Fernando Alonso is widely regarded as the best driver in Formula One, yet his status as a two-time World Champion belies this notion.
It’s not that Alonso isn’t worthy of the moniker, rather a case of how this man can only boast of the two titles he claimed the best part of a decade ago.
Then the youngest double champion at 25, who would have thought he’s still chasing a third?
He could so very easily be a five-time champion had events unfolded differently, yet he faces the very real prospect that his final title came during his career’s infancy.
The Spaniard replicated Michael Schumacher in moving from Enstone onto a new challenge following back-to-back triumphs, in this case, McLaren.
He came within two points of a third consecutive title in 2007, finishing level with ultra competitive rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but the fallout from the ‘Spygate’ scandal and a breakdown in relations with Ron Dennis ensured it was his solitary season at Woking.
Who knows whether Alonso might have won the 2008 title if bridges hadn’t been burnt? It could be argued that Hamilton’s first season was more impressive than his title winning campaign, the Spaniard could have had his third there and then.
Alonso rejected the advances of then midfield outfit Red Bull. In retrospect, twelve months of patience could have yielded untold glories.
Instead, a Renault return – no longer the force of 2005 and 2006, and with it, successive uncompetitive seasons – save for two victories in 2008, including the Singapore ‘Crashgate’, represented further opportunities lost.
A berth at Ferrari from 2010 was reward for his toils, and with it, dreams of a dynasty.
He went to the that season’s finale at Abu Dhabi needing only to finish fourth to claim the championship, but a fatal error in switching to the same flawed strategy as his nearest title rival Mark Webber, then unable to pass Vitaly Petrov for the remainder of the race, ensured that Sebastian Vettel came out of the clouds to pinch the crown.
An EBD enhanced Red Bull and Vettel rendered 2011 a write-off, whilst 2012 loomed as another disappointment, with the car woefully off pace during pre-season testing
Alonso delivered arguably his finest campaign to haul himself into title contention – leading the standings mid-season despite the package’s numerous deficiencies, and the breakthrough looked likely.
A late-season resurgence from Vettel again destroyed the dreams, left wanting for another season.
Two victories during the opening five races in 2013 had everybody content that the consummation of the relationship would finally happen.
As it stands, Alonso hasn’t won another race since his triumph on home soil over twelve months ago, with Ferrari slipping further down the grid.
It’s testament to his brilliance that he currently lies fourth in the standings, but the dream of a championship with the Prancing Horse looks distant as ever.
With time fast conspiring against Alonso, he faces the prospect of switching teams if he truly wants the elusive title.
The popular consensus is for the Spaniard to swallow his pride and return to a Honda powered McLaren, some have raised the idea of a swap with Hamilton to join Mercedes, whilst murmurings of a Williams berth have entered the equation in recent weeks following the Grove outfit’s resurgence.
If Alonso is smart, he should grant Ferrari a final opportunity in 2015 to deliver what he deserves, when James Allison’s impact on the car will be felt.
Equally, another twelve months at Maranello would offer him the chance to gauge the competitiveness of McLaren in their new partnership, as well as seeing whether Williams are capable of sustaining the form which had been lacking until this season. That Hamilton comes out of contract from Mercedes at the conclusion of 2015 is a convenient excuse to vacillate a little longer.
It depends on how desperate the man is, it would be understandable if he’s willing to take the risk at this stage of his career, yet there are no guarantees things will improve whether he stays or leaves.
Alonso risks being remembered as a great driver who stumbled upon the wrong places at the wrong times. A third title, regardless of the team, would go a long way towards ensuring he’s remember as one of the all-time great drivers, full stop.