Fernando: The Ferrari years
In case you didn’t know it, Fernando Alonso hates losing. It goes back to his karting days when as a young boy he would cry if he didn’t win. His competitive spirit is fixated on victory. Anything else is considered a failure.
In his quest to emulate his hero Ayrton Senna and win three world championships, he joined Ferrari at the beginning of 2010. After a couple of years in less-competitive machinery, Fernando was desperate to return to the top step of the podium. And guess what? At the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix he achieved what only five drivers have ever done on their Ferrari debut: he won.
Ferrari chose Fernando because they wanted a driver who could galvanise the team, leading it the way Michael Schumacher had done in the past. It helped that Fernando could speak fluent Italian, as from the outset the new partnership worked seamlessly.
“From day one I found myself at home with the team,” said Fernando. “There was a family feeling right from the start. When I went to Maranello, I saw the passion of the people that were working at Ferrari and it is something unique in Formula 1.”
The former president of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, concurred with the sentiment on the eve of the new pairing, he said: “Fernando is an extremely talented driver, quick and good at working with a team, while being totally focused on winning. I think he is coming to Ferrari at the right time in is career.”
That Bahrain victory threw down the gauntlet: he passed his team-mate Felipe Massa around the outside of the first corner, instantly stamping his authority on the team, and then pressured Sebastian Vettel throughout the race until the German’s car broke down. The combination of Fernando and Ferrari was an ever-present force over the next four years of grand prix racing. But, as the seasons progressed, it was more apparent that the red cars’ pace perhaps owed more to Fernando’s brilliance than to the quality of machinery at his disposal.
The 2010 world title decider was a dramatic occasion held under the Abu Dhabi floodlights. Four drivers were in contention to scoop the crown and it was Alonso who looked most likely to win. But his chances were scuppered thanks to a strategic fumble that ruined his race. A distraught Fernando had lost the world championship by just four points to Vettel.
Despite the loss, at the beginning of 2011 the Spaniard signed a long-term agreement to remain at the Scuderia in a bid to avenge defeat and satisfy his personal quest for that third title. He was already starting to talk about potentially finishing his career in a red car.
“Stability is always good for a Formula 1 team,” said Alonso in 2011. “Ferrari have finished no lower than third in the championship virtually every year for a long time.”
Ferrari finished third again in 2011 as it happened, but it was a distant third… Alonso’s season was again characterised by hauling his Ferrari to places it shouldn’t have been and engaging in some fearsome overtaking.
One example was his blistering start at the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix. After starting his home race fourth on the grid, he was leading by the time the pack arrived at the first corner! The first quarter of that race Fernando led in a car that had no right being at the front of the field. By the race’s end, his Ferrari had been lapped.
If you wanted further confirmation of Fernando Alonso’s talents during 2011, then look no further than his results compared to his team-mate Felipe Massa. Alonso managed ten podium finishes that year, whereas Massa failed to land one. It was a similar story in 2012: Alonso took his Ferrari to another championship showdown with Sebastian Vettel, scoring three wins and 278 points. Massa, in the same car could only manage 122 points.
Despite losing the title in the final race of the year again – this time by just three points – his stock was continuing to rise, and he was commanding enormous respect from his peers. His great rival Lewis Hamilton beat Fernando at the 2011 Abu Dhabi GP and he was asked immediately afterwards whether his win was easy. “Not at all,” came his reply. “I’ve just had one of the best drivers in the world chasing me all afternoon and to beat him is actually quite a good feeling.”
As Fernando’s prowess grew, so did his popularity in Spain. His long-standing manager, Luis Garcia Abad, says the little Spaniard has been able to withstand the hype throughout his career.
“When Fernando goes out to restaurants there are always people around him, but that doesn’t seem to affect him. He’s still the same person I met in 1998, and as a driver nothing he does surprises me now. He takes responsibility for his team. If there is a problem with the car, he shares the blame. Also if there’s a victory, he shares that too.”
At the start of 2013, Fernando was able to take two wins from the opening five races, but once again Ferrari weren’t able to provide him with a car that was capable of regularly challenging the all-dominant Red Bulls. Frustration was mounting and, later in the year, Fernando was asked by Italian TV what he would like most for his birthday, he replied with: “La macchina degli altri," – “Someone else’s car.”
If there was annoyance at the lack of pace, there was no shortage of motivation or commitment. He posted details of his training regime ahead of the 2014 season on Twitter. In two months he cycled 936km, ran 91km, spent eight hours swimming, seven hours in the gym and 14 hours either skiing or playing tennis or football.
As he prepared for 2014, he took to studying samurai philosophy to prepare himself for the fight ahead, but sadly the season was characterised by more disappointment. The dream of success with Ferrari hadn’t worked. Maranello went through three team bosses in 12 months and found itself in disarray. Alonso decided enough was enough.
“It’s tough because I want the third title so much,” he said in the summer of 2014. “I will be extremely proud if I just win two titles but I am hungry for more success. You know, I hate losing, so that’s enough to keep me motivated.”
Fernando Alonso wants to win. He wants a third title. That’s why he’s joined McLaren-Honda.