Just turning 34 years old, Fernando Alonso is having a tough year with McLaren-Honda in 2015. It doesn’t look like he’ll be on the top step, or any step, of the podium any time soon, so here at BadgerGP we’re looking back at five of the best races – four wins and a very special performance – from F1’s Double World Champion Spaniard.
Japan, Suzuka 2001
A baby faced 20 year old at the time, Fernando had made his Formula One debut with Minardi at the start of 2001. The car was evil to handle and down on power thanks to a woefully underdeveloped Cosworth engine, yet Alonso grabbed the machine by the scruff of it’s neck and dragged it round Suzuka like his life depended on it. He qualified in 18th – an incredible 1.8 seconds ahead of his team-mate Alex Yoong – and perhaps more startling was he was just 0.7 seconds off besting the BAR of the experienced Oliver Panis.
Race day was to see Alonso cast even more magic in his Minardi. He finished in a fantastic 11th place, ahead his team-mate, both Arrows, Panis and Heinz-Harold Frentzen’s Prost. Team boss Paul Stoddart was gobsmacked by the Spaniard’s race pace and was already hailing him as a champion of the future.
Malaysia, Sepang 2003
Now aged 21, Alonso started the Malaysian Grand Prix with all eyes on him after his ousting of Jenson Button from Renault, and a mediocre start in Australia. That didn’t stop him from storming to his first pole position however, and becoming the youngest driver to ever start from the front of the grid at that time. His maturity that weekend astounded everyone in the paddock, and backed up claims from former boss Stoddart and manager Flavio Briatore that this kid was the real deal.
He couldn’t quite turn his Saturday speed into the win the following day, instead McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen took the then youngest ever winner honours, but Fernando did claim his first podium finish and made sure everyone, including Michael Schumacher, would hail him a champion of the not so distant future.
San Marino, Imola 2005
San Marino the fourth race of 2005 and Alonso already had two wins to his name already that season. The manner in which he grabbed number three remains clear in the memories of many to this day.
Alonso made a timid start to the race, with Raikkonen breezing away from him at a vast rate of knots. Then the Finn’s McLaren broke down and Alonso inherited what seemed like an easy lead and an easy win – that was until Michael Schumacher finally showed up after starting a lowly 13th.
The Red Baron powered his Ferrari round Imola like a man possessed, and somehow came out just behind Alonso after the pair had made their final stops. A seven time champion, Schumacher’s pace was relentless, and he put Fernando under tremendous pressure, lap after lap. The Spaniard didn’t give up and soaked up all Schumacher’s efforts like a sponge to come home with win number four of his short career.
Germany, Nurburgring 2007
Now at McLaren, Alonso once again missed out on pole to Kimi Raikkonen, who was now at Ferrari, and was beaten away off the line by the flying Finn. Just like Imola two years previously, Raikkonen’s car gave up on him, but this time Alonso would have to win from behind rather from the front.
The European Grand Prix began in chaotic fashion as a sudden downpour drenched the track so utterly that a red flag had to be thrown. The teams got themselves together, and after the field breezed by the surprise leader of Spyker’s Marcus Winklehock, normal service resumed with Alonso chasing down Felipe Massa’s Ferrari.
Towards the end of the race it began to rain once again and Alonso saw his chance – he pounced on a struggling Massa on the outside of Turn Five, delightfully banging wheels with the Brazilian and giving the Ferrari’s side a thump for good measure. Massa was furious with Fernando, but with the world’s media once again singing his praises (and ten points in the bag) Alonso didn’t have a care in the world.
Spain, Valencia 2012
Searching for glory on home soil, Alonso qualified for the European Grand Prix of 2012 in a lowly 11th place and didn’t look to be any hope for a podium, much less a win the next day. If it’s one thing we’ve learnt, however, it’s that a you should always expect the unexpected in Formula One.
The first lap saw Alonso jump up to 8th, ahead of Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta. By lap 10 Alonso had dispatched of Hulkenberg to claim 7th place, making his next target Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus. Fernando passed a struggling Pastor Madonado for 5th in the middle of the first pit window, and a clever pit strategy from Ferrari kept Alonso out for one lap more than Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi ahead of him – this allowed Alonso to jump the duo and exit the pits in 4th place.
At this point Alonso was stuck in a traffic jam headed by Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher and was losing time to leader Sebastian Vettel. A safety car period then threw the race into the direction of Alonso. He first jumped Lewis Hamilton after the Brit had a slow pit-stop, before setting off after the Lotus of Romain Grosjean upon the restart of the race, and getting by the Frenchman in brilliant fashion into Turn One. Leader Vettel had an alternator failure going through turn 10 gifting the lead to Alonso, one he would not relinquish for the remainder of the race.
Even more surprising was seeing Michael Schumacher come home in 3rd place, having started 12th just behind Alonso, in what would turn out to be the last time the two champions would stand together on an F1 podium. Alonso was very emotional about the win and broke down as the Spanish national anthem rung out around the track. He knew it was his best.