After what felt like an eternally long 7 year wait, Fernando Alonso was finally back on the F1 podium at Qatar, for the first time since a P3 at the Hungaroring. To put this into perspective, the last time Alonso was among the podium finishers, Max Verstappen was yet to earn his F1 super license, Lewis Hamilton was a meagre one time World Champion, and Lando Norris was yet to drive a single-seater racing car. But why has it taken a driver of Alonso’s talent, 7 years to retake the podium steps?
For a driver of Alonso’s caliber to not have a car, at least worthy of challenging for the podium is peculiar in itself. However, this irregularity wasn’t just the result of a poor manufacturer, but perhaps also magnified a flaw in Alonso’s character as a racer. His temper.
It all started with his departure from Ferrari. His departure from the Maranello outfit is actually quite simple to explain, Ferrari had been courting Sebastian Vettel ever since he stepped foot in a Toro Rosso. So when the opportunity presented itself to acquire the German maestro, Marco Mattiachi couldn’t turn it down. Aided by some lingering bad blood between Mattiachi and Alonso, it was pretty clear whose seat would be vacated for Vettel.
Alonso, 34 at the time still had a lot to give to racing. He decided to rejoin McLaren for the 2015 season, who themselves were trying to become a manufacturer team again through a partnership with Honda. The rich history of the McLaren-Honda partnership, glittered with the championship days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, was what convinced Alonso to come back to the team with which he had, what could only be described as a tumultuous first stint in 2007.
This move will go down in history as one of the biggest disasters in modern F1, with neither Alonso, McLaren, or Honda coming out of this with their reputations untarnished. McLaren were truly a case study of a fallen giant. After finishing P2 in the Constructor’s Championship just 3 years prior in 2012, with arguably the best car, McLaren finished the 2015 WCC in P9.
Honda have re-established themselves as an engine manufacturer in 2021, their final season in the sport, which could see them depart with a Constructor’s and Driver’s Title with Red Bull. However for the duration of their partnership with McLaren, Honda were the butt of all jokes. Ranging from terrible reliability, to finally blowing over with Fernando’s “GP2 engine” comments in Japan, Honda’s home-race.
Alonso has always been a divisive figure in F1, notoriously hard to deal with when not happy, but his pace was undeniable which kept the tolerance levels high around him for the majority of his career. But with a terrible car, like the MP4-30 was, Alonso’s frustrations on the team-radio were leaving a bad taste in the mouth, and some believed were tarnishing his legacy. He left McLaren and the sport at the end of the 2018 season.
Alonso still remained in racing however, winning the Indy 500, and failing to qualify for another. The bridges he burned with Honda reportedly contributed to Honda refusing to give Alonso a seat at any of their Indy Car outfits during this period. His brief F1 hiatus ended when he filled in at Renault for few races in the 2020 season, before being confirmed as their driver for the 2021 season after Daniel Ricciardo’s departure.
Coming into the 2021 season, there was a lot of excitement about seeing Fernando back in the sport by putting the toxicity of his McLaren days in the rear-view mirror. There was also a lot of skepticism, after all Fernando was 40 years old. Many felt Alpine could and should have given a chance to a younger driver, however none of their juniors had enough super license points to make the step up to F1, so Alonso was basically Alpine’s only choice.
As the 2021 season comes close to its conclusion, Alonso has looked revitalised. Working in relative harmony with his teammate, in a decent midfield car, delivering some memorable drives. A heroic defence of Lewis Hamilton in Hungary to allow his teammate to win, followed by a near-podium spoiled by the rain in Sochi, to finally a brilliant weekend at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix.
Alosno has always been a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve, sometimes to his own determent. Age has seemed to mellow his temper, but has had no effect on his pace. He is still close enough to the Alonso who nearly won the 2012 championship in one of the worst modern Formula 1 car to challenge for a Championship. His 7 year long wait has been a tale of terrible luck, and some of that being of his own making. Now signed on with Alpine for another season, and with intentions to race until at least 2023, Alonso might make Oscar Piastri’s wait for an F1 seat last even longer.