The year was 2009 and ahead of the Japanese GP Ferrari had made their big announcement – Fernando Alonso was to replace their driver Kimi Raikkonen for the 2010 season. Kimi of course was contracted to drive for the Maranello based team during the 2010 season, though he went quietly into the night with presumably an eye watering pay-off.
Ahead of the 2009 race in Suzuka, Alonso told reporters, “Hopefully I can continue as long as I want and I can finish my career here [at Ferrari] with a lot of wins.”
“I really think that Ferrari will be my last team, as I said, leaving Ferrari to change teams is a step backwards. Ferrari is more than a team and I want to finish my career there.”
“It will obviously not be easy and I would like to do the same as Michael, by winning many championships, but I think that it will be very difficult,” Alonso said.
“I will go there to be in the best team possible for my career and Ferrari and I share many things together, such as the passion for competition and to give 100 per cent every race. I think that this is the best destination of my career.”
Between 2010 and the end of 2014, Fernando did not win a championship with Ferrari. He did claim 11 race victories, though with a mere 4 pole positions in five years.
Fernando’s best results with the red team came in his first year, as he racked up 10 podium positions and 5 of his eventual 11 wins for the Scuderia.
During the 2014, Alonso redefined the timeline for his retirement when speaking at the Canadian GP.
“We [I am] are still hungry for success, waiting for our opportunity to become champion,” said Fernando. “This is the main goal and you don’t think of retiring until you get some satisfaction.”
“It is something I am working for and hoping for,” he told the BBC race broadcast crew. “Three titles means a step. It is not that I’m not happy with two but the third puts you in a list of very important names. I have been close twice [with Ferrari] and hopefully the next opportunity we have we don’t miss it again.”
By the 2014 Canadian GP, Alonso was entering an interesting political phase with his new Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci.
“He’s still learning about the team situation, the Formula 1 environment, the F1 weekends. There are a lot of things to learn and [he needs to] get some experience before making any decisions that at the moment he will not take.”
This had been Alonso’s take on Mattiacci a month earlier, but now the rumours had begun that Alonso was considering leaving Maranello – and Fernando was being pressed to declare his hand for 2015.
When asked in Montreal if he believed Ferrari could provide him title-winning car the Spaniard replied, “I must, and I need to, believe. There is the potential there. We have all the ingredients and we just need to put them all together. I am very proud to be part of this team and I know that winning with Ferrari will mean more than winning with another team and it is something we want to do.”
The long and short of it is that eventually a disappointed and frustrated Alonso decided finishing his career at Ferrari was no longer an option. Yet the hope of a third title remained strong.
Having been announced as the new McLaren Honda driver for 2015, Alonso remarked, “I am joining this project with enormous enthusiasm and determination, knowing that it may require some time to achieve the results we are aiming for, which is no problem for me.”
Yet after a winter testing which could not have been worse, a crash which saw the Spaniard side lined for the Melbourne F1 season opening weekend and a retirement last time out in Sepang, Fernando sounding more reflective.
Gone is the talk of a third world title and joining the exclusive club of men who achieved this, and whilst Fernando didn’t say explicitly he would end his career here at McLaren – the implications are obvious.
Asked whether he would remain in Formula One when he retired as a driver, Fernando said “I don’t think so. After 15 or 16 or 17 years of Formula 1 – whatever it will be – it’s enough.
“It’s probably the same example of the Ferrari time – I will close the loop, that part of my life.
Alonso then became philosophical and reflective.
“I started with McLaren-Honda when I was three years old – a replica of my father; I will finish with McLaren-Honda, but the real one in Formula 1, and that will be one-third of my life.
“My career will end] with great experiences, great memories, great friendships, but the normal life will start that day when I retire, and I do not see myself as a manager here or following the sport. That will be enough.”
“Obviously I would like to win because we are sportsmen and we are all competitive, but also thanks to this age, and thanks to the moment of your career, you start looking for other things.
“I’ve been lucky to win championships and to win many grand prix, and now sometimes I feel more happy and more proud of my job and my team doing the things we are doing now than winning a trophy.
“There are times when you arrive to a maturity and stage of mind that has different priorities in life.”
Alonso is in his 15th year of Formula One, and taken at face value, his opening comment describes a scenario where Fernando hangs up his racing boots at the end of the season.
Fernando admitted today he could possibly regret leaving Ferrari. “It’s a question that I expect, because Ferrari winning the second race and me out [of qualifying] before Q2 is a perfect moment to ask. But I spent five years at Ferrari and finished second three times and I didn’t want to finish second a fourth time.
“If they win the championship at the end of the year then maybe I will have a different opinion, but if they finish second or third I think I am happy with the decision. There have been years when we have started very good with Ferrari – winning here [in China] in 2013 for example – and then when it counts in November we have never won [the championship]. I want to win in November and we will see.”
Fernando should be able to relax a little after this weekend. As TJ13 revealed last week, all the Mercedes engines were running at reduced power in Malaysia, due to concern over a seal – which has now been replaced.
Natural order over Ferrari should be resumed, with Williams closer to Ferrari than before as well.
When the best drivers in the world choose a new team, there is always an element of luck about whether they will receive the best car and rack up race win after race win.
Hamilton got lucky with Mercedes, Vettel may get lucky with Ferrari, but for now Fernando has to view the revival of McLaren as a more worthy project than retiring with a third world title.