew his chance of a third world championship. There is no doubt that Alonso’s ego and pettiness cost him. He wasn’t treated as number one at McLaren and his teammate was blindingly quick. The fact is, that if Alonso had kept his head down and ignored Hamilton, he would have been world champion. If he, regardless of the political trouble the team was in, had not let his antipathy toward Hamilton and team principal Ron Dennis affect his driving, he would have been the 2007 world champ. As it was, he lost by a point and was out of the team by the end of the season.
When looking back at his career, it will be the third phase that will hurt him the most. Joining Ferrari in 2010, he was given a competitive car, and even though his ego was still a problem–most notably in the German Grand Prix where his teammate, Felipe Massa, was forced to move over for him–he was in the best position to win a championship since his time at Renault. However, a poor strategy call by the team at the final race of the season cost Alonso, who had gone into the race with an 8 point lead. In 2012 Alonso was not given the quickest car, but his ability made it into a championship worthy car, but two costly crashes, arguably neither his fault, cost him the championship. Alonso should have won in 2010 and could have won in 2012 but bad luck had cost him badly, and with a dominant Red Bull team and a soon-to-be dominant Mercedes team, Alonso’s last chance for a deserved third world title had seemingly passed him by.
His decision to rejoin McLaren was, on paper, a sound one. With Honda, McLaren would get a works engine that they felt would close the gap to the hitherto unstoppable works Mercedes car. But it hasn’t worked out, and the writing off of the 2017 season before it even starts leaves one of the great drivers stagnating, possibly into retirement.
By our reckoning, Alonso should be at least a quadruple world champion, and there is no doubt that his talents deserve it. His ability to win in underpowered, uncompetitive cars is remarkable. His cool and calm demeanor, particularly in his championship winning years belied his age. He was also one of only a few drivers to go toe-to-toe with Michael Schumacher, in similar equipment, and win, but it seems one of the great drivers of all time will end his career wondering what might have been had his ego, a couple of unavoidable crashes and a poor strategy call not got in his way in the quest for world championships.