Fernando Alonso will retire from Formula 1 at the end of this season as one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport. And yet it’s hard not to reflect on the Spaniard’s career as a case of promise unfulfilled. To explain that apparent paradox is, a bit like Alonso himself, complicated.
First, the statistics. Barring miracle performances from McLaren-Renault in the final nine races of the season, Alonso will finish his F1 career with 32 wins (sixth in the all-time list), 97 podiums (also sixth most of all time), 22 pole positions and 23 fastest laps. And, of course, two world championships.
That’s a pretty fine career, all told. The conundrum is how many more wins, podiums, poles, fastest laps and championships Alonso could — or should — have scored, especially given his rise to prominence.
Alonso shot through the ranks and, by his third season of car racing, was in F1 driving for Minardi in 2001. He switched to Renault as a test driver in 2002, securing a race seat with the team — at the expense of Jenson Button — in 2003. He claimed his first victory — becoming F1’s then youngest race winner — in Hungary that year.
Alonso realised his potential in 2005, claiming the championship with seven race wins, ending Michael Schumacher’s run of five consecutive titles. He defended his crown the following year in even more impressive fashion, battling with Schumacher for much of the year.
By the end of 2006, Alonso was 24 years old and already a double world champion — and poised to take Schumacher’s mantle as F1’s dominant force. Except that’s not how things turned out.