Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marks Fernando Alonso’s ninety-sixth and final event representing Ferrari.
Confirmation of the Spaniard’s departure following five seasons was made by Ferrari in conjunction with the sport’s worst kept secret – that four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, is joining Maranello from next season.
The 2005 & 2006 champion leaves the Italian marque two years before his contract was due to expire, with the strain of multiple failed title bids finally proving too much.
Barring a fond farewell under the Yas Marina lights, the Spaniard will boast 11 victories and 44 podiums from his time in red. Yet, it could have been so much more.
Alonso had one hand on title number three in 2010. From a forty-seven point deficit following the British Grand Prix, the Spaniard enjoyed a golden run to find himself leading the standings, eight points clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and a further seven up on the Australian’s team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, heading to the finale at Abu Dhabi. On paper, all he needed to do was turn up to become champion.
History shows that Ferrari committed a supreme tactical blunder in following Webber’s ultimately inferior strategy – one which consigned Alonso to a frustrating evening behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, whilst Vettel drove off under the lights to pinch the crown that very few had anticipated.
Two years later, with a car which had been described as woeful during pre-season testing, Alonso found himself forty points clear of Vettel mid-year. Red Bull’s aggressive in-season development and traditional late campaign resurgence saw the German claim the lead. Nevertheless, Alonso went to the finale hopeful of success. Heartbreakingly for the Spaniard, Vettel recovered from opening lap near disaster at Brazil to snare enough points to ensure a third consecutive title.
Multiple victories in the opening five events of his 2013 campaign had many convinced that Alonso was finally set to make the long awaited breakthrough. Remarkably, his triumph on home soil at the Spanish Grand Prix that season remains his latest. With this, the inevitability of the Ferrari-Alonso marriage failing to produce the ultimate glory become more of a reality.
Ferrari hasn’t looked anywhere near in contention this season. Alonso’s best efforts, quite probably resulting in his finest campaign to date, has been the only saving grace from an otherwise embarrassing maiden campaign under the new regulations.
That he came within two laps of victory at Hungary is testament to his underlying reputation as the best driver on the grid, even if his lack of a title during his past eight seasons betrays this notion.
For this reason, the Spaniard’s logic in calling time is understandable. From all appearances, Ferrari is two or three years away from being title protagonists, let alone the class of the field, once again.
Sebastian Vettel has the luxury of time on his side – as Michael Schumacher did before him. The German is aware that he might not enjoy the success he found so frequently at Red Bull until nearing the end of the decade.
Alonso will likely not be in the sport in five years’ time, so he is willing to throw it all on the line for a shot at the elusive third title.
McLaren is his destination according to all under the sun, yet no official announcement has come. The outcome of the initial McLaren-Honda public outing at the post-season Abu Dhabi test is surely the precursor to what would represent the worst kept secret on par with Vettel joining Ferrari.
Rumours persist of a sabbatical, but more likely, a one-season with an option, get out clause at Woking, which would enable to Spaniard to flee, ostensibly to Mercedes in 2016, should a certain Lewis Hamilton decide he wants to return “home.”
Irrespective of the Spaniard’s future destination, the fact is that his Ferrari stint will conclude as a dismal failure on what was promised as a dynasty which was supposed to recreate the outfit’s golden era witnessed at the turn of the century.