Fernando Alonso, 39, will be making his return to Formula 1 with the Alpine F1 team this year, having already driven and won two championships for the Enstone-based team back in 2005 and 2006, in the days of Renault’s dominance. Despite the success of being a double world champion, many spectators, and possibly Fernando himself, believe that he could’ve won many more titles had things gone his way. So what if things did actually go his way? How many championships could he then have achieved?
Written by Oskar Yigen, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı & Joe Kirk
A 21-year old Fernando Alonso made his F1 debut with Minardi in 2001. The Italian team were every F1 fan’s favorite backmarkers – and they provided Alonso with such an uncompetitive car that he didn’t manage to score a single point during the entire season. However, he did impress his manager and team principal of Renault F1 Team, Flavio Briatore. Alonso was put in a Renault seat for 2003 after a year on the sidelines in 2002, where he took his maiden pole position at only his second race, and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship with 4 podiums. Next year, he scored the same amount of points and podiums along with a single pole and that was good enough for P4 in the championship where Schumacher and Ferrari won for the fifth time in a row.
In 2005, FIA introduced a rule change that disallowed tyre changes during pit stops, which caused the Bridgestone tyres to struggle even to last an entire race with somewhat competitive pace. This dropped Ferrari a long way behind McLaren and Renault, both of which used Michelins. McLaren without a doubt had the faster car, but it was as unreliable, causing Kimi Räikönnen to retire whilst leading on three occasions. Therefore, it was Alonso and Renault who took their maiden world championships, the Spaniard finishing 21 points clear of runner up Räikönnen, and 70 points clear of Michael Schumacher in third place.
Alonso driving the 2005 Renault R25
After the tyre rule was revoked and McLaren failed to design a good car, the 2006 title went down to a two-way battle between Schumacher and the defending champion Alonso. It wasn’t decided until the last round, where both Renault and Alonso secured their second consecutive championships after a puncture sent Schumacher out of the points.
Going into the 2007 season, Renault were set to be relatively uncompetitive, since the tuned mass-damper – which had been the most crucial factor to their car’s pace the two previous seasons – was banned after the first half of the 2006 season. The defending double world champion Alonso moved to McLaren, partnering Lewis Hamilton. The Spaniard thought the championship would be a walk-over from his part, as McLaren clearly had the fastest car, and he effectively only had to beat a rookie. However, after a season-long battle – which indirectly caused McLaren to lose the constructors title after the Spygate scandal – Alonso would end up a single point short of the championship, finally won by Räikönnen.
Hamilton & Alonso in their 2007 MP4-22 McLarens, Kimi Räikkönen in his Ferrari F2007
Hamilton and Alonso ended up with 109 points each while Räikönnen had 110 – so it’s fair to say that any one of the three could have won, if only a small thing had gone different. For Alonso, that could be not crashing at the Japanese GP (though it has to be said that spinning in the wet was solely his fault), not having gearbox issues in qualifying for the French GP (which meant that he only finished seventh in the race), or not having to pit in order to avoid running out of fuel during a period where the pitlane was closed at the Canadian GP, thus receiving a drive-through penalty.
Alonso left Mclaren after a single season and re-joined Renault, after falling out with the Woking-based team for multiple reasons (one of those being his young, British teammate). He had to settle for fifth in the Drivers’ standings and fourth in the Constructors’, trailing eventual McLaren world champion Hamilton by 37 points.
But what if he’d stayed with McLaren? Since Hamilton won the title, we can assume Alonso would’ve been in the mix as well – the real question is who would’ve come out on top?
There are multiple ways of looking at this. Some would say that since Hamilton had beaten Alonso in his rookie season (Hamilton got ahead on countback), the natural progression going into his second season would suggest that he would beat Alonso by a considerable margin this time.
From Alonso’s perspective however, you’d argue that he underestimated Hamilton in 2007 – a mistake the Spaniard definitely wouldn’t repeat for the following year. Furthermore, Hamilton made a couple of very costly mistakes in 2008; running into the back of Alonso and losing his front wing in Bahrain, crashing into the back of Kimi Räikönnen in the pitlane in Canada, and spinning after a clash with title rival Felipe Massa in Japan. Not to mention that 2007 was the first year for Alonso of driving with Bridgestone tyres, shifting over from the Michelins that Renault used (their difference in feel and handling shouldn’t be underestimated).
Regardless of perspective, one thing is clear: the battle would’ve been extremely tight once again, and predicting the outcome is almost impossible. However, in my opinion, the best-case scenario would be that he wins the title in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
In 2009, Alonso was in the second year of his contract with Renault – and the French team had developed an uncompetitive car for the regulation changes, unlike the debutant team Brawn GP. Alonso finished ninth in the standings, while Brawn went on to win both championships. In our alternate universe, where we assume Alonso stays with McLaren, it’s also pretty hard to imagine that he challenges for the title, seeing as the team finished a distant third in the Constructors Championship, with Lewis Hamilton ending up fifth in the drivers standings.
