Considered arguably the most complete driver on the grid today,
Fernando Alonso boasts a formidable blend of speed, racecraft and
tactical awareness. Not one to stray far from contoversy, the
double world champion has incurred something of a pantomime villain
image in recent years, but that hasn't stopped the Tifosi taking to
the Spaniard as he fights to put Ferrari back on top.
Alonso was born in Oviedo, Spain. His father (a keen amateur
go-kart racer) presented one of the machines to his sister Lorena,
but when she showed no interest in racing, three year old Fernando
took the wheel. One thing led to another, and by the mid-nineties
the young Spaniard had won four consecutive national championships
in the discipline, adding a Junior World Cup to his name by 1996.
After winning both the Spanish and Italian Inter-A series in 1997
and finishing runner-up in the European Championship a year later,
Alonso was offered a World Series by Nissan test. He proved more
than competent over three days in Albacete, and was signed up for
1999. It took Alonso only two races to secure his first win for the
Campos team, and he went on to take the title at the final
His reward was a drive in the Formula 3000 feeder series, in
which the Spaniard initially suffered a slow start but went on to
finish the year in hot form, winning his first race at the final
meeting of the year. But what had really sealed his destiny was a
maiden Formula 1 test at the start of the year, driving for
Minardi. At just nineteen years old, Alonso's best lap was 1.5
seconds quicker than the other drivers at the test.
Naturally enough, F1 came knocking. He signed to drive for
Minardi for 2001, the first year of the team's new management under
Paul Stoddart. The car wasn't capable of much, but outqualifying
his team-mate by a full two-and-a-half seconds did nothing to
damage his reputation. Over the course of the year, Alonso pulled
off several giant killing acts throughout the year, and Flavio
Briatore transferred the rising star Renault to become test driver
for 2002. Twelve months and sixteen hundred laps later, the
Spaniard found himself replacing Jenson Button in the race
Alonso was an immediate sensation at Renault, becoming the
youngest ever driver to sit on pole position at his second race
with the team. He pushed Michael Schumacher all the way to finish a
close second at his home race in Spain, and later that year scored
a maiden victory by winning the Hungarian Grand Prix - and lapping
the Ferrari maestro in the process. The team couldn't quite
capitalise on their success in 2004, but Alonso still came away
with several hard won podiums.
The next two years were when it really came together for Alonso.
Renault hit their stride in the biggest possible way, bringing
Ferrari's dominance to an abrupt halt. Fernando won seven races,
fighting off a challenge from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen to become
the youngest world champion in the sport's history - and as if to
demonstrate that his form was no fluke, he repeated this feat the
following year, taking fourteen podiums and seven excellent
victories to deny the outgoing Michael Schumacher a record eighth
world title after an intense year long championship battle.
His form won him a seat at McLaren in 2007, but the relationship
quickly turned ugly. Paired with the surprisingly rapid rookie
Lewis Hamilton, the cracks soon began to appear as the debate over
who had number one status erupted. With the championship battle
raging, Alonso and Hamilton were seen to be at each other's throats
both on and off the track. To add fuel to the fire, McLaren were
fined $100m and excluded from the constructors' championship for
stealing design information from Ferrari, a case in which Alonso
was widely believed to have acted as a whistleblower. Both drivers
fell short of the championship, and Alonso returned to Renault in
His two years at the team were not to be happy ones. The squad
was a shadow of its championship-winning former self, and was
incapable of wins - except, it turned out, unless they ordered
second driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash and bring out a strategic
safety car to aid Alonso's path to victory, as they did at the 2008
Singapore GP. To Alonso's credit he won the next round in Japan in
far more traditional circumstances, but in 2009 Renault would be in
the dock charged with race fixing. It capped an awful second year
of Alonso's return to the team, in which the car never looked like
it could fulfil its driver's potential.
Unsurprisingly, Alonso jumped ship for 2010 when offered a much
hyped, dream move to Ferrari in place of departing former world
champion Kimi Raikkonen. The year started in perfect fashion, with
the Spaniard leading a team 1-2 at the season opening Bahrain Grand
Prix. Something of a dip in form followed, but a late revival saw
Alonso taking five podiums (and three wins) from the final six
races to mount a serious championship challenge, only losing out to
a poor strategical decision. 2011 was less notable, but Alonso
managed to score the team's sole victory of the year at the British
Grand Prix, on the sixtieth anniversary of Ferrari's very first
triumph in the sport. It was the highlight of a dour year, albeit
one in which he further extended his dominance over Ferrari
team-mate Felipe Massa.
Having last year signed a contract extension which will keep him
at the Scuderia until at least 2016, the Spaniard will be hoping to
lead a revival in fortunes in 2012. Ferrari fans expect the team to
deliver results following a reactionary technical reshuffle, and if
they fail to do so then the blame will be pinned purely on the team
rather than the driver. After all, Fernando Alonso has proven
himself to be one of the most - if not the most - competitive,
committed driver on today's grid. Love him or loathe him, he's here
to stay. And when given equal machinery, he will undoubtedly return
to claim a third world title.
Previously known as the co-founder of F1Lite (a Twitter-only
service), Alex Norton joined PortalF1 as the English language
editor in January 2012.
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