January 28, 2023

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All the transitions of Fernando Alonso: 3 times Renault, 2 times McLaren, Ferrari, and now Aston Martin

One of the big news of the season was the move of Fernando Alonso from the best team in the middle, Alpin, to Aston Martin, who took only seventh place in the Constructors’ Championship. However, Fernando during his career made many transfers to new teams for himself, as well as unexpected returns to old ones.

For 21 years in Formula 1, the two-time champion had a chance to play in Minardi, Renault, McLaren and Ferrari. Moreover, he twice returned to Renault (if you count the Alpin created on the basis of this team) and once to McLaren.

First teams: warm-up at Minardi and two titles with Renault

In the late 90s, the Renault concern was just about to return to the “royal races”. It was decided to appoint Flavio Briatore, who left in 1997 as the head of the Benetton team (on the basis of which they were going to build a new Renault), to be the head of the new team. Fernando met him in 1999, and he soon became the manager of the young rider.

It was Briatore who found Alonso a place in one of the outsider teams.

So Fernando’s career in Formula 1 began in 2001 at the infamous Minardi. In the entire history of participation in the championship, the pilots of this team have never climbed the podium and were able to earn only 38 points. Not surprisingly, the young Spaniard ended his debut season without scoring a single point. However, he often qualified above his team mate (in 11 out of 14 qualifying sessions Fernando was better) and was faster in pace.

Alonso spent 2002 as the third Renault pilot, a spare. However, the very next season, Briatore terminated the contract with one of the main riders – Jenson Button – and Fernando got his place.

Not everyone liked this decision, and Flavio then said: “Time will tell if I’m wrong.” Time has shown that he was right. Alonso confidently overtook his team-mate Jarno Trulli in 2003. In 2004, the partner began to show good results against Alonso, but relations between Briatore and Trulli deteriorated, and he was fired. Of course, the peak of the Spaniard’s career with the French team came in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Alonso managed to interrupt Michael Schumacher’s series of titles with Ferrari and become world champion twice.

It would seem that the transition from Renault, which paved the way for him to the champion titles, would be absolutely illogical. But even before winning the second title, Fernando said he was leaving for McLaren. One can only speculate about the reasons for leaving, since Alonso himself said only the following: “I fulfilled a dream this year with Renault and I feel that the time has come for a new challenge.”

The British team failed to beat Renault for the title due to reliability issues. The 2005 MP4-20 car was considered the fastest on the grid, but broke down more often than the French team’s car.

Alonso in 2005 retired only once – the suspension broke at the Canadian Grand Prix. His arch-rival from McLaren, Kimi Raikkonen, retired twice on technical grounds – a driveshaft failure at the San Marino Grand Prix and hydraulic problems at the German Grand Prix – and once missed a victory due to suspension failure on the final lap of the Grand Prix. – in Europe. Only three of the six retirements of the Renault drivers were due to technical problems. Pilots “McLaren” – as many as five out of six. 2006 didn’t get any better. Five technical gatherings at McLaren against two at Renault. However, this season the British team failed to win a single race, while Renault won eight. Doesn’t look like a promising team to move from the champions?

However, not all so simple. Renault managed to win two seasons largely due to the problems with the reliability of McLaren already described above, as well as the new regulations of 2005, for which Ferrari were not ready. The French team before the start of the season was hardly considered a favorite and looked only third in speed after McLaren and Ferrari. Return in the coming years, these teams to the previous level, and Renault would need something more than a reliable car and a great driver in the team. In the long term championship series, Renault looked worse than its rivals.

On top of that, money could also play a role. The McLaren budget was larger than the budget of the French team that recently appeared in Formula 1. The salaries of the racers of the British team exceeded the salaries of the Renault pilots: 15 and 22 million for Montoya and Raikkonen, against only 9 million for Alonso and Fisichella.

The team was affected by another circumstance. Tobacco products were banned in the early 2000s. Many Formula 1 teams had tobacco companies as sponsors. So, Renault had to break off cooperation with its main sponsor, the JT Mild Seven cigarette brand. The team itself stated: “JT was an important link in our budget. They won’t be easy to replace, we’ll probably need two or three new sponsors.”

Alonso’s transition to McLaren at first glance really seems like a gamble. But still, he had a reason: it is not known how long the success of Renault would have lasted, especially against the background of potential problems with money.

Scandal at McLaren and first return to Renault

Already in the pre-season tests, it became clear that Alonso did not fail with the transition. The new McLaren car finally began to produce the desired result. He was faster than not only Renault, but also Ferrari. However, the main problem for the Spaniard was not the car at all.

Alonso’s collaboration with the British team failed in many respects due to the fact that the young Lewis Hamilton made his debut in the same team in the 2007 season. And then he imposed a fight on his partner. In the first race, the Briton finished above the two-time world champion – of course, Fernando was not counting on such a course of events. In the course of the season, the “home” media of the racers mercilessly criticized the partner of “their” racer: the British press – Alonso, and the Spanish – Hamilton.

