My fourth best driver since 1992, Fernando Alonso. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t believe personally that I have seen a better racing driver than Alonso. Second reason, he stopped Michael Schumacher from winning again.
Even for someone as fanatical about Formula One as I was, it had begun to get tiresome. The Schumacher-Ferrari domination of the early ‘00s was comprehensive.
It seemed as though there would be no one able to mount a sustainable challenge. Kimi Raikkonen showed it was possible, but even he was defeated by the scarlet juggernaut.
When Ferrari struggled with their car in 2005, and Schumacher suffered three retirements in the opening five races, it was the Renault team who came in to take the lead in the Championship. Leading the team was the relatively unknown Fernando
Alonso. He had scored a victory in Hungary in ’03, and it was clear the Spaniard had potential. Fernando would go on to make history as the youngest ever double World Champion (eventually overthrown by Sebastian Vettel) and become generally considered as the best driver in Formula One.
While his performances against Schumacher and the increasingly impressive Kimi Raikkonen solidified that reputation, it was what happened after those championship successes that has really impressed me. He left the comfort of his Championship winning team clearly in the knowledge that their performance was set to drop in ’07 and made the move to McLaren to partner a rookie, Lewis Hamilton. Getting into his mind for a moment, it would be fair to say that joining a team as a reigning double World Champion, you would expect a degree of superior status over your young and inexperienced teammate.
What followed is history, and if nothing else, underlined the fierce competitor that Fernando is.
After a brief return to Renault, Ferrari came knocking. This is where I feel Alonso really earned his reputation. The car was second or perhaps even third best during the time he spent with the prancing horse, yet he was still able to mount a serious title challenge against a dominant Red Bull team with Vettel. Had luck been with him, I believe Alonso would have added to his title collection.
This is where I see a distinction between Alonso and others who have had success in recent years. While in a good car, Fernando was winning races and battling for Championships. While in a car that was third of even fourth best, Alonso was still winning races and battling hard for Championships. He found a way to drag a car to the front of the pack and keep it there. That is why I feel he deserves his place on my list.
Unfortunately his desire to win again has brought him to a virtually impossible situation at McLaren. No amount of talent will find the top step in his current position. Let’s hope for some improvements in 2017.