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FERNANDO ALONSO: DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK


Fernando Alonso. He’s back at it again and this time he looks better than ever. This man is the epitome of the phrase “age is just a number”. The latest generation of F1 fans have only really started to show their appreciation for Fernando and are commenting on the revival of his incredible form after such a long period of time in his career. However as someone who has watched Fernando since his controversy-filled season as the reigning defending 2 time F1 Champion and having a period of fighting consistently for the title till the later said “drop-off” years, I have a different opinion.


THE RISE


The Super Spaniard started his career in Minardi and after an impressive debut in the worst car, he managed to secure a promotion to the Enstone based Renault F1 team whose team boss was the notorious Flavio Briattore. Over there he really took his career to the next level and started picking up memorable wins and making a name for himself at such a young age and taking the challenge to the unflappable dynasty of Scuderia Ferrari whose ace in the hole was 7 time WDC Michael Schumacher. In Spite of the doubters Alonso and Renault combined their efforts to produce the best car-driver duo and finally win the Championship in 2005. And with this the name Fernando Alonso at the young age of 24 was etched into the moments of history. And with this coronation it set the stage for Alonso to really cement his legacy amongst the greats.

WAS IT NOW TIME TO CALL ALONSO “THE GUY”?


Fresh off the back of a wonderful season where Alonso driving for Renault won the World Drivers Championship for the second time it became clear that Alonso was now about to be the main character of the sport fighting with the Iceman Kimi Raikkonen. With Schumacher also retiring at the end of 2006 everything was now falling into place for Alonso to shine. To even make it set in stone, Fernando even made the switch to big time constructors Mclaren, who’d had a flat 2006 season to make a sudden pivot in the power rankings, and to announce himself to be their star driver and replace Raikkonen who’d make the switch to the Scuderia in place of Michael.

And so we finally were ready for Fernando’s “Coronacion del rey”. However, with how unpredictable each season in F1 can be things were about to take another twist.


THE UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL OF THE ROOKIE!


When Mclaren revealed their driver lineup for 2007 they made a shock decision to field their 22 year old rookie driver whose dream was to drive for them since he was a young kid. The kid made several headlines as being the first black driver to be in Formula 1. The man from Stevenage named Lewis Hamilton took the sport by storm. Pulling off a sterling start to his rookie career with a podium at Melbourne, the whole season turned out to be far from the coronation ceremony people thought Alonso would have. In between news started floating up of there being severe friction between the teammates and the garage now siding with Hamilton.

Eventually a three-way fight for the title ended up with Räikkönen taking the title by one point and all that was left for Nando was dust. To make matters worse, Mclaren had been caught for secretly buying in classified Ferrari information regarding the car which had been dubbed the "Spygate scandal" and as a result were slapped with a 100 Million dollar fine as well as them being disqualified from the Constructors championship that year. So what was meant to be a new Rome really turned into Pompeii within a span of 6 months and as a result Alonso made the return to the team from Enstone.


TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS AT THE SCUDERIA


After two rather mediocre years with Renault, Alonso made the switch to Ferrari who had fallen out of the top in a painful fashion. With Massa and Alonso things were meant to be on the up.


“BUT HERE COMES SEBASTIAN

VETTEL!!!”


That's right! Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull F1 driver who through all of the noise had made himself a prominent name on the scene and after 2 impressive seasons for Toro Rosso and the Red Bull F1 team where he had now entered the debate of the main character of Formula 1. In an extreme back and forth battle culminating in the desert palms of Abu Dhabi, Vettel cool and collected managed to win the title under the bright lights with a measured pole to chequered flag win whilst Alonso would be known in the history books for failing to pass Vitaly Petrov whilst he languished in p7 after a terrible strategy by his team.


It was Alonso's title to lose as he had had a 15 point lead coming into the final round and all it brought him was a finger wag at nothing.

The following year is not remembered well for most fans as Vettel and Redbull steamrolled the entire grid to the second championship.


