The last three years have been agonising for Fernando Alonso. A two-time world champion, he has long been rated by many as the most complete driver currently on the Formula 1 grid.
But in recent seasons, it has been a reputation that has not been backed up by hard results.
Saddled with an unreliable and under-performing Honda engine, there are many – including F1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi – who believe the 2018 switch to Renault will restore Alonso to his rightful place on the grid.
"I think Fernando is the best and I also think McLaren has a great car," said Fittipaldi. "With the Renault engine next year, they can fight for podiums, victories and even the title."
Three dire seasons since rejoining McLaren in 2015 has made it easy to forget just what Alonso is capable of in the right car.
His most recent successes all came with Ferrari – including his last win at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. And the Hungarian Grand Prix in July marked three calendar years since he stepped onto a podium.
Compare that to his recent seasons at McLaren … His best finishes are a trio of fifth placings, his best grid slot sixth, along with a lot of engine penalties.
But the key indicators show that Alonso has not lost his ability… and the skills that saw him sweep to two world titles on the bounce are still sharp as ever, just waiting for a capable car.
The clearest sign is the comparison with his new teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne. Though the Belgian is in his first full-time season, the 2015 GP2 champion arrives highly rated … and outqualified Jenson Button in his one-off F1 debut last year.
Comparing the two this year shows Alonso has a clear edge – outqualifying Vandoorne 13-5, and has scored more points despite six more DNFs.
His tenacity in wheel-to-wheel battles has also been on display, while his passion has not receded either - Alonso punching a hole in the wall after getting taken out on Lap 1 in Singapore when he felt a podium – or a win – was on offer.
Alonso turns 37 next year, the same age both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were when they secured their final wins.
No driver older than 37 years of age has won a race in the modern era, never mind a world championship. Statistically, at least, Alonso is fast running out of time to even the ledger between the record books and his reputation.
Doing so hinges on just how big the difference is between the Honda engine and the Renault that replaces it … Red Bull’s late season successes giving McLaren’s Eric Boullier hope for 2018.
"Fixing reliability is a challenge, but it is always easier than finding performance," said Boullier. "What I just would like to take onboard is that in Malaysia and Mexico, they were proper runaway wins."
A return to the top step of the podium may be his mission for 2018, but should it not happen, Fernando Alonso will always be regarded as one of the greats of his generation, if not of all-time.
SOUNDBITE (English), MARIO ANDRETTI,
1978 F1 CHAMPION:
"He's totally a top rated Formula 1 driver and he fits in the all-time scale, no question, so he has a career to be proud of for sure."