Left: Young Fernando Alonso with Renault. Right: Older Fernando Alonso with Alpine.
Fernando Alonso is widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One (F1) drivers of all time. With two World Championships, 32 Grand Prix wins, and 101 podium finishes, the Spanish driver has left an indelible mark on the sport. As he experiences his recent resurgence in this second stint of his career, it is a perfect time to reflect on the illustrious career Alonso has experienced.
Alonso first appeared on the Formula One scene in 2001, driving with backmarker team Minardi. He only scored one point in his rookie season, finishing 23rd that year. However, that was considered impressive, given the terrible car he had been put in. His finish caught the eye of the new French team Renault, who themselves made their debut as a car manufacturer (they had been engine manufacturers for some time) in 2002, with Alonso onboard as a test driver. In his season of testing, Alonso further improved his stock with the team and earned the 2003 race seat. Alonso came out swinging in his second full season in a race seat, winning the Hungarian Grand Prix. The 2004 season came with two more wins. Alonso was rising.
In 2005, Alonso had his greatest season yet, and it brought him his first World Championship. At the time, his seven win season made him the youngest driver ever to win a Driver’s Championship; he was only 24. Throughout the season, he had battled McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen, whose car had been far faster but lacked the reliability to sustain its top speed. Alonso’s victory ended five straight years of dominance from Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, widely regarded as the greatest driver of all time. This World Championship propelled him from the title of simply a strong, young driver to one of the top performers on the grid.
In 2006, Alonso did it once again. He defended the title from a retiring Michael Schumacher in a furious rivalry that ended with Alonso winning by a mere 13 points. Every race that season, bar the Hungarian Grand Prix, was won by either a Renault or a Ferrari, leading to an extremely tight title fight. Despite this, Alonso came out on top, joining the ranks of the champions.
Even though he was extremely successful with Renault, Alonso decided to move to McLaren for the 2007 season, partnering with rookie Lewis Hamilton. However, the relationship between the two drivers quickly soured, becoming a rather explosive rivalry, and Alonso left the team after just one season. He returned to Renault for two uneventful years before joining Ferrari in 2010.
His move to the Scuderia was thought to be the herald of another age of Ferrari dominance, as the historically greatest team would be paired with one of the greatest drivers of the period. However, the only thing in store for Alonso and Ferrari was heartbreak. He finished as the runner-up in the Championship three times, just missing the mark each time due to Ferrari’s strategy failures or mechanical issues. Although he had 11 wins over the years with the Scuderia, his trust with the team was lost, and in 2014, Alonso returned to McLaren.
In 2018, Alonso’s announced his biggest news yet. He announced that he would be leaving Formula One at the end of the season. His absence wouldn’t last long, though. In 2020, he would return once again to Renault, which had since been rebranded as Alpine. Over three seasons with Alpine, he scored a podium and consistently gained points. Most significantly, he put on the defensive show of a lifetime to hold back Lewis Hamilton’s charging Mercedes from catching up to Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon’s car, which went on to win the race.
Now, in 2023, he is racing with Aston Martin, and he has been off to a blazing start. This start to the season might be his best since 2014 or even earlier. In each of the first three races of the season, he scored a third place finish. He is third in the Driver’s Championship, and Aston Martin appears fast enough this season to place him on the top of the podium once again. Will we see another victory this season for Fernando? Quite possibly.
At 41 years old, Fernando Alonso is not getting any younger. But in his near 20 years in the sport, he has accomplished almost everything a driver can accomplish, and he isn’t done yet. Alonso is still absolutely kicking. It will be exciting to see what he can do in the twilight of his career in his new car. If it’s anything like what he’s done before, it will be pretty incredible.