Fernando Alonso Goes to Aston Martin
A Controversial Figure
Fernando Alonso can be rather polarizing. Depending upon who you ask, he’s either the greatest driver on the grid who deserves more championships, or he’s a toxic individual and creates chaos on teams.
Something I want to tackle here, however, is whether teams are better off once he leaves. This is a theory that’s been going around for a while now, and it touches on various parts of Alonso’s characteristics. This is especially important to consider as Fernando Alonso goes to Aston Martin in 2023. What I’ll do is look at each time Alonso left a team and how they did the following season, plus add some colorful commentary to each situation.
Alonso came into Formula 1 in 2001 (amazing to believe it was that long ago) with the upstart team Minardi. They were a plucky little team that gave a lot of drivers their starts. Other drivers who drove for them include Mark Webber, Alex Zanardi, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, and Marc Gené. The team itself is still on the grid but is now known as AlphaTauri, the junior Red Bull team.
Alonso’s time at Minardi was exceedingly short — 1 season — because he was quickly scooped up by Renault, as they could see his talent. Even still, his season there produced zero points, with the team coming last in the championship. In the following season, the team scored two points for ninth (of 11).
Long before team Aston Martin got Fernando Alonso, he spent the bulk of his career with Renault over three stints. The first time he left was at the end of the 2006 season. At that time, he had solidified his second championship. The team won the Constructors’ Championship.
During the following season, Renault placed third.
Alonso’s first stint at McLaren saw him battle with rookie Lewis Hamilton. It was quite clear that pre-Aston Martin Fernando Alonso felt threatened by the rookie, as he resorted to dirty moves, such as blocking the pit box during qualifying, thus ensuring Hamilton would not be able to change tires and get out in time to make another lap. This season at McLaren (2007) also saw involvement with the Spygate espionage controversy, where Ferrari ended up with McLaren’s test data. The incident saw McLaren thrown out of the Constructors’ Championship and stripped of their points.
In the following year, Alonso moved on, and McLaren placed second in the Constructors’ Championship.
Renault (Part Deux)
2008 saw team Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso return to Renault and with it, more controversy. This time, it took a while for the story to come out (triggered by the dropping of his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. from the squad), but the story was wild: Crashgate. This time, the team was involved in purposefully causing a crash of one car (Piquet Jr.) to benefit the other (Alonso) with the timing of the safety car. Penalties including lifetime bans from F1 were initially handed out.
The following year, 2009, saw the team place eighth, and this was Alonso’s final year of this Renault stint before heading to Ferrari. In 2010 — Alonso’s first at Ferrari — Renault placed fifth.
We’re now into the era of Red Bull dominance with Sebastian Vettel and the pre-Aston Martin time period where Fernando Alonso was closest to another title. 2010 through 2013 were years of frustration, where Ferrari clearly had a car capable of winning the titles but Vettel and Red Bull were just ever out of reach. Alonso headed back to McLaren at the end of 2014, having taken the team to fourth in the championship.
In 2015, Ferrari placed second.
Team Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso has a gift in being able to develop a car. He can communicate to engineers what exactly the car is doing and what as a driver needs it to do. The engineers then have a fairly clear direction on what they need to do to get there. Alonso went to McLaren full well knowing that their partnership with Honda might work that way. Honda re-entered Formula 1 with McLaren having last seen success in F1 with McLaren and legend Ayrton Senna. Fans (myself included) were very excited to see the two names come together again.
However, it was for naught. After four miserable seasons, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso decided that enough was enough and left Formula 1 for a few seasons to focus on other racing (including WEC). In 2018, his final season at McLaren, the team placed sixth. In the following year, they came in fourth.
Renault (Third Time’s the Charm?)
The F1 fire wasn’t out in Alonso’s belly. For 2021, he returned to the outfit he’s spent the most time at: Renault. It’s clear that Alonso’s ability to develop has been at work at Renault. Last year, the team came in fifth, and this season, they’re solidly in fourth as the season winds down. However, Alonso called an audible and has decided for 2023 to head to Aston Martin. It apparently even took Alpine by surprise as they learned of the move from Aston Martin’s press release.
Let’s recap Alonso’s moves:
- Minardi to Renault, Minardi improved
- Renault to McLaren, Renault did not improve
- McLaren to Renault, McLaren improved (greatly)
- Renault to Ferrari, Renault improved
- Ferrari to McLaren, Ferrari improved
- McLaren to hiatus, McLaren improved
What does this say about team Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso? I think very clearly it says that Alonso has terrible timing. With one exception: the team he’s left has improved the year he’s first gone. We have yet to see what happens to Renault next season. However, there’s word around the paddock that last season, Aston Martin may have gone over the cost cap that was newly imposed.
If Aston Martin exceeded the 2021 cost cap, the FIA will likely impose penalties.
Taking all of that into account, will Fernando Alonso join team Aston Martin? Does he have a clause in his contract that could allow him some wiggle room and go elsewhere? I’m not sure that it matters. Clearly, Alonso loves racing. I think the only way he will leave Formula 1 is when there are no seats available for him. I could see him taking a test driver role once he loses his race seat.
Who Is Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso?
Honestly, I didn’t like Alonso while he was at McLaren in 2007 up through his time at Ferrari. When he moved to McLaren, I think he was humbled a bit and softened. I think this gave him some valuable perspective, and he’s become a lot more likable. Do I think he’s a toxic driver who splinters teams? No, not at all.
I do think he’s supremely talented and has been in the wrong car at the wrong time. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso should have two more championships to his name but for Sebastian Vettel and Ron Dennis. In 2007, had Dennis (McLaren team boss) exercised some control over Hamilton and Alonso, they would not have been squabbling over points. Kimi Räikkönnen (still reigning Ferrari champion) pipped them both by one point to the championship (Hamilton and Alonso tied at 108 apiece). A better team strategy surely would have seen team Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso with a third title in 2007.