He had the world at his feet, didn’t he? Fernando Alonso stood atop his Renault after finishing second at the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2006, securing his second world title in the process. He’d done the unthinkable, stopping the Schumi steamroller and loosening Ferrari’s stranglehold on the sport, on-track at least. He had a three-year McLaren contract in his pocket, and a third, fourth, fifth world title seemed a realistic prospect. And then it all went horribly wrong.
In researching and trawling back through the archives to write the preview for the Brazilian Grand Prix that anchors Episode 126 of ‘The Inside Line’ (check local guides and all of that), it’s jarring that it’s now nine years – nine years! – since Alonso ruled the world. His first McLaren stint was a disaster, and the five seasons at Ferrari were punctuated by brilliant years in mostly bad cars, often spectacular starts (remember Barcelona 2011*?), and agonising championship near-misses (to think that Vitaly Petrov cost him the 2010 title …). This year was when things were going to get better, but the move back to McLaren has – so far – been worse than even the gloomiest pessimist could have imagined.
It’s sad to see one of the sport’s foremost talents resorting to doing one lap “for the fans” in Mexico last time out, knowing his car was crippled and that he’d be on the first flight home. F1 is a much better place when Alonso is fighting at the front, and while his talent is undeniable, his penchant for being in the right team at the wrong time is beginning to define his career. It’s clearly the wrong time to be at McLaren – its 55-race run without a victory comes into greater focus this weekend when you realise Jenson Button took the team’s most recent win at Interlagos way back in 2012 – and you wonder, at 34, how much time Alonso has to turn it around, and how much fight one of the most combative drivers the sport has ever seen has left in his tank.
The three A-listers on the grid (Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, and not Maldonado) and where Brazil fits into their career journeys features on our preview of Interlagos and the penultimate round of the season this week – it was an enjoyable and insightful preview to write, so hope you enjoy it.
(* – so, so much better with Spanish commentary. Worth considering after watching this: Alonso finished fifth in this race, a full lap down on race-winner Sebastian Vettel. The same Vettel who beat pole-sitter Mark Webber by 47secs in the same car. Yes, 2011 was a tough year to be an Australian working in F1 …).