Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Fernando Alonso is one of the greatest talents Formula One has ever seen. The double World Champion has the longest career in Formula One, debuting in 2001 and currently amassing over 350 race entries. Alonso has always been known as an “anti-hero” with many controversies surrounding his career. This piece will look at some of the major controversies he was involved in.
Let us commence with the most notable of the controversies, “Crashgate”. Rewind to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, when Renault decided to put Nelson Piquet Jr.’s personal safety in danger to secure a win from Fernando Alonso. Alonso pitted in the 12th lap, being the first to pit in the race. About three laps later, Piquet crashed into the wall at turn 17. And due to the prevailing rules over pit stops during safety car periods in those times, most of the leading cars ended up behind Alonso. The Spaniard went on to take victory. A few doubts circled his win, but were quickly forgotten as no one believed a team would put one of their drivers in danger just to let the other one win. Right?
No. In 2009, Piquet was released from Renault. He later released a statement, confirming the “Crashgate” rumors, claiming he had crashed on orders by the team. Renault ended up being charged with conspiracy and getting disqualified from F1 for two years. Fernando Alonso was never charged for this incident, as he wasn’t aware of the team’s conspiracy.
A year before “Crashgate”, the sport’s newest double world champion was a major party in the “Spygate” scandal. In 2007, Alonso was racing for the Woking-based team, McLaren, alongside then-rookie driver Lewis Hamilton. The “Spygate” rumors started when Ferrari’s chief mechanic Nigel Stepney was suspended by his own team, having allegedly passed on a wealth of Ferrari documentation to McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan. The FIA got involved and found out McLaren was guilty of possessing these documents. McLaren was disqualified from the constructors’ championship, and were slapped with a hefty fine of $100m. Later, Fernando was blamed for revealing information to the FIA about the possession of the Ferrari documents. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren reserve driver at the time spoke up, defending Alonso. In an interview with the media he stated:
“The fact the FIA knew about it raised many questions over who had passed this information to the FIA. And everyone seemed to blame Fernando for something that we didn’t know and we have zero evidence that he did.”
At the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was once again surrounded by another controversy. Alonso held his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, at the pitlane in the last qualifying session. This cost Hamilton crucial seconds which resulted in him being unable to complete his hot lap. Alonso got pole and Hamilton claimed second place in the grid. But the FIA wasn’t gonna let Alonso get away with his actions. Alonso was stripped of his pole position, and McLaren was not allowed to score any points for the constructor's championship for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Another tale from 2003 recalls Fernando getting bashed for brake-testing McLaren driver, David Coulthard. The Spaniard, for an unknown reason, decided to brake ten meters early before going into the corner. Coulthard, who was right on his tail, tried avoiding contact which resulted in him spinning off the race track and retiring from the race. This incident caused a huge stir in the F1 community. Alonso and Renault denied the accusations. The FIA decided not to take any further action against Alonso or the team.
Fernando Alonso is clearly a controversial driver, but he is arguably one of the greatest. Many years have passed since these incidents, and Alonso has matured as a driver over time. Even though he has been free of controversies for a while now, the Alpine move being the last one and not being as controversial as the ones mentioned before. Fernando will always be remembered as an anti-hero in F1. He even said it himself in Netflix’s “Formula One: Drive to Survive”:
“In Formula 1, there always has to be good characters and bad ones. Heroes and anti-heroes. I’m on the dark side.”