The team gradually accumulated tension, which reached a critical point at the Hungarian Grand Prix. In the last segment of qualifying, Hamilton ignored the team’s order to let Alonso take his try first. In response, Alonso did not leave the pit lane for a long time on the final attempt, which did not allow Hamilton to drive his last lap and win pole. The father of the British driver even filed a protest with the FIA, the incident was considered by the stewards, and Alonso was fined.

Relations between Fernando and the head of the “McLaren” Ron Dennis rapidly deteriorated. Shortly after the Hungarian Grand Prix, correspondence between Alonso and his colleague Pedro de la Rosa regarding a spy scandal between Ferrari and McLaren fell into the hands of the FIA. These letters have become one of the important evidence in favor of McLaren’s guilt. Shortly before this incident, team leader Ron Dennis told FIA President Max Mosley that the Spaniard demanded that he be given the status of the first rider in the team and blackmailed him by leaking important information.

During the Belgian Grand Prix, it became known that Ron Dennis said the following at the FIA ​​hearing: “We didn’t talk. The relationship between me and Fernando is, to put it mildly, chilly.” As you can understand, the understanding between the Spaniard and the team was finally destroyed. After these events, Alonso began to be noticed in conversations with representatives of Renault. The final chord of history was played at the Brazilian Grand Prix, where both McLaren drivers lost the title to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by 1 point.

“If a team can’t deal with the pressure or stick to the plan, I’d rather move to another team”

The season was ending, and the team announced that Alonso’s contract had been terminated, and he would not be a McLaren driver next season. Fernando himself said that he did not regret moving to McLaren, but it is obvious that the McLaren-Alonso tandem did not work in 2007. The team failed to deal with the differences between the pilots, and McLaren missed out on the title, having the fastest car in the peloton. Therefore, after only a season, Fernando Alonso returned to his native Renault.

Failure at Renault and a new challenge

The 2008 Renault was not a championship car. On it, Fernando Alonso managed to win only two races: the Singapore Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix. The race in Singapore was marked by another major scandal involving the Alonso team.

The management of the team created an accident on the track with the participation of the Spaniard’s partner Nelsinho Piquet. The plan was: Alonso pulls into an early pitstop, Pique crashes the car at turn 17 and calls for a safety car, the other drivers pit, and Alonso, who has been there before, wins back many positions. The idea really worked. Only a year later, when Renault terminated the contract with Nelsinho, he admitted: the accident was planned by team leader Flavio Briatore, along with technical director Pat Symonds.

Both scheme creators were fired from the team. Briatore was suspended from any participation in Formula 1 (but returned to the role of ambassador of the series in 2022), and Pique after this incident was not interested in any team, and he was forced to leave the “queen of motor racing”. Fernando’s knowledge of this plan could not be proved, so no sanctions followed in his direction.

In 2009, neither Alonso nor his teammates managed to win a single race. Moreover, the R29 was only able to get on the podium once: Fernando’s third place at the Singapore Grand Prix. It became clear that the two-time champion was unlikely to stay in such a team for a long time, and already during the season, rumors began to circulate in the paddock about the Spaniard moving to Ferrari. On account of the Scuderia this season was 6 podiums, including the victory of Kimi Raikkonen in Belgium.

However, the figure of Raikkonen stood in the way of this contract, whose contract with the Italian team was calculated until the end of 2010. But for the sake of Fernando Alonso, Ferrari terminated the contract with the Finn ahead of schedule (probably, the Spanish bank Santander also played an important role in this transfer). So in 2010, Fernando was in a new team for himself.

Alas, it will not be possible to win the title with the legendary Italian team Fernando. In pre-season testing, the F10 became one of the fastest cars. The first season in the Scuderia for Alonso began with a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix. In the course of the season, the Spaniard scored 5 victories and fought for the title until the last race of the season. Before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso was ahead of the closest rivals from Red Bull by 8 and 15 points, respectively. But the team’s strategic mistake led to the loss of the title. Quite a bit was not enough for him in 2012 – he again lost the title in the last race of the season, this time at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Alonso was unhappy with this, and Fernando’s remarks towards the team repeatedly began to appear in the media.

In 2011 and 2013, the team failed to build a competitive car, and the fight for the title did not work out at all. These years accounted for only three Ferrari victories (all three were received by Alonso). There were high hopes for the 2014 season and a large-scale change in the regulations. However, the hopes were not justified – the team did not manage to smoothly move into the “hybrid” era.

It became clear that the competitiveness of “Ferrari” in the following seasons is in question. Alonso, after a disappointing year for himself, could decide to terminate the contract with the Scuderia. The team itself had a chance to lose its first driver and remain for the next seasons without a pilot capable of competing for the title. At the same time, Sebastian Vettel, who won four championships with Red Bull, was ready to terminate the contract with his team, which also lost ground in the 2014 season. Vettel, like many pilots, dreamed of racing for the legendary red team since childhood, and, seeing the opportunity, he seized it.

