After five years of driving for the fabled red Scuderia Ferrari, Fernando Alonso has switched his allegiance to the silver and grey of McLaren and the team’s new engine partner Honda. The lure of the Prancing Horse is undeniable. Just about every driver dreams of driving for Scuderia Ferrari. For a few, the dream comes true. Just ask Sebastian Vettel, who left Red Bull where he won the world championship four times in five years, to join Ferrari, a team that has not won the championship since 2007.
Alonso spent five glorious and frustrating seasons at Ferrari between 2010 and 2014. He won 11 grands prix and celebrated on the podium on 33 other occasions. He had 42 additional finishes between fourth and ninth (but ironically never 10th), scoring points in 86 of his 96 starts for the Italian squad.
He never won the championship with Ferrari to complement the two he won with Renault, but came close in 2010 when he ended up second, and again in 2013, albeit a long way behind Vettel. Alonso’s lowest positions in the drivers’ championship were fourth in 2011 and sixth in 2014.
Driving for Renault, Alonso won the first of his 32 grands prix in 2003 and his second in 2005. Since then he’s won every year, except 2009 and 2014, when his best finishes were a pair of thirds.
On a scale of one to 10, how does he rate his five years at Ferrari?
“On those five years I will put nine,” Alonso replies. “I know it seems high, but it is my opinion. Everyone will have their opinion. I enjoyed it so much. I grew up as a driver and as a person. I worked with amazing people, and I raced with my heart and I raced with my level of my career.”
“I never imagined having this beautiful performance over these five years – fighting for the championship, racing with anything that I had in sight, never give up, so I am proud of the team and of the things we did together. “We missed the title, but let’s say we raced against a very dominant era of Formula 1 with Red Bull and, in 2014 with Mercedes, no one could get close to them. So this is what I missed to achieve in these five years, but any driver should drive for Ferrari for one year because it is a unique experience.”
It was a year of upheaval at Ferrari. The team had three different team principals: Stefano Domenicali, Marco Mattiacci and Maurizio Arrivabene. Longtime President Luca di Montezemolo was shown the door by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne who now runs Ferrari. Other personnel were hired or fired.
“It was a difficult year for Ferrari in general,” Alonso acknowledges. “They changed the president and the team principal. There were many things going on. And I decided to leave as well. I don’t know if that had any implications or not, but Ferrari will definitely find the direction because they are so big and they are the best team. They just need to put things in place.”
So what advice does he have for Ferrari now?
“From the outside now it will be difficult to judge what Ferrari is doing,” he says. “I think what we missed those five years is just some more performance in the car and more technical resources. We have not been at the top level sometimes in some of the aspects of the car, in some of the aerodynamics at the beginning, and some of the power unit.
“They have the talented people, they have the resources, they have the motivation from everybody in the team, the budget, they have everything. For this year they will again be the favourites because every season at the start the favourites are Ferrari, because they must be – because everyone is expecting Ferrari to win in Formula 1. It is what we saw on television in all the history of Formula 1.”
Alonso did not win any championships at Ferrari but he improved immensely as a driver these past five years.
“I’m more mature,” he affirms. “Thanks to Ferrari I am a better person, not only
a better driver because I learned many things from the technical people, I also learned many things about working as a team player. I am more calm. I am 33 years old. I am very, very old! When you are getting older you are more mature and you are calmer, but I am still delivering some good results for my age.”
This, therefore, is a far different Alonso who races for McLaren in 2015 com- pared to the driver who joined that team in 2007.
That’s a good thing because it was a prickly and suspicious Alonso who raced for McLaren and clashed with team boss Ron Dennis in their one year to- gether. Time heals old wounds, and Dennis and Alonso insist they can work together now. But no doubt Alonso is happy that he will be working mostly with McLaren’s racing director Eric Boullier rather than Dennis.
Alonso chuckles when he hears the next question. A few years ago it would have been inconceivable that he would ever return to McLaren after he split with the team following that single acrimonious season in 2007. What are the chances of him ever coming back to Ferrari?
“I don’t know,” he muses. “I didn’t expect this question! So I am not prepared with an answer... I think it is at the moment not an option because, obviously, if you say ‘bye-bye’ it is not that five minutes later you think that you will come back.
“But, yeah, I went from Renault to McLaren, and then I come back to Renault. I went to Ferrari. Maybe I will come back to other teams. It seems that the people that work with me, they give me one door open, that is normally the opposite to what I read – that I am very difficult to work with. But at the end of the day, the places that I work I can normally come back, so that is a good sign.”
What does Alonso expect from this season?
“With the Mercedes form, from what we saw last year, it is going to be tough for any team to recover that gap,” he says. “But I hope to enjoy some battles and some podiums and some better performances.
“It is terribly difficult to close the door on Ferrari knowing that I will not wear the red colours this year. That was a very, very difficult decision to make.
“I miss being on the podium. I miss celebrating with champagne. I miss winning races, winning titles, and I think that a new project will bring that possibility closer to me. Maybe not in one year’s time, but in the future I have no doubts that I will fight again.”