Paddy says: ‘It’s an absolute disgrace that F1 cannot give an ace like Fernando a competitive car…He is one of the all-time greats. And because he can’t get into one of the only six cars that can ever win a race under the current business model, then he must leave. This is a sign if ever we needed one that F1 is completely broken.’
Fernando Alonso is, and always has been one of F1’s most divisive characters, and so it’s no real surprise that his retirement would provoke the same sort of controversy that has surrounded him his entire career.
Whether or not F1 is broken is something that’s up for debate. But I disagree that Alonso leaving is testament to that. And I’ll tell you why.
A modern-day Formula 1 driver must be multi-faceted. He needs to be quick in the car, sure, but he needs to be an ambassador out of the car, and he needs to be a team-player. He must have the selfish desire to achieve personal success, but he must also want to take others with him.
So while there is absolutely no questioning Alonso’s speed in the car, there are serious question marks over his ability to act as a team leader, and figurehead of a team that might comprise 1000 others working towards the same goal, across a number of organisations.
Case in point #1: After growing tired of Renault and on the back of a double world championship, his itchy feet led him to jump ship to McLaren, where a serious break-down in relationship over a disagreement about perceived favouritism towards his team-mate (or a lack of favouritism towards him!) and he took them to the cleaners, resulting in him having to go back to then midfield-runners Renault after a single season.
Case in point #2: Fernando used his time at Renault to negotiate with Ferrari to drive for them in 2009. As a bargaining tool, he also entered into talks with Red Bull (seemingly with very little intention of driving for them) in order to get the best deal he could with the Scuderia. Unfortunately for Nando, Red Bull not only felt he’d messed them around, but they’d also go on to be the dominant team in Formula 1 for the next four and a half years, denying he and Ferrari multiple world championships to boot.
So far, he’s alienated two top teams. And by now, his team-mate and arch-rival from his McLaren encounter, one Lewis Hamilton, had grown uber-powerful and was firmly planted at Mercedes, so you can add a third team to the list of top constructors that are a no-go for old Fred when his time at Ferrari is up.
“The feeling with Ferrari was that good that it was better to stop it there…If not, it would get worse and worse.” he’d say of the end of 2013, not confident that Ferrari could give him a winning car.
And so, in a move that shocked the world of F1, with his options sorely limited (the pecking order at this point was Mercedes > Red Bull > Williams > Ferrari > McLaren). With three of those out, and convinced that McLaren’s works deal with Honda would bear fruit and was a better option than the customer deal that Williams & Mercedes enjoyed (How are you going to beat the Mercedes works team with a customer works engine, right?) he went back to the team where it all started to unravel.
And continue to unravel it did. Honda weren’t quite ready for F1, having been rushed into a deal a year before they were comfortable, and their turbo power unit was a shocker.
Case in point #3: A disgruntled Alonso, finding himself in a situation where to finish a race was considered a success, but without other options decided that self PR was the way forward, and much to Honda’s chagrin, took every opportunity he could to let the world know where the problem lay: firmly at Honda’s door. ‘GP2 Engine!’ he’d cry, protesting that he and the car were still the best on the grid.
The McLaren/Honda relationship ended with Alonso using his considerable might (he was McLaren’s prize asset after all!), and media-interest to ‘encourage’ McLaren to drop the Japanese manufacturer and instead opt for Renault power units. Renault to the rescue again! Only it wasn’t to be like that.
Without Honda to blame for all McLaren’s woes, their failings were exposed and despite proclaiming ‘Now we can fight!’ at the beginning of the 2018 season, McLaren’s first with Renault, results were little better than they’d been with Honda, and all out of options, Alonso decides to leave F1.
While the move to Ferrari might have been the wrong choice in hindsight, you can’t blame a driver for wanting to drive for them. What you can blame Alonso for is all of the other poor choices he’s made, either at the expense of another party, or in a kneejerk reaction to a perceived injustice or as a quick fix to something not quite right in Alonso’s world.
At the age of 36, and with his dream of being the World’s Greatest Ever Driver TM disappearing into a silver and turquoise cloud in the distance, while his arch nemesis Lewis Hamilton racks up the titles, Fernando’s focus shifts to another way of staking his claim as being top dog outside Formula 1.
The Triple crown you say? Only one man has ever done it you say? That sounds like it could be a match for Schumacher’s seven world titles: I’ll have some of that thank you very much!
And off he goes to Le Mans and wins it. Has a pop at the Indy500, and falls slightly short (Ironically denied by a Honda engine failure!), but at the time of writing seems to want a season in Indycar as preparation for the big one. Only there’s a snag.
There are only two engine suppliers in IndyCar: Chevrolet and (du-du-duurrrr) Honda! Ten of the last 13 Indy500s have been won by drivers with Honda engines. And because of all the badmouthing of Honda Alonso did during ‘Operation throw Honda under the bus’, and his tie-in with Toyota at LeMans (but that’s not quite as sensational, so we’ll overlook that!), they don’t want him driving a car with one of their engines.
So taking all this into account, it’s not Formula 1 that’s failed Alonso. Fernando Alonso has failed himself. A little more diplomacy here, a slightly more magnanimous approach there. A hint of altruism, or selflessness every now and again and he’d have his pick of front-running teams in any series in the world.
It’s quite a feat for one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time to find himself in a situation where, in the prime of his career, he hasn’t had a single opportunity to win a Grand Prix in five whole years, and without the prospect of ever winning another. But it seems like Alonso has single-handedly achieved just that.