Ferrari’s then-president Luca Di Montezemolo described the team’s final choice between the two drivers as follows: “Mattiacci (Ferrari’s boss during this period) decided that if we had the opportunity to get Vettel, then everyone would be better off. Alonso, because he would have many doubts with us; us, because otherwise we will be left with a not very motivated rider. … If Fernando does not want to give a final decision, wants to wait, is dissatisfied, complains, then it is better to let him go.”

At the end of the 2014 season, Ferrari announced that the team would part ways with Fernando Alonso two years earlier than originally planned. There were several moments when it seemed that the Spaniard’s cooperation with the legendary team could have been successful, but for various reasons they did not manage to win a joint title.

Di Montezemolo would later say that the difficult nature of Alonso himself was partly to blame for the situation: “There was only Alonso. Not Alonso-Ferrari. When he wins, he is happy. When he loses, it’s the team’s problem, he’s not happy. In other words, he was not as close to the team as Nicky or Michael (Lauda and Schumacher), especially in difficult moments.

Two old teams are better than one new one (or not?)

For the 2015 season, Alonso returned to his familiar McLaren. In the same year, the cooperation of this team with Honda was resumed. However, the return of the Japanese company to the “queen of motorsport” did not go so smoothly. The motors turned out to be incredibly unreliable – in the pre-season tests, the McLaren pilots drove the fewest laps. Eleven out of thirteen pilot retirements were due to technical problems. The motors had another problem – low power. The MP4-30 has finished in the points just seven times this season. Alonso made an unflattering comment about the engine on his famous radio at the Japanese Grand Prix: “GP2 engine! GP2!” (GP2 is an analogue of the current Formula 2).

2016 really got better. Pilots have become less likely to leave for technical reasons and more likely to hit points (seventeen hits in points instead of last year’s seven). In 2017, however, only eight hits in the points. The situation with gatherings for technical reasons has improved, but the problems with power have not gone away. During the period 2015-2017, the team took ninth place in the Constructors’ Championship twice and sixth once. The constant dissatisfaction of the team led to the fact that since 2018, McLaren began to use Renault engines.

With Renault engines, the team’s position has not changed much. It became obvious that the problem was not only in Honda, and the team began to look for the cause of the failures. There were many reshuffles of personnel: technical director Tim Gloss was fired, and Eric Bouillet resigned as racing director. Realizing that nothing good could be shown in the 2018 season, McLaren focused on developing a car for 2019, which Alonso was not very pleased with. After a frustrating four years, Alonso is leaving McLaren and, along with it, Formula 1. Fernando himself said that he “needs to find a new challenge.” And Flavio Briatore later added that Alonso “will be ready to return to Formula 1 only behind the wheel of a top car.”

Two years later, fans were waiting for a sensation. In 2021, Fernando Alonso returned to Formula 1. And not with a top team, as Briatore said, but with a strong middle peasant: the good old Renault, rebranded as Alpin. Alonso’s home team always left room for Alonso to return, and with Daniel Ricciardo’s departure to McLaren, that door opened a crack. “Alpin” was in talks with several other drivers, but preferred them to “native” pilot – Alonso. A certain hope was inspired both by the driver, who retained the excellent speed that he showed in other series for his age, and the future new regulations for 2022.

Alonso had a good season in 2021: a final tenth place in the individual classification and even the first podium since 2014. Alpin took fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship, and in 2022 was ready to fight for fourth. In the end, this is what happened: the whole season one could watch the battle for the fourth line with McLaren, which the French team eventually won. However, in the middle of the season, Fernando surprised everyone again – he moved to Aston Martin without warning the team leader about this.

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The main reason is the unreliability of Alpin. And in every sense. Fernando repeatedly complained about the constant gatherings during 2022 (there were six of them). So the Spaniard commented on the last race of the season, which he also failed to complete: “Again, the problem with the engine. This is a summary of the entire season.”

But Alpin was an unreliable option for Alonso, not only in terms of technology. They say that one of the reasons for the transition to Aston Martin was the reluctance of Alpin to conclude a multi-year contract with him. The French team was going to offer him a 1+1 contract (only one year guaranteed), while Aston Martin agreed to a multi-year deal. There was also talk that, under the new contract, Alpin were going to cut Alonso’s salary. Given that Alpin had their junior pilot, young talent Oscar Piastri, Alonso’s concerns were understandable.

Fernando himself speaks about his future like this: “I felt that among all the options, this one is the most correct. This project has all the ingredients to create the future, and what will help to come to success is investments and the best personnel.” Aston Martin may not have looked impressive last season, but now they are actively poaching engineers and also building a new base at Silverstone. Who knows, maybe Fernando will be right?