THE GREATEST SEASON IN MODERN ERA F1


2012 remains to be my favorite season in Formula 1. It had everything. You want to talk about greatness? We can talk about greatness: You had the world champions Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Button as well as two returning champs; Schumacher and Raikkonen. You had the elite drivers like Massa, Rosberg, Perez and Hulkenberg. You even had the Lord Maldonado.

 

In addition to that, 2012 was a legendary season which began with 6 different drivers winning the first 6 races including the iconic Maldonado Spain win (which was Williams last recorded win in F1 and they haven't won ever since).

However, one thing I forgot to mention. Ferrari's car for 2012: "The F2012"

It was utterly dissapointing. Yet somehow Alonso made a monster attempt to fight for the title and at one point he was even leading the championship by a considerable margin. It was thrilling to watch as the world for the first time became acclimatized to Fernando's incredible talent to extract almost every ounce of performance out of what was a completely terrible package; severely compromised on actual mechanical output.


The battle had a lot of twists and turns. There was glory, there was pain. But what arguably was the backbreaker to Alonso's hopes of glory was 4 consecutive race wins for Sebastian Vettel in the latter stages of the calendar where he retook the lead whilst Alonso had 2 DNF's which arguably should be crushing. Or that's at least what other drivers would have felt.

 

Not Fernando. Oh no no. You underestimate this man the moment you think he’d had no chance now. Fernando would rather die a proud lion than a tame deer. He fought his hardest and managed to keep his hopes and dreams of winning the title right until the final race at Interlagos.


And then there were two: "Vettel. Alonso. Interlagos" - 2 titans fighting for the third jewel in their crown.

In a chaos filled race where Fernando made a brilliant drive from P8 to P2. But despite the chaos including Vettel falling back to P23 due to a turn 1 accident in Lap 1 and a slow pitstop due to bad radio, Vettel just about secured the P6 position he needed to win the WDC for the third time. And the pain that Fernando suffered from is probably exemplified with this image.

REGRESSION


Following that painful end to the 2012 season. Things didn’t get any better. Vettel went on to have one of the greatest seasons of all time in F1’s history in 2013 whilst Alonso managed to drag yet another poorly designed Ferrari to second place. The following season saw the new era of the turbo-hybrid engines being introduced to the competition. Yet Ferrari languished and in the end Alonso had had enough and returned back to McLaren. It wasn’t a pretty return as Alonso could not make any inroads for the McLaren team that had really fallen off in terms of competition and were even struggling financially having to sell their iconic Woking team Centre. Alonso even had two terrible crashes: a mysterious one during testing in 2015 which made him have a slight loss of memory and a 2016 Australian GP crash that gave him broken ribs and he had to miss a race.

These two are just the two events that really spoke about Alonso’s trials. Add to this continuous engine failures and horrible machines eventually all clumped up to be enough for Nando to decide that it was time to go and do something different.

 

RECALIBRATION AND THE RETURN


Alonso left F1 in 2018 in what many believed to be his retirement (really?) from all motorsports. What they didn’t realize was that he took time off F1, not racing. He had always expressed interest in getting the Triple Crown, trying to become the second driver to achieve such a feat. This is where Fernando’s strengths really came into play. He managed impressive showings in the Indy 500 and even won the Le Mans 24hr race for Toyota ending their painful streak of losing towards the end.

Fernando managed to find a different understanding of racing and decided to return to the sport where he had unfinished business. 

 

EL PLAN


Alonso returned to his roots from Chipping Norton who now changed their name to Alpine for their 2021 return. He drove an incredible season in an improved car and evidently was named as one of the best drivers of the season.

The only rough patch was the clashes on-track with his teammate Esteban Ocon.

He then decided to make a sudden impact move to Aston Martin and oh boy what a move it has been so far. Fernando and Aston really burst onto the scene this year with a promising car and Fernando is driving like he’s 23 again and fighting for the the championship. Sure Red Bull are leagues away but I genuinely am now super excited for the future of Aston and Fernando.


NOW LET'S GET down TO THE MEAT OF THIS STORY.


Many have claimed this to be the return of form for Fernando. However for me that's never really been the case when talking about Fernando.


