F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer looks at the career of Spain’s most successful F1 driver – twice champion Fernando Alonso.
When the Spanish Grand Prix opened in 1991, it struggled to make any profits with half-full stands. It stayed that way for the 1990s and the start of the 2000s.
That’s all in the past now, and they’re doing better than ever thanks to one man: home hero Fernando Alonso.
In the past ten years, Alonso has seen a quick rise to the top and some thrilling highs. He’s also been witness to some stunning lows.
1999: He first came onto F1’s radar when he won the Euro Open by Nissan (the predecessor to today’s World Series by Renault). That early on, he was already a favourite of the Spanish home crowd. Here’s a home video of his on-track celebration when he won that title.
2001: Despite a quiet run in Formula 3000 in 2000, Flavio Briatore was still convinced that the kid Alonso had talent. He decided to buy him a seat at Minardi (which had just been taken over by Paul Stoddart). He approached his debut race with a calm demeanour. He may not have scored points, but it was still a solid maiden run with a 12th-placed finish.
At home in Barcelona, his form began to really show. Here is an onboard shot of him as he harried Giancarlo Fisichella in the Benetton-Renault. Remember that this was the first race back with traction control (which Minardi still didn’t have by then), so it made this duel even more impressive. Other impressive feats included his qualifying lap at Indianapolis and his whole race at Suzuka.
2003: Alonso wasn’t seen much in 2002 – he was Renault’s third driver that year. But Briatore eventually moved him up to the race team in place of Jenson Button. Many thought that replacing Button with Alonso was a big mistake.
As it turned out, it proved to be a brilliant decision. He took his first pole and podium at Sepang, and took his maiden win in Budapest – lapping no less than Michael Schumacher in the process!
2004: Arguably, this was his weakest season during his first stint with Renault. He did score a second in Magny-Cours and three other podiums (in Albert Park, Hockenheim, and Budapest). But opportunities to win slipped from his reach at Monaco (shunted in the tunnel lapping Ralf Schumacher), Montreal (driveshaft failure), Spa (engine failure, spun on own oil), and here at Monza.
After a disappointing year, though, things were about to look up for Alonso. Part two tomorrow will cover his glory years, that rivalry with Hamilton, and his return to Renault.
Read more: Fernando Alonso biography