McLaren heads to Abu Dhabi in high spirits ready to farewell its beloved 2-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who will take his final start for now, at least, at the UAE’s glittering Yas Marina Circuit.
For Alonso, it’s seen as a potential one-year sabbatical with a chance to return in 2020 should the British team return to form, but the reality is that McLaren will take far longer to return to winning ways…
Alonso, though, has his reasons for change…
“I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures,” he said.
And those adventures are the World Endurance Championship, which he will continue to compete in. Abu Dhabi his third-straight weekend of racing following the Brazilian Grand Prix… and six hours of Shanghai.
And there are three more WEC rounds following the end of his F1 career, including his second tilt at Le Mans; an event he won for Toyota this year with teammates Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi.
His Le Mans and Monaco wins form part of Motorsport’s Triple Crown, which is a target for Alonso and his legacy given it has only been completed once before by fellow 2-time F1 World Champion Graham Hill.
To do that, he must secure the Indy 500. And, on this, McLaren confirmed last week it will return with Alonso to the Brickyard next year, with its own McLaren Racing entry. The effort, likely to be in conjunction with Andretti Autosport, will now work as a separate team.
All in hope of yielding better results, Alonso’s dream of a win on debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017 dashed with an engine failure.
Regardless, Alonso leaves F1 with a gigantic record, as a driver who beat Michael Schumacher in his prime – and fought tooth-and-nail for each and every place, making him a rightful FIA hall of famer.
SOUNDBITE (English) FERNANDO ALONSO,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“It's been a fantastic night, [I’m] very honoured to be here with these great [F1 World] champions. All of them, they inspired me to become a Formula One driver.”
Up to and including Brazil, the 37-year-old had won two world titles and 32 races across 310 starts. He’s been on the podium 97 times, taken 22 poles and set 23 fastest laps.
Alonso joined F1 in 2001 with Minardi, outshining the car and teammates Tarso Marques and Alex Yoong across 17 races.
He earned his two world championships with Renault, in 2005 and 2006, and is still the only Spaniard to lift the F1 crown.
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 nightmare partnership with Honda.
Regardless of his recent years in the sport, and his reputation for being demanding, something that closed off his options at other teams, Alonso leaves F1 as one of the all-time greats.
SOUNDBITE (English) EMERSON FITTIPALDI,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“He's always there running very strong but sometimes the equipment is not there. He's a world champion, very talented, extremely talented, very intelligent. He's going to leave a lot of legacy.”