You couldn’t fail to notice this was Fernando Alonso’s final Grand Prix – for now, at least. As the weekend rolled on and the momentum gathered, there was the impression that Fernando was a reluctant player in the midst of the heartfelt farewells.
After 18 seasons and 311 Grands Prix, it can’t be easy to accept that the moment has finally arrived when the foundations of what has become your life are suddenly cut from under you. Alonso has been around the block enough times to know that, once you’re no longer a driver in F1, the world changes in a most fundamental way. You become just another bloke in the paddock. Okay, Alonso’s schedule will be as busy as ever, certainly during the first half of 2019, but once Indy is over, the man who simply loves to race will feel the effect of his internal MGU-M (Motivation) failing to give full charge.
As of Monday morning, his status reads ‘Former F1 driver' even though the vast majority in the F1 paddock would agree he remains in the world’s top three. The reason why he’s no longer racing (even through he clearly wants to) is down, in some part, to problems of his own making. But that’s a discussion for another day.
In the meantime, the F1 family did him proud, McLaren in particular playing an impressive if regretful role in the farewell scenario by adopting red, yellow and turquoise colours on the car and his overalls, producing commemorative tee-shirts and forming a guard of honour as Fernando walked into the garage to go F1 racing one last time.
He played his part on track, just as we have come to expect. Driving the wheels off the McLaren, there was time for a typically cheeky comment across the radio. When chasing Kevin Magnussen in 10th, and reminded by engineer William Joseph that there was a championship point up ahead, Fernando quipped: ‘I’ve got 1800 of them!’ To which Joseph responded: ‘Well, let’s get one more!’ In fact, the maths were not quite correct, Alonso having reached 1899, some way short of Sebastian Vettel on 2745 and Lewis Hamilton’s total of 3018. But that’s beside the point (no pun intended!).
When the McLaren failed to match his aspirations, Fernando took the law into his own hands by cutting out a chicane – not once, but three times. The stewards dutifully churned out three separate bulletins in the space of six minutes – and probably gave a resigned smile as they did so – listing each offence, citing the gaining of a lasting advantage and laying down five-second penalties that would have about as much effect as fining Bernie Ecclestone £100 for driving in a London bus lane.
Like Bernie, Fernando will probably put in a future appearance in the paddock – and possibly in Alonso’s case, on the track – but it will never be the same. Deserved tributes aside, this was no way to end such a significant era in one man’s motor racing career.