The complicated legacy of Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso is aiming at other kinds of driving, most notably the Indy 500 over in America. A win there would give him motorsport’s triple crown -- the other two races he’s already won are the Monaco Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Driver of the Day award is a most reliable F1 award, viewers voting online during the live broadcast of every Grand Prix for the most valiant performer: something that has little to do with winning the race. The spectacular Max Verstappen, for instance, won that accolade six times this year while earning only two race victories. I often find myself applauding the poll’s lack of bias, but that broke down on this Sunday’s season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where a penalised driver who couldn’t make it to 10th place was voted the Driver of the Day.
I bet nobody else came close.
Fernando Alonso has left Formula One. The Spaniard is aiming at other kinds of driving, most notably the Indy 500 over in America. A win there would give him motorsport’s triple crown -- the other two races he’s already won are the Monaco Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours. This would make him the second driver to complete the triangle of achievements ever since Graham Hill won Le Mans in 1972. It’s a mighty target, but one hopes Alonso will eventually get restless and return to the sport he is best at.
Lewis Hamilton won at Abu Dhabi, but the weekend has been exclusively about Alonso. Sitting alongside Hamilton at a press conference, he joked he could return to Formula One “as a driver, as a father or as the boss of the FIA,” prompting Hamilton to laughingly protest because he’d expect Alonso to give him too many penalties.
As the race ended, five-time champion Hamilton and four-time champ Vettel joined Alonso in spinning their cars around to create smoky donuts on the track, an unprecedented salute for the two-time champion considered, by many, to be the best driver on the grid.
If there are heroes and villains in sport, Alonso has been both. An astonishingly talented driver, he started out one of F1’s youngest winners, and his bulletproof aggression in 2005 and 2006 delivered a one-two knockout punch to defeat Michael Schumacher.
Despite glorious driving, Alonso proved a poor sport, frequently whining and blaming his team Renault. At McLaren in 2007, he outrageously tried to blackmail the team into giving him an unfair advantage over his teammate Hamilton, then a rookie.
The next year at Renault, he was the beneficiary in a ‘fixed’ Singapore Grand Prix, the only intentionally manipulated result in F1 history. He was a fine Ferrari driver but always fell short of the title, and his last four McLaren years have been inglorious: a master driver in a hideous machine.
“It’s not that we enjoy winning,” Alonso told me in a 2012 interview. “It’s that we hate losing.” There is much he might not have done right, but the last four years spent losing must count for some penance. His brilliance never dimmed. The year’s first Driver of the Day went to him as well, for starting 10th and finishing 5th in Australia. The sport will miss his genius. On his day, Fernando Alonso made ours.
(Raja Sen is a film critic and one of India’s longest-running Formula One columnists.)