It may be ill advised to burn your bridges when leaving an employer on the off chance you may wish to return at a later date. Yet Fernando Alonso has made a career out from starting rain forest fires either during his time with a Formula One team or after he leaves.
The double world champion Spaniard began his F1 life as a Renault driver but on loan to monad in 2001. He was recalled as a test driver the following year and debuted for the French team in 2003 replacing Jenson Button who moved to BAR.
Alonso suffers Ferrari domination years
These were the years Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were dominating Formula One completing six consecutive constructor championships (1999-2005) while the German ace grabbed five drivers’ titles for himself in the uber dominant Ferrari (2000-05).
Distant memories now for the Tifosi indeed.
Schumacher had won his previous two F1 championships with Benetton in 1994-95 and for a short while had Max Verstappen’s father for a team mate.
After eight years of Ford power Benetton decided to become a full F1 works outfit and were the recipients of the impressive Renault engine in 1997. Then three years later the French auto manufacturer bought the team for itself.
Alonso jumps ship as Renault commitment questioned
With Fernando at the wheel Renault were pushing for second in 2004 and they recruited ex-world champion Jacques Villeneuve out of retirement to race for the final three races but the Canadian was clearly rusty after his time out of F1 which resulted in ten finished third behind BAR and Ferrari.
With some technical wizardry, Renault delivered Alonso with a car in 2005 where he could demonstrate his skills for all to see. He claimed the first of two consecutive driver F1 championships with the French squad then made a shock move to McLaren.
There were rumours Renault’s long term commitment to F1 was shakey and so the Spaniard decided to jump ship and was joined by rookie Lewis Hamilton as his team mate.
It was in 2007 we saw the first of “angry” Fernando. He was irrupted as double world champion McLaren team boss refused to give him top billing and with Hamilton nipping at his heels things became fraught.
“Fiery” Fernando emerges at McLaren
Matters erupted at the Hungarian Grand Prix when Alonso accused Hamilton of deliberately ruining his first run in qualifying. The Spaniard remained in the Mclaren pit box as the clock ticked down for the end of the session.
Even when the car was dropped from the jack, Alonso waited another fifteen seconds or so before exiting the pit lane to deliver his final qualifying attempt.
Hamilton then had no time to fit fresh tyres and make his final assault on pole position but Alonso was penalised with a five pace grid drop for his actions. To make matters worse Lewis went on to claim the race victory in Budapest.
At the final race of the year, Alonso claimed third while Hamilton could only manage seventh which tied the two McLaren drivers on points in the drivers’ championship. Yet the disruption within the team during the year meant they failed to deliver the optimum performance and allowed Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari to clinch the title by just one point from the McLaren duo.
Alonso calls Honda “A GP3 engine”
Fernando quit McLaren at the end of the season and this meant the team owed him no compensatory payment for the early end to his contract with them.
Alonso’s five year tenure with Ferrari ended in a sort fashion as the frustrated double world champion openly criticised the team for failing to produce a car worthy of winning titles.
His second coming at McLaren was a relationship disaster as Fernando was frustrated by the lack of a competitive car and power unit. He famously described over team radio the Honda power unit as having the power of “a GP3 engine” when being overtaken.
Reliability issues were huge and repeated mechanical failures meant Fernando was classified as many times as “Did Not Finish.”
Final return to Renault F1
He famously grabbed a deck chair after his car broke in Q1 in Brazil, sitting out the remainder of the qualifying session sunning himself and refusing to return to the McLaren garage.
After two years out of F1 Fernando returned to the team where it all began and where he became the youngest ever F1 world champion. Although things had changed somewhat.
Now branded as Alpine the French owned outfit were beginning a rebuilding process where they targeted race wins and titles in 100 races.
Yet the progress was slow, and although Alpine battled with McLaren for fourth in 2022, Alonso was struggling with the relationship with his team mate Esteban Ocon.
Alpine blow it over driver contracts
A number of incidents upset Fernando and having declared he was moving on to Aston Martin in 2023, he then continued to refer to Ocon as “our friend” in a sarcastic fashion whenever he felt the French driver had misbehaved on track.
Alonso was committed to staying with Alpine, however the team had recruited from Aston Martin Otmar Szafnaeur at the start of the 2022 season. Fernando was pushing for a new two year deal for 2023-4, though it appears the new American team principal was not interested.
His eyes were on academy driver Oscar Piastri and Fernando believed the team were no longer com fitted to him.
With the sacking this weekend of Szafnaeur presumably due in part to Alpine coming off the back of two double DNF’s for their cars in Austria and Silverstone, the American attacked his former team in the press for his premature demise.
Szafnauer claims he’s doing a good job
Otmar claimed his 18 month tenure was not enough time to turn around operations at Enstone explaining, “The reality is that changes take time.”
“I signed some good people from other teams, but they are still stuck in their contracts and won’t come until 2024 or 2025. You can’t really push development if people aren’t there. It takes time for people to come and it takes time for people to work together correctly.”
However Fernando has no time for the apparent whinging of his former team boss and explained to the BBC the inordinate amount of time he felt was spent discussing his contract extension.
“It was just on a very slow pace, and it was not from my side. I was just ready and happy. The 2022 car was a fast car so I was also happy with the performance and the possibilities into the future, so that slow pace of conversations and eventually not even putting on paper what we were saying and all these comments about the age and whatever, which they are still doing.”
Otmar “should be quiet” says Alonso
The failure by Alpine to retain either Alonso or Piastri made the management at Alpine look amateurish. Particularly when the team announced the young Australian would be driving for them in 2023 only to be rebutted by their academy driver on twitter about 90 minutes later.
“It is the way they do things, or the way Otmar does things, claims Alonso.
“Because after this year, he should be quiet. He should not talk at all. After the results of Aston Martin and the results he’s achieving, he’s still talking and still proud of the decision, which is incredible, amazing.”
Aston Martin sacked Szafnaeur and recruited Mike Krack and since then the team’s performance with the addition of Fernando has been spectacular.
Alpine relationship went sour
Of course Szafnaeur has implied it was due to the ground work he put in for the years he was in charge that Aston this year have achieved their meteoric success.
At Alpine Alonso believes he was taken for granted by Szafnaeur:
“When you are doing the best you can every weekend, when I did so many things for Renault as well, you take a little bit personal when someone is doubting your performance or your age or these kinds of things.
“And you just want to prove even extra hard that you are in the best moment of your career. The results, they speak for themselves, and that’s the best way.”
Fernando long term deal with Aston
Alonso has a long term deal with Aston Martin and when compared to his team mate is clearly the driver making it happen for the team in the constructors race.
His final stint with what was the Renault team will not be remembered fondly by Fernando and his ‘tell all’ revelations and open criticism of Otmar Szafnaeur will ring out for some time to come.
Just @alex_albon taking FIVE places on the opening lap 😱
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 31, 2023