Fernando was always someone who never really had a dip in his driving ability. He has always been someone who consistently outperforms every single driver to a point where no one really can drive a car the way Fernando Alonso can. To say that Fernando has driven cars that have been from all parts of the spectrum is really an understatement.

Let me make this clear.


I am a Vettel fanboy. Always have and always will. The one dude that honestly terrified me even in my sleep was Fernando. I always felt irritated as to how this dude was always there fighting Vettel every single time but my younger self really failed to perceive the level and magnitude of talent, determination, grit and hunger that this man possessed.

The greats are always defined by their consistency. For Fernando it certainly is no different. He is by far the most experienced driver on the grid and the numbers are a testament to his legendary abilities. He has been in F1 for the longest time having a career spanning over 22 years. He has one of the most storied careers with 363 race entries, 360 starts, 32 wins and 102 podiums and even 2 wins at Le Man to go with it. In terms of ironman Fernando is the ironman of Formula 1.


What's amazing is these numbers still don’t define half of his abilities. Remember earlier how I talked about Nando struggling with poor cars. Well as he himself described it, “ To be honest I only have really been in the fastest car maybe 3 times.”  The amount of experience he gained from driving those machines has correlated to a Herculean output of performance. Some say he was in his prime driving a terrible car. His 2012 season is arguably the best season I have ever watched because he was in a car that was realistically the 6th or 7th fastest and he managed to push it to a title fight till the very last race and only missing out by 3 points…ONLY 3. If that doesn’t tell you enough about this incredible skill he possessed then I don’t know what will.

Honestly while writing this piece I really don't think I have justified this man’s abilities enough. He possessed this trait that only Ayrton Senna had of extracting maximum performance from areas of the car no one else could do. He can make you dream that anything is possible and as he stands now 42 years young he still can excite you and make you turn on your TV or computer screens and watch him exceed expectations in the emerald Aston.


To understand how truly terrifying an opponent he is, Christian Horner was once asked a question in the Hungary GP( where Red Bull and McLaren were favorite's to win the race)about who he was most worried about to which he replied…”Fernando Alonso”. Now come back to this time and who is the one stepping up to challenge the brawling bulls? Fernando ‘El Nano’ Alonso.


The opening verse from LL Cool J’s iconic song ‘MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT’ really hit home for me when trying to describe Fernando’s career.

Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years
I'm rockin' my peers, puttin' suckers in fear  

No truer words can be written. You could not make this up. All this time I managed to learn one thing about Nando. Many drivers have succeeded in F1 but have also failed in their careers. This could be due to driver fitness, age, dip in driving ability and form and so on. Fernando Alonso never ever had a dip in his ability. Every single time he fought tooth and nail for everything that was on the table. For every inch he took several miles. He always produced the maximum with everything that he possessed. Maybe the results may tell you otherwise and maybe you will say oh he did badly. To that I will say just go back and watch those ‘bad races’ or those ‘bad seasons’ and you will understand just why it was bad.

It never really has been an issue of performing to the highest degree for Fernando. He always gave everything. He is human and has never claimed to be the most perfect at his job. But he never stopped continuing to strive for excellence and being better than anyone at what he loves. His mental fortitude and unbreakable, unyielding and unflappable will to never stop working towards success and his honest brutal no-nonsense approach to the sport has now made his greatness truly undeniable. He never really left F1 in 2018.

He just wanted to figure out a new dimension. And now he’s still strong whilst hundreds of drivers have gone and left the sport and yet the gritty, endearing and versatile man from Asturia stands proud with a big smile on his face showing everyone else how he still loves the sport and that each and every single season, he keeps on improving and bettering himself. And honestly that type of greatness makes me happily name drop him amongst the greatest drivers of all time and absolutely no one can take that away from Fernando.


WHAT LIES AHEAD?



Well starting on today(this is when i finished the article ) it’s a special weekend for Nando as he races in his 21st Monaco Grand Prix and as always is one of the favourites to excel in this race and maybe even win his 33rd race in his staggering career. He always has been exciting to watch in any car and no doubt I am tuning in to hopefully watch him showcase his brilliance and hopefully you guys can also watch him during this upcoming part of the season.

 


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