Alonso moved to Ferrari for 2010, a season in which he would lose the title by 4 points to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. With such a slim margin, it wouldn’t take much for Alonso to come out on top (not having gearbox and engine problems in Malaysia, or not crashing out in Belgium, for instance) – that’s fairly obvious. However, a much more interesting scenario could have played out in 2009: Alonso joining Red Bull.
Alonso driving the 2010 Ferrari F10
In an interview with Motor Sport Magazine back in 2017, Christian Horner said “We got very close to signing Alonso. Helmut [Marko] and I went to see his management at the end of 2008 for the ’09 and ’10 season, and we offered him a two-year contract”. Alonso and manager Briatore weren’t quite up to those terms however: “He would only sign up for one year and we said Red Bull’s position was a two-year deal or nothing, but he wouldn’t commit to that.”
Horner also spoke about two later encounters, where he was in touch with Alonso regarding a move to the Austrian team: “Halfway through 2009, I approached him to ask if he could join mid season, because we really thought he could win the championship in the car”. The second meeting took place, “In the back of an Alfa Romeo at Spa airport several years later in ’11 or ’12” according to Horner. Had Alonso moved to Red Bull at this time, he would most likely partner Vettel, causing Mark Webber to leave the team.
This leads to an interesting debate and speculation: Who would’ve come out on top between Alonso and Vettel? They could’ve engaged in a fierce rivalry, close to that of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. It’s impossible to know who would turn out victorious, as both drivers were in their prime and could have won a championship against anybody. In my opinion, both drivers would’ve won two out of Red Bull’s four titles from 2010-2013 (based on their respective performances in the individual years), but equally, with a bit of luck Alonso could’ve easily taken all four, despite the small difference in skill and talent (the same goes for Vettel, of course).
Let’s assume the best-case scenario of Alonso winning all four championships from 2010-2013, and after Red Bull’s 2014 form-dip (where they finished second in the constructors standings, a massive 296 points behind Mercedes), the Spaniard would probably want to leave – and coming off the back of four consecutive world titles, he would have the world at his feet. But while making a move to Mercedes might have seemed obvious from Alonso’s perspective, we have to remember that the german team already had a very strong driver line-up in Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. They wouldn’t want to create more drama and tension than they were already struggling with. Even when Rosberg left in 2016, they probably wouldn’t choose Alonso, since Hamilton at that point was their main focus.
So if not Mercedes, where would he then go? To me, the answer is pretty obvious: Ferrari, for whom he hadn’t driven yet in our alternate universe. This would be very reminiscent of what happened in reality with Sebastian Vettel, who moved to the Prancing Horse after the first year of Mercedes’ dominance. But in our scenario of course, Alonso has outperformed Vettel and therefore the Spaniard is the prefered option.
Would Alonso be able to achieve success at Ferrari? That question all comes down to whether or not you believe that he’s a better driver than Vettel, since the Italian team had a car good enough to win the title both in 2017 and 2018, and Vettel fell short both years. In my opinion, Alonso definitely would’ve won in 2018, and even though I’m not as certain about 2017, there’s a good chance that he would’ve taken that championship as well.
Where would Alonso go from here? It’s hard to imagine him having much left to do, being (statistically) the greatest driver of all time at that point. But if he weren’t quite done yet, Mercedes could perhaps want him, seeing as he would’ve stolen two titles from them. The pairing of Alonso and Mercedes would likely be just as strong as the German team’s current pairing with Lewis Hamilton, leading only to even more dominance…
It’s at this point where we draw close to Alonso’s retirement. Firstly, because of his age (in 2019, he turned 38), but more so for the reason that he would have accomplished almost everything, winning championships with 3 different teams. That’s without mentioning that this alternate universe has now gotten so far away from reality that it’s almost impossible to speculate further.
Fun and entertaining as it is, speculating in “what-if’s” actually teaches us something as well; in many sports – especially Formula One, where a huge amount of a drivers’ success relies on their team – small decisions have a huge impact, so huge in fact that some of the drivers who are considered the greatest of all time might not have been so, had one small decision been different, Lewis Hamilton for example. If Niki Lauda hadn’t convinced him to move from the then-top team McLaren to the then-midfielders Mercedes, chances are that the Briton would currently be sitting on one title only – which would make it very hard to bring him into the conversation of the greatest drivers of all time.
The same goes for the subject of this article, Fernando Alonso. Had he played his cards differently, had he had one or two more results go his way, this article would have been a very different one, and I might not have been talking about what could have been.