In July 2017 this writer asked a simple question in the article: Is Alonso Cursed?
Recently, that article has been viewed on a regular basis, presumably as people take to search engines looking for all things Alonso following his switch to Aston Martin. Early signs (just two races and a promising pre-season) indicate the Spaniard has finally timed the transfer market correctly.
His move from Alpine had a few factors which made it a key story in F1’s transfer circus. The pre-cursor was four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel announcing his retirement from the sport. He appeared genuinely at ease with the decision. To such an extent, I doubt he looks upon this year’s AMR2023 with much envy. It wasn’t dissimilar (using that phrase with Germans could open up a Gary Lineker moment) to the way his hero Michael Schumacher stepped aside at Mercedes when they were in the hunt for Lewis Hamilton.
When the itch has been scratched, the fire inside resembles ambers, it’s time to leave the paddock behind.
This is where Alonso differs. His passion continues to bleed into every career choice. Critics will point out he’s played a large part in his own misfortune. It’s acknowledged he’s demanding. His new boss, billionaire Lawrence Stroll, has said he embraces this aspect of Alonso’s character. Drive and focus is great for an emerging team who lack championship experience. It proves problematic when Fernando’s frustrations kick-in.
Alpine may have endured all they could stomach of Alonso’s demands. They offered a one-year deal. This was like playing a game of chicken. It shows they were prepared to call his bluff, and were happy with the risk if him leaving. This was when they thought it was possible to replace him with their rookie reserve driver Oscar Piastri.
A lesson here in checking the small print and finer details of contracts: Piastri signed for McLaren, a move confirmed as legitimate by the FIA’s contract recognition board. This condemned the likeable Daniel Ricciardo to a year as Red Bull’s reserve driver.
Alonso claims the major aspect in deciding to move was the feeling of being wanted. Could this be the first time he felt personally sought after? Teams in the past have needed his raw speed and have been willing to manage his personality. At Aston Martin, Stroll sold it as a new home where his character traits were welcome.
For Alonso, who must have been confident he wasn’t moving down the pack, the longer contract and better personal connection sealed the deal. He must be aware time is now his main enemy if he’s to join the other five men who are in the history books as three-time F1 World Champions. He wasn’t getting a ride at Red Bull or Mercedes, so signing with Stroll’s affluent outfit made sense.
It was Lawrence Stroll who took the biggest gamble. Alonso arriving at a project – for all his undeniable talent – usually places a hex on that year’s car. Sure, he extracts every last millisecond from its potential, but usually they are seconds away from the podium spots in terms of performance.
And then there’s the strong personality. Much is made about how Lawrence’s son, Lance Stroll, has been gifted his drive in Formula 1. Nothing will expose any flaws in his ability like being paired with Fernando Alonso. Surely, Lawrence will have to favour Alonso’s requests over his own son’s. But iron sharpens iron, and Lance has already silenced some critics following his Bahrain effort. He drove with injured wrists, defying advice to rest and skip the race.
It’s a long season. Two races can’t provide enough information to state the Alonso Curse has been lifted. Ferrari and Mercedes will be working hard to close the gap to Red Bull, let alone Aston Martin. It does appear he’s starting a new team from a strong position for a change. As he secured his one-hundredth podium in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he’s sent a strong signal he’s finally back for one last shot.
What was notable, was how relaxed he appeared in interviews when that podium was initially rescinded. Is there going to be anything more dangerous than an in-form Alonso, in a fast car, who keeps his emotions in check and doesn’t get rattled?