The rise of Renault
The timing of Alonso's return was special in more ways than one. Not only did he do it in the year he turned 40, but it was also exactly 20 years since he made his debut in Formula 1. After a title in the Euro Open by Nissan (linked to Renault) and a good season in Formula 3000, Minardi gave him a taste of F1 in 2001.
He showed some good speed in that first season, but Flavio Briatore, his manager and Renault team boss thought it was a bit too early to give his protégé a racing seat. In 2002 the Spaniard was therefore allowed to work for the French manufacturer as a test and reserve driver. It wasn't until Jenson Button moved to BAR for 2003 that Alonso got the chance to really show his talent to the world.
That first season was an immediate success. With two pole positions and a victory, Alonso surpassed all the results that the modern Renault factory team had achieved since their Benetton days with Schumacher. Renault had the rising trend and Alonso was the ideal man to take them by the hand.
This resulted in winning the world title in 2005 and 2006. In doing so, he first defeated Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren, who were at the top of their game, and then also Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in their final attempt to secure an eighth world title from that partnership.
Team changes go wrong for Alonso
His two world titles were followed by a series of decisions that may have cost him several world titles. First, he switched to McLaren in 2007. Given the speed of the McLaren that year, that was a good choice, but he came up against Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was the golden boy of team boss Ron Dennis and in that internal battle Alonso would always lose out.
And so he returned to Renault and Briatore in 2008. Here he could control the whole team and that is how he wanted it. There is no better example of this than the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Nelson Piquet Jr., Alonso's young teammate, was then urged to crash on purpose. Piquet obeyed and Alonso was able to win the race as a result.
A rather desperate action, but by now it was clear that Renault had lost the magic of a few years earlier. For 2010 it seemed an excellent choice for Alonso to drive for Ferrari. What followed were five frustrating years, during which he almost won the world championship in 2010 and 2012, but fell just short of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing each time.
By the time the hybrid era arrived in 2014, Ferrari had missed the mark and the relationship between Alonso and the team had soured considerably. So in 2015 he opted for an adventure with McLaren and new engine supplier Honda. That project unfortunately turned into a drama for all parties and at the end of 2018 Alonso turned his back on F1.
Alonso’s hunt for 'Triple Crown' in 2021 on hold for a while
Alonso set out to focus on achieving the 'Triple Crown' (winning the Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indianapolis 500). He was well on his way, as he was already leading at Indianapolis in 2017 and won Le Mans in 2018. In 2020, the Dakar Rally also caught his attention.
So for a while it looked like Alonso had left Formula 1 behind for good, but during the 2020 season rumours grew stronger and stronger that he would be rejoining Renault after all. Daniel Ricciardo had signed for McLaren and so a spot had become available at the Enstone team for 2021. The rumours turned out to be true and Alonso hoped to revive old times under the flag of Alpine.
In 2021, the F1 veteran proved he still had what it takes. After a few races, the Spaniard found his feet and returned to his old form. His unbridled effort was rewarded with a podium finish in Qatar, his first since 2014.
The new 2022 rules were a major reason for the Spaniard to return to Formula 1. The rule changes served Alpine well: the team finished fourth in the constructors' standings but was plagued by reliability problems. Alonso in particular was often scuppered by a broken engine during the race.
Fernando Alonso in 2023
Alonso may now be 41 years old, but his motivation is no less. He therefore did not settle for a one-year contract extension and decided to take up Aston Martin's offer. The Spaniard will be in action on behalf of the Silverstone-based racing stable for at least the next two years.