2-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso finally confirmed the sad, but expected news last week that he will leave Formula 1 at the end of 2018, capping off 17 seasons in the sport.
The proud Spaniard, however, stopped well-short of calling it a retirement from F1 – stating it was time to move on, but that he could return, should McLaren’s performance improve in the future.
“I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures,” Alonso said.
The step away from F1 is no doubt due to the 37-year-old’s frustration not only at the sport, but also at McLaren, which has yet to build even a podium-capable car since he rejoined in 2015.
The situation ultimately forcing Alonso’s hand, his decision made months ago, long before McLaren began negotiations with Red Bull B-team Toro Rosso on the release of its new technical director James Key.
Regardless, Alonso will leave F1 as one of its greatest-ever champions – a ferocious competitor, and arguably the grid’s most complete driver.
Across his glorious F1 career, the 37-year-old has won 32 races from 302 Grand Prix starts – he’s been on the podium 97 times, taken 22 poles and set the fastest lap 23 times.
And it’s that ferociousness that has taken him to two world titles and cost him a chance at further success - with the Spaniard infamous for his total commitment and fiery temper.
SOUNDBITE (Italian) JARNO TRULLI
F1 DRIVER, 1997-2011:
“I always had a good relationship with Fernando Alonso. The problem is that he always wants the team devoted to him only. Everything must be done only for him.”
Alonso joined F1 in 2001 with Minardi, outshining the car and teammates Tarso Marques and Alex Yoong across 17 races.
…before spending a year on the sidelines testing for Renault, stepping up to the race team in 2003, and taking his first win in Hungary.
Alonso then took his two world championships back-to-back, in 2005 and 2006, his first the final season of F1’s monstrous V10 era.
He moved to McLaren for 2007, but clashed with Ron Dennis over status – with Alonso agreed to be the team’s number one driver until rookie Lewis Hamilton’s true abilities became clear.
Alonso went back to Renault for two years, before joining Ferrari in 2010 – where he finished runner-up to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel three times in four years, which frustrated him and drew him back to McLaren, just as it began its disastrous on-track odyssey with Honda.
SOUNDBITE (English) FERNANDO ALONSO,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"I grew up looking at Ayrton and Alain Prost racing on TV and now to come back to this partnership is very attractive.”
In the years since, McLaren has sought to appease Alonso with a chance to secure motorsport’s famed triple crown, missing last year’s Monaco GP for the Indy 500, which he retired from with engine issues.
… and this year, the Le Mans 24 Hours – which he won with Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. The trio took victory by 2-laps over the sister Toyota, and was the first at Le Mans for the manufacturer.
It’s expected Alonso will switch to IndyCar for 2019 in order to cement his legacy, as one of the world’s greatest-ever racing drivers. His last nine races in F1 will be a chance to celebrate his